I’m not a photographer. I don’t take many pictures, or make the effort to put many pictures into my stories. Because I remember things in words, in scenes. And sometimes the mind can make these images more powerful than pictures can. So throughout this year I will be giving you pictures that I am making with words, snapshots, progressive scenes. Let your mind and heart see, rather than your eyes.
Skid Row: Scene 1
It’s a collection of smells; that’s what I notice first stepping out of the van. It smells sort of greasy, like stale french fries. It smells slightly sour like trash that’s been sitting in a bin for too long. It has the tangy odor of sweaty bodies, unwashed and left to ferment in the sun.
Skid Row: Scene 2
We turn the corner, the van bumping and jostling and my eye catches something. Multiple somethings. I’m seeing tents. I’m seeing the tents and the tarps and the ropes that string everything together in a patchwork quilt of shelters. Bodies are sprawled around; laying, standing, pacing, fidgeting. I see the sheen of sweat on their faces; can almost feel the steaming of their skin as they squint, trying to shade their eyes, their bodies from the sun.
Everything is tinted gray, even the light. The tents are too colorful, too much bright for so much gray and I can’t seem to pull my eyes away from the colors that are standing out against this faded and smudged background.
Trash, socks, bottles, underwear, wrappers, wire. It lays in piles and in the streets like the shrapnel of lives that have been ravaged, and gutted, and demolished into only pieces and objects. A living graveyard; shopping carts instead of bodies. The carts hold life, clothes, food, possessions. And the bodies are shells.
Colors are faded, colors are too bright and there is one color missing. There is no white. No white faces. No white skin. Only dusty, weathered brown. My own skin is a blaring beacon here, a milky white contrast and a milky white privilege. I feel my throat swelling, my eyes are glued to these faces now, not the tents. The faces the faces the faces. People here. People living here. People dying here. So much gray, so much dust, so much brown.
I know why white is the missing color. It’s not trapped here. It’s the color that can leave.
For more information about skid row and homelessness in LA go to http://www.lahsa.org/default and read Marji’s blog: http://yav-marji.blogspot.com/2015/09/go-to-skid-row.html