State Street Summer

We had the shop door open yesterday, and these two men were passing by having a near-violent argument. One guy was swearing and saying stuff like, “I’m gonna kill you, man.” The other came into the store, trying to get away. We let him use our phone to call the cops, and the whole thing took its predictable course over the next couple hours.

The thing is, both of them were known heroin addicts. One had a wad of cash, the other had a knife. This wasn’t some random occurrence between strangers (although that’s what wad-of-cash guy was trying to claim), and this was neither the beginning nor the end of their argument. Kids used to mess around with pot and coke and acid, later ecstasy and crack. Now it seems like even the university undergrads are doing heroin, and a lot of the street people are long-term junkies. Even if heroin’s not as scary as some of the crap they cook up in labs, it’s bad enough, because people on heroin just don’t give a shit about anyone else.

I didn’t see what happened with the argument because it was right by the door, and the view of the door is blocked from my seat at the cash register. So I saw the wad-of-cash guy who came in, but not the knife guy. On my bike ride home I tried looking for him; he was wearing a huge green pack, so he should have been easy to spot. I didn’t see him, but while I was looking I must have seen more than a hundred other street people in clumps, hanging around in noisy groups in parks and bus stops and other public places. Almost all of them were men. This isn’t New York or Chicago or LA. There must be a lot of heroin addicts out there to share around, if we’re getting this many of them in little Madison.

The other day Luna (a coworker) had this person standing outside The Soap Opera (the other store where she works) just yelling for two hours. Just standing on the sidewalk, screaming at the top of his lungs about god knows what. The police didn’t do much–in fact they handled it badly, going into the store to question them when she’d specifically asked them not to.

It makes me realize how vulnerable we are. If junkies with knives wanted to come in and take all our money some evening, I don’t see that there’s much to stop them. Even less, if someone wanted to throw a brick in the window after hours and come on in to help themselves. To stay in business, we rely on people being basically honest and civilized. I don’t really like thinking about the alternatives.

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