During preperations for your next indefinite trip abroad, you made something clear to Katie: “We do not wear green.”
“We can’t wear green? Why?”
You shook your head solemnly, seriously, forbodingly. “Think about it. You’re walking downtown and you see all kinds of travelers. Most of them are normal tourists, but then there are a few with backpacks, and among those, there are the kids who wear green. They sit on the sidewalk, usually they have a few dreads, or a guitar. They look pretty dirty. They might even smell a little sweaty–but usually like pot. And they might even have a dog.”
“You think to yourself: oh, hippies! Or kids who ran off from home. Probably harmless. And yet… you don’t really want them in your car, or your home, do you? You’d just… rather not deal with ‘it.'”
Katie affirmed your statement.
“It.” And inability to relate. To understand. When you’re too different.
Though he wasn’t wering green at the time, there was a boy named Patrick who entered your life for a brief moment. You had been enthusiastic about just listing your bed on AirBnB. It’s a site much like couchsurfing.com , only you pay money to stay with people. Eager to host, you said yes to a kid that needed a last-minute place. He was a student from Berkeley, had some issues with housing after the term ended, and was scrambling around for accommodations.
Fine. Yes. He could stay.
He was a good writer. He could email promptly, and without grammatical error. But later in the day he confessed to having lost his phone. And his laptop. That someone stole it from him while he was sleeping…
Hmmm…. Seriously, buddy? Where were you sleeping?
You gave him the benefit of the doubt. And when he arrived at your door at nine o’clock at night, you opened it and your eyes went wide, “Hi! Wow!!!” You blurted. Wow.
…was right. What stood before you was not a groomed young college student. He looked like a homeless person. Granted, he wasn’t wearing green. Worse… he was wearing mostly black. But not fancy black. Like demin black. Worse than hippie. More like wayward goth. (Hell, maybe he wasn’t wearing black. But it doesn’t matter. You were struck by the filth. And the smell.)
His thick black longish hair was greasy and unkempt. He had a small black backpack, and that was it; oh! and a bottle of some kind of liquid. He appeared to have been sleeping in his clothes a lot (much like green-wearing hippies). You just stared for a moment, and said “wow” again. “Patrick?”
“Ye-e-es,” he said. It wasn’t a smooth, confident yes. It was a forced yes. Like he had a frog in his throat, or gravel, or phlegm. Whatever. He did not speak as easily as he wrote.
You let him pass through the doorway, inwardly panicking about how to get this homeless person out of your life as expediently and politely as possible. This person, Patrick, was certainly the person in his online photo, but not the same “person” exactly. No longer his former self.
You asked him some questions while Katie, horrified, remained back in the kitchen, appraising the stranger, but keeping her apprehension to herself.
“So tell me again how you ended up without a place to stay in Berkeley? You’re a student? What did you study? Philosophy? Cool, what branch?” You told him a little about yourself, about the apartment, and about your roommates as you sized him up.
He asnwered all your questions–awkwadly. His speech patterns were so odd–like he was drunk, or high. But he didn’t seem to be. He seemed to have kind of a weather-beaten schizophrenic thing going on. You couldn’t be sure.
“Listen, Patrick,” you began. “I hate to do this, but you can’t stay here tonight.”
He looked shocked, and you wondered why. Honestly. Why was he shocked? Didn’t he understand?
“Leave? What do you mean? You’re kicking me out?”
You tried to explain, as gently as possible, that his appearance was intolerable. The smell alone was enough to set anyone off, and you imagined the ring of dirt he would leave around the bathtub. You explained that while you didn’t know what he’d been through, you were sorry, but that…. “Your appearance is that of a homeless person.”
“I already explained to you that the last few days have been really rough.”
“I understand that, Patrick. But why haven’t you just gotten a hotel room for the same price as this place? There are plenty of places to stay in the city.”
He stammered. “I already tried that. But they kicked me out. The guy wanted cash. Didn’t want me to pay with my card.”
So why didn’t you just get cash?
“I’ve had bad experiences with those places. I really wanted a safe place with some nice people.”
Maybe this kid doesn’t have any money, and Airbnb won’t refuse his card on principle.
You talked about his other options, and the more you talked, the more indignant he became. “I can’t believe you’re doing this. Judging me by my appearance.” You explained to him that you’d done your fair share of traveling and relating to strangers, and how important hygeine was.
“Patrick,” you said, “this isn’t my apartment. I share it with two guys. And when they get home and see you, they aren’t going to feel very good about the situation. I’m speaking matter of factly here. I didn’t run this by them, and I probably should have. You can’t enter someone’s home looking the way you do and expect them to feel easy about it..”
Remember how Alexis said there was a fine line between “traveler” and “homeless?” God, how she tried to ensure that you two never looked homeless!
You told Patrick that you were committed to helping him find alternate accommodations. Gabe eventually called you, and you had a conversation, explaining that your guest wasn’t going to be staying there that night, and that you’d “see him soon!” even though Gave wasn’t due back for another couple of hours.
Once off the phone , you set back to work in trying to find Patrick a place to stay, as well as field his questions and handle his indignation. The more you tried, the more he argued, and finally said he would prefer to leave and sort it out himself. He seemed eager to get out of the apartment (perhaps after determining that your large male roommates, whom you’d described at 6’3″ and 6’4″ during your initial small talk, were on their way home). You refunded his money on Airbnb in front of him, to show him you had no intention of keeping his money and refusing him service.
He left. You were shaken.
It didn’t feel right. At all. His story seemed kind of fishy, but not that fishy. He seemed nice enough, but he speech was so odd–so punctuated—so unhinged, that you couldn’t be sure. He had no stuff. No phone. No computer. No extra clothes. How did he get himself ino that mess?
You locked the door–a precaution, as you had no clue whether he might try to come back.
This episode occured on May 22, the night before your birthday, and left you feeling awful. Anxious. And very guilty. You never wanted to turn anyone away. How many people have helped you? Shared their space? Their food? Trusted you!
A lot. And there’s a reason why: you’re trustworthy. You are a salesman. You know how to sell yourself. Put on the makeup before you hitch hike. Make sure your clothes are kept clean, the smell of sweat masked by perfume. You look the part of a backpacker–not the part of a homeless person. You speak clearly, audibly, without restraint. You share information about yourself freely, and don’t dodge questions or speak ambiguously.
And people trust you not to rob them, or kill them, or anything else.
You’re also a girl. And frankly, men have the monopoly on fucked up, illegal, violent behavior.
Even so, your buddy Levente from Romania has an easier hitch hiking than you do. He exudes the mot friendly, positive, trustworthy energy of anyone you’ve ever met. He knows how to sell it–by being it.
You justified your decision by following your instincts, and taking necessary precaution. That night you slept fitfully, and rose early to dress in the dark, carry your bike down to the street, and pedal up hill to one of the highest points of San Francisco, to teach your morning bootcamp at 7am.
Several of the girls were up at the park, waiting. You headed to a bench to deposit your bag and bike, and gasped in horror. One bench down, you saw him. Patrick. Sleeping. Homelss. At least you think it was him. You feared getting too close. The clothes, the backpack. It all looked the same.
The episode occurred as a lesson to you. Look the part. If you want to engage with others, trust them, and have them trust you, you must mirror one another. You must find a way to relate to them. Some people are too different to be at ease with one another. Awkardness, by your definition, is a lack of clarity about your relationship to someone/something.
In your opinion, the Patricks of the world are tough to chew. And there are places for them. Communities for them. Airbnb wasn’t it.
Patrick was up in the air. People who wear green, on the other hand, are a little more manageable. You can engage with them a little, but you’d prefer not to. They’re either hippies, or they’re camo-wearing-macho-hunter-fighter-agressive-weirdos. Okay, you’re generalizing. Not all shades of green are so bad. But the picture has been painted. Some greens just say, “I don’t shower.”
You ended up at the REI gear sale months later, looking for deals. And that’s when you saw it: not one, but two Smartwool shirts for a total of two dollars. You’re talking $120 worth of Smartwool for TWO dollars. The reason? Someone tore some holes in them.
One problem. They were green. Ugh. And not just any green. The worst type of green. Hippie outdoorsy green. Environmental green… *sigh* You bought them anyway, figuring that they could be work shirts. Wool was wool. Green or not. And wool was valuable.
God damn it. They ended up being the most comfortable utilitarian shirts you’d ever purchased. You loved them. And you hated them. Every green thread. Maybe green wasn’t so bad. Maybe green was all right.
As you drove the narrow, winding road through Yosemite national park, you saw a hitch hiker and leaped again at the opportunity to pay it forward. He was a skinny, solo boy with a small backpack, clearly trying to get a lift out of the park.
You stopped. Shuddered. He was wearing green. A lot of it. And his sandy, shaggy hair looked like a mop on his head. He beard was bushy. He smelled like a hippie.
You let him in anyway. He didn’t pose a threat. But he was smelly. Somehow got left by his buddies in the wilderness. They drove off the night before with his stuff and his phone and everything else. How suspicious. He hadn’t had much to eat, managed to crash in a cabin with one of the park rangers, and was trying to get a lift back to San Francisco. He was shifty. And fidgety. And he talked like stoned surfer dude.
His name was “Keeta,” or some type of strupid, made-up hippie name. He used to travel through Mexico, in a band of craftsmen, making bead breacelets and playing instruments.
He took on odd jobs in constuction. Made his house comletely out of cob. Outfitted his van to run on vegetable oil.
Speak no more, buddy. I know everything about you.
He was the greatest living stereotype you’d ever known. And indeed, he wasn’t a threat, but maybe you don’t like green vey much because you are vehemently opposed to hippies. Not authentic hippies. Not the free-love hippies of the 60s (who eventually grewup and ajusted). You mean modern-day hippies. The kind that live in communities like Beneficio in Spain. The kind like Mauricio. The kind who don’t like to work, who spend all their time getting high, floating around, and contributing little.
The kind that are so out of touch that they can end up getting left behind in the wilderness of Yosemite, and go unnoticed by their other hippie friends. Dude…
Upon your return to SF, you prompty went to REI and purchased a bright blue Smartwool shirt.