Be Sure to Wear Some Feathers in Your Hair

A guest post by a user wishing to remain anonymous.

The city changes you. It doesn't matter which city, pick any one. They're all growing to resemble each other anyway. The daily sight of thousands of faces you'll never care about; the dirt under everyone's fingernails in the street; dodging human shit on the sidewalk: it changes you. You just decide to go down the block for a coffee when suddenly, a bum stops you and begs you for a dollar, just a dollar. A quarter. No matter what you say to him, yes or no, you'll never be the same again. Congratulations, you are now a different person.

I actually gave a dollar to a homeless guy once. One time. You want to know what he said to me?

"Is that it?"

When I first moved to San Francisco I couldn't stand the pigeons. Stupid, greasy animals shitting and pissing where you're trying to walk, or on you if you're unlucky and don't know to watch the sidewalk for poop-splatters. Always in your way but just out of range of a solid kick. What made it worse was that some people went out of their way to feed the little maggots, like they enjoyed wasting food and money on a bunch of parasites. I had fantasies of buying a pellet gun and sniping pigeons on my walks to the subway, but the City of San Francisco had passed legislation criminalizing the discharge of a hand-fired projectile within city limits.

Look around you, smell the sweat and musk of the teeming hordes, feel the radiant heat of their shit on your face, the warmth of their innumerable children's bodies assaulting your skin, invading your pores, their screams piercing your ears until you bleed; their filth is inside you, colonizing your nerves and neurons. You are a part of them. They are a part of you. You and I are islands of awareness in a vast ocean of sewage and semen. We are doomed to drown. And to dust you shall return.

To make rent, I had to work as admin assistant for a woman whose idea of a good time was a grocery bag full of nitrous oxide and 1,500 calories worth of dairy-free ice cream. On wild nights, she would talk to me with weed-red eyes about her dreams of seizing power through office politics and finally bringing equality to her workplace. In addition to her apartment, she owned a house next to an abandoned naval yard, where the ground was so toxic the city wasn't allowed to develop the property, in the brownest shitstain of Oakland I had ever seen.

It was my job to rent this house to anyone in possession of a card for the city of Oakland's gracious Section 8 government housing program, because she felt guilty for her IQ and the fact that she could afford to pay a healthy young dude to cut up a minivan worth of Styrofoam insulation so she could bang anonymous dudes in a hexayurt at Burning Man. (I would eventually discover Section 8 is a federal government program. Your taxes are paying for this shit to happen across the country.)

One of the applicants was a mother-daughter pair who wept with joy when I told them I could adjust the rent to fit the mother's budget, determined by the amount she collected between her monthly unemployment and disability checks, also from the government. They didn't get the place in time for the daughter's birthday because the owner forgot to send me the city-inspection appointment email. I never saw them again, but I assume they wept some more. Another applicant showed up in a suit with his wife in diamonds and tried to talk me into cutting the rent in half, no doubt to sub-lease it on AirBnB for a criminal profit.

One guy showed up looking desperate in a beaten sedan, begging me to let him rent the place for the mother of his young daughter. He never used the word "wife". He seemed like he had his shit together otherwise, so I let him have the place without too many more questions. He said he was a professor at a local community college.

His baby mama pulled up a few days later in a freshly washed white Lexus with the daughter in question. The mother was black and gangly, the kind of posture that made you think of medieval depictions of sinners in agony. The kid was two years old, but tall enough to be six. She asked a lot of questions for her age. Most of them were "Can I use the iPad?" The kid had a permanent glassy gaze to match the tablet screen. The mother did her best not to threaten her child when she got noisy in front of me, but it wasn't nearly enough. The time-tested parenting technique of "shut the fuck up" was even more obvious than her night job as an escort.

Getting her moved in took the whole of three months, between the thirty-odd trips I made to the Oakland city govt housing center, staffed by a herd of she-cows who could have been the ex(?)-prostitute's immediate family. One of the clerks asked for my phone number after her shift ended. I never texted her. Didn't want to end up like the professor.

She paid the first month's rent three months late, but by then it was illegal to evict her thanks to the State of California. She said it was because someone had broken into her car and robbed her purse. I noted the clean windows of her Lexus, parked outside.

It took about six months from the move-in to get the first check from Section 8, subsidizing 80% of the stated rent, which I had walked further back on since the incident with the other single mother/daughter pair, the ones who cried a lot. I got good at pushing my way through the "Tenant" line at the housing center, where 380-pound ashy-lipped behemoths sucked XL coffees from Dunkin' Donuts and drooled assent to the mascara-caked socialites on their Instagram timelines. I had originally asked for a 25% cut of the rent in return for my services as real estate agent, but the second time I walked into that apartment and saw the same food wrappers in the same place on the living room floor, I settled for getting the fuck out and never looking back.

On my last walk back to the subway, I passed an urban park the size of a large pickup, where a group of pigeons were eviscerating an abandoned Subway Foot-Long sandwich. I stood and watched a few large dull-colored ones puff their feathers and attempt to mate with smaller ones who had brighter plumage.

The subway stations in San Francisco are among the most disgusting monuments to human waste that you will ever witness in your lifetime. Trash erupts from every can. Filthy stains streak the floor in all directions. Each elevator and staircase smells like piss - stale or fresh, depending on whether anyone has handed out a fiver to the homeless colony that perpetually haunts the street exits, leaching an unspeakable cocktail of stench into your very soul, a putrid miasma that corrodes the inside of your skull. I crammed myself into the subway and stared intently at my dead phone-screen while a gang of street minstrels in wife-beaters and American flag do-rags solicited donations from everyone in the car on the basis of having done several flips in a row to the accompaniment of a blasted-out iPhone stereo. I emerged from a vomit-streaked station turnstile and caught a bus. Like the stations, its interior boasted every kind of discharged refuse you can imagine. I dreamt fondly of showering in hydrochloric acid.

On the way home, I watched another flock of pigeons wheel around in the sky and settle in four rows on an array of metal powerlines, disturbing a resting flock into doing another set of cartwheels and spiraling out over the jungle that was once Oakland. The pellet gun could wait, I decided. More hideous things deserved to die.