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Another Haightful Morning

[whitespace] mural
Elana Koff

Moved by a Mural: After being mistaken for a homeless bum, harassed and attacked, Millie finds peace.

Millie's cafe-crawl crisis

By Millie

The personal ad read "Berkeley professor--English Literature." Millie was intrigued, so he emailed a flirty one-liner. The return message suggested a meeting in the Safeway parking lot, so Millie figured they'd end up at Starbucks. But when the newest pop-postmodernist sensation of the Berkeley English department approached, he looked like just another homeless skateboard-punk. "Let's skip Starbucks," suggested Millie. "Let's go to your place."

So, is that what turns Millie on? The "homeless chic" thing going on all over town? Not exactly. Certainly, Millie is not immune to the charms of the rumpled I-spent-the-night-in-Duboce-Park look, but often these vagrant types turn out to be Internet whiz kids or nonprofit entrepreneurs. You can't really judge that guy in the center divider with a cardboard sign until you get to know him. For all you know, it could be Frank Jordan. It could even be Millie.

So it starts like any other morning. Millie finds himself wide awake in some dark, dank studio apartment in the Lower Haight with a nice kid asleep next to him. Millie gets up, throws on some clothes and slips out quietly in search of coffee. Once outside, Millie realizes that he's wearing two different shoes and his shirt is on backward. At the Laguna Sidewalk Cafe (297 Page at Laguna), Millie spends his last $1.50 on a coffee and sits at an outside table. He takes a sip of coffee, scalds his lip and spills steaming black coffee all over his shirt and down the front of his pants. Just then the 33 Haight wheels to a stop, pulls into a large puddle in front of the Cafe and douses Millie with muddy rainwater.

He looks like a drowned cat, and he's got a 10-block walk home. A few blocks up Haight Street, Millie tears a hole in his jeans while passing too close to a chain-link fence. Frustrated and cursing, Millie doesn't notice the pile of dog shit up ahead until it's too late. Millie steps in it, slips, tears his sleeve and careens onto the sidewalk, scraping his hand and face. Now Millie's pissed.

Millie stops off at Kate's Kitchen (471 Haight St.) to use the restroom and clean up. The waitress summons the manager, who approaches Millie with caution. "Is there a problem here?" he asks. "I'm sorry, only customers use the facilities." Millie storms out, screaming obscenities.

Back out on Haight Street, Millie innocently mistakes a well-dressed man waiting for MUNI for an old friend. "Am I glad to see you!" Millie shouts, running up to the man. Horrified and defensive, the man starts stabbing at Millie with his umbrella. "Get back! Get back!"

"I thought you were someone else," Millie apologizes. The man spits at Millie. "Get a job!" he screams. A crowd across the street cheers in support.

At Bean There (201 Steiner at Waller), the morning hangout for hip Lower Haight habitués, Millie uses the restroom to clean himself up with only nominal success. Afterward he bums a cigarette off a regular and sits outside reading the New York Times. Millie's familiar with this crowd, and he doesn't expect anyone to bother him. When a couple gets up from the neighboring table, Millie eyes a half-eaten bagel and a gulp of coffee left in a tall glass. Millie gobbles down the bagel and is about to move on to the coffee when the couple returns, catching Millie in the act. The woman starts ranting about the homeless. The guy offers some change. Millie slinks off, humiliated.

Millie continues his trek, determined not to stop until he can get home and clean up. As he passes Cafe International (508 Haight St.), however, Millie changes his mind. Something is pulling him into this open, airy cafe. It's something on the quiet back patio. There, a huge mural dominates the scene. It portrays a rainbow collection of the people, each decked out in traditional folk costumes and rendered in National Geographic-like detail. The Native American dancer next to the Viking, next to the Zulu tribeswoman, next to the baseball slugger--a beautiful tapestry of faces smiling, frowning, crying, singing. Millie is typically immune to this type of "We Are the World" art, but the tranquillity of this back-patio masterpiece is welcomed.

In the debate over "passing out change" as opposed to "creating change," it's easy to forget that circumstances change, sometimes for the worse. Just ask Millie. He'll gladly tell you all about it ... for a quarter.

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From the May 18-31, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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