Scratchy lay restlessly beside a dumpster on the cold pavement of an alley behind 2nd Avenue. A troublesome dream repeatedly interrupted his sleep; wherein he saw himself walking along a riverbank on a warm day, watching birds and people, and cherishing a warm breeze, repulsed by and repulsive to nothing. But these pleasantries were gradually diminished by the harsh and powerful sounds of a river moving on the other side of him, and by a desire to jump in to the raging waters — capable of swallowing him indiscriminately.
It sometimes happens upon waking from such a dream as this that the human mind grows confused and struggles to calibrate itself with the surrounding environment. “Oh God Almighty,” Scratchy muttered, as he sat up, stared into, and meditated upon the dark emptiness of the alley around him. His loneliness did not startle him, nor was there any long harboring guilt in his soul that he was unaware of. He determined at last that the urgent and long unsatisfied need to urinate was somehow responsible for the dream that had made rest impossible and had so disturbed him.
But on the morning preceding this night in the alley, the councilors of the fine city where Scratchy resided passed a new bylaw, which decided through a democratic consensus that “no person shall defecate or urinate in public or any private property or in or on a public place”. While relieving himself that afternoon between the walls of two buildings, Scratchy was informed by Constable Smith that he was in direct violation of this said new bylaw.
“What? Why would anyone make such a restriction and on what grounds?”
He had managed to arouse the sympathy of the police officer with his sincere question and continued: “urine is a sterile liquid. It does nobody any harm. I am hurting nobody.”
Though Scratchy spoke the truth, Constable Smith, somewhat amused by this statement, walked away, after warning in an authoritative tone Scratchy that next time a ticket must be issued.
It is to be expected that any individual, even when there are laws that prohibit doing so and repercussions for disregarding the law, will find some justification for transgressing such a limitation on human freedom and indeed the suppression of a physical necessity, or even disregard a law such as this intentionally, especially when in such circumstances as Scratchy had grown accustomed to, namely living on the street. But Scratchy was a model citizen with a strong sense of integrity and no desire to cause anyone any harm or inconvenience through any act of civil disobedience. The news of this recently enacted law bothered Scratchy, and he had spent that afternoon on a bench nearby, meditating upon the difficulties such a rule imposed upon him — being homeless and up until then quite used to making his bathroom nowhere else but the streets and alleys. He walked throughout downtown the remainder of the day, and exhausted, found that resting place in the alley where he had since awoken.
He soon stood up and walked toward 2nd Avenue. The streetlights buzzed above his head, and he looked up to see clusters of insects swarming about the glowing light. This diverted his attention away from his full bladder momentarily. Further along, hearing the sound of water flowing in the sewer beneath the street, his mind focused again upon the painful sense of fullness inside him. He began to walk faster in an effort to again be distracted, and continued to do so until morning.
As the sun was beginning to rise over the city, and through the eyes of each and every witness, Scratchy appeared either mentally distraught or utterly drunk, or perhaps both, depending on the disposition of the observer. The traffic was growing congested on the streets, while he continued to pace the blocks between 20th and 25th Street. It proved an interesting morning spectacle for many, watching this vagrant running about and yelling much nonsense. Scratchy, obeying the law and unable to do otherwise, had soaked his pants with urine, and in a frantic state of mind, now bellowed at the citizens of the city while they went about their daily business.
“I will die today, a victim of the law. But I will obey and suffer an honorable death. Because I respect the rule of law.”
After this and other loud exclamations of a similar nature and upon seeing his filthy and wet attire, a great number of people attempted to avoid his path on the sidewalk, and no doubt a few called the police. He noticed their hesitation to confront him, and it weighed heavily upon Scratchy, as he was truly a kindhearted person. His face took on an expression of embarrassment at noticing their repulsion. But it did not take long for an officer of the law to appear and apprehend Scratchy, who offered and could offer little resistance to his being arrested.
At the station, Scratchy was placed in the drunk tank, just as the bacchanals of the previous night were leaving. This, of course, was prescribed according to the best judgment of the officer who had brought him into the station. It had been a long and tiresome night for Scratchy, and he quickly fell asleep on the thin but hard mattress provided in the cell.
Awaking several hours later, Scratchy began looking about and examining the room where he had been placed. The walls were off white from age and neglect, and the floor consisted of uncarpeted concrete, discolored in some places by the various body fluids of past occupants. He preferred the spaciousness of the streets, much less confining and more hospitable than a jail. A wide and barred door stood in front of him and formal sounding voices came from the hall outside. A steel-bodied toilet sat without a lid to his left, which forced him to meditate for a moment. “Is that what this is all about?” But his deliberation was interrupted by the sound of footsteps approaching the door. He recognized the figure that entered as the same Constable Smith who had reprimanded him the day before.
“Hello sir,” the officer said with a small grimace.
“Good day,” Scratchy replied without correcting his slouching posture on the bed.
“I believe I met you yesterday, but I didn’t catch your name.”
“OK Scratchy, it’s like this,” Constable Smith began and grew serious.
“You were relieving yourself where you shouldn’t have been yesterday when I met you, and today you were brought in drunk, soaking in urine, and apparently maniacal,” he paused for a second. “There are places you can get help,” then he stopped as Scratchy began to calmly protest.
“I was not drunk. I do not drink.”
“You pissed yourself. You must have been drunk.”
“I pissed myself because there was nowhere to go. You know the bylaw, right? You told me about it yesterday. I can’t urinate in public.”
“Oh . . . yes, but what about the things you were yelling?”
“Perhaps none of that meant anything. I was very agitated.”
“But there are shelters to help people like you,” the officer said suggestively.
“Shelters? Help? What does this have to do with that, and what’s wrong with the street? When you have a curb for your pillow you can watch the stars. I suppose I feel confined otherwise, like now, but I can manage on the street, officer. Thank you.”
Constable Smith sympathized, and he despaired for a brief moment that the duties of his job forced him to insult a dignified being like Scratchy — a humble individual with so much integrity that he suffers public humiliation before breaking the law and with such modesty that he is resolved to living peacefully on the street.
“I think I understand. If there is anyway I can help you . . . for now, I’m sure you would just like to get out of here,” he said with a kind and sincere smile that Scratchy returned.
Scratchy rejoiced at his release, and lighting a cigarette Constable Smith had given him, walked away from the station. The afternoon had grown pleasant, and Scratchy took a seat on a bench near city hall and not far from the police station. Not yet feeling a need to relieve his bladder, he was enjoying the afternoon, when a group of well to do looking young men approached. Scratchy sat unaware of their advance and the collective but unfounded resentment the group felt toward him.
“Fuckin’ bum. Go get a job,” one of them uttered harshly.
The remark took Scratchy off guard, as they, with sheepish laughter and looking pleased with themselves, walked by. The sanctity of the warm afternoon suddenly shattered, like a glass hitting cement. At that moment, an intense and foreign feeling of anger surging up inside him overwhelmed Scratchy. The group was still within ear reach as Scratchy screamed out: “Fuckin’ yuppies. Go quit your jobs.” He immediately rose and followed the young men, who at first had reveled in harassing the meek looking man, but who now sensed an aggressive and confrontational transformation in him. They hastened a retreat and left the threat behind. Exhausted, Scratchy soon stopped the chase and sat on the sidewalk. He was shocked at his sudden and irrational behavior, and grateful that the youths had gotten away so easily for fear of what he may have done. His feelings of anger were soon giving way to those of shame and sadness on account of his actions.
“Whatever could be wrong with me?” he thought. “This all began with that new law. Yes. More laws and more laws everyday. Such rules must be in the best interests of everyone though, otherwise they would not be enacted. I must accept them, adapt, respect the rules of society, and there is no reason why my frustration should make me act out as I just did, or as I did this morning, and there is no reason I cannot find somewhere to use the bathroom without imposing on anyone. Ah . . . yes, that will solve everything.”
It took some time for Scratchy to compose himself, and when he had, he became aware of his need to urinate, which is common in some people just after a fit of nerves. He had never visited any of the businesses in the vicinity solely to use the bathroom, but now that it seemed necessary, and since he had resolved to adapt because of the new demands placed on him, he walked down the street, and spying a small and friendly looking café, went inside for this purpose. When he reached the door therein, it was locked, and he noticed a sign that read: “Bathroom key available at the till.” He approached the till and inquired after the key but was informed that the facilities were reserved only for paying customers. Having no money, he left looking dejected but without protest. Realizing his proximity to the public library, he turned in that direction, hopeful that there he would find a restroom. In the lobby, where stairwells divide the three floors of the library, a commissioner stood guard. Scratchy looked around, and observing a sign pointing out directions to a bathroom, he began to move. It took only a moment for the commissioner to come to life and stop Scratchy in his tracks, informing him that the bathroom is only for patrons of the library. He was forced to leave here also, and did so again without argument and again without relief.
Out on the street, cars slowed and crept along bumper to bumper, signaling that it was around five. The sound of the engines, the smell of the exhaust, and more so what looked to be many sinister and arrogant faces scowling at him from behind windshields, began to disgust Scratchy in his growing state of discomfort.
There is no doubt that the chain of events over the past day began to instill in Scratchy a feeling of resentment and anguish. He was convincing himself of his exile from an increasingly inhospitable world around him. He could no longer clearly see the distinction between private and public, as if the city streets and the whole world were becoming the private property of a select few and something inaccessible to him. He felt forcefully removed, while others were allowed in. He was willing to change — and willing to continue kneeling before the law as he always did, but the whole order of things seemed unaccommodating and hopelessly paradoxical. He could live on the outside but not outside the law. And since Scratchy always tried his best to avoid conflict and believed that living a passive and honest existence minimized the likelihood of any such thing, and since he now realized that rebellion against the law may be necessary to survive, he was forced to wander about the downtown in a state of great mental and physical distress.
At about eleven in the evening, Scratchy entered the police station. At a desk, a serious looking woman in uniform sat working with some papers. She lifted her head when he approached.
“Can I help you?”
“I am looking for Constable Smith.”
“I’m sorry. He is off for the evening. Can I leave him a message?”
“No,” he said and hastily left the helpful officer looking offended. She need not be offended. Scratchy never intended anyone any offence, and he left without asking if there was a bathroom available to the public thereabouts.
The night was cloudless. Constable Smith was lying on a bed in his mortgaged house with three bathrooms and cursing at his difficulty in getting to sleep; he rolled over and looked through the window and up into the sky. Scratchy looked upward at the same stars at times as he walked toward the river. It barely distracted him from his need to urinate. From a distance, he began to hear the sound of the water. It was coursing through the city and then southwards with fierce currents. He approached the bank and looked out at the nearly invisible water before his feet, and in a moment, had found the relief and freedom he had long been looking for.