It’s Christmas Eve, and just like any other day it was time for our usual Noon walk with Tayla pup through Fort Mason. As I grabbed the leash, Tayla danced around eager to get out. Off we went.
As we left our condo, Deputy Dog Tayla started pulling me so hard with such force and steering me across the street. She snooped out something big; it was a man down.
Yes, down. He was bent over completely leaning on the entrance gate of the park. It was a very busy intersection. Several people passed by took a look and moved on. I guess this wasn’t an unusual site for many city dwellers. We moved in closer to him to have a better look and see if he was breathing. He was. Tayla sniffed around him, and he moved a little more. I was relieved to see some reaction. I got down low and yelled “hey, are you okay?” He didn’t budge. The second time I yelled, he gave a slight shrug. I moved back and looked at his scattered belongings; he had a ziplock bag of items of socks, toothpaste, oranges. I yelled to him again, “do you need an ambulance?” He moved a bit more. Tayla pulled back. So I stood up and pulled my iPhone and called 911 for assistance. Twelve minutes later, a SFPD police car drove up over the curb. An officer jumped out and immediately put on blue latex gloves and approached him. I guess this is routine for him. Another police car pulled up. I guess it was his backup. I learned later his name was Officer Tannebaum. Seriously. Officer Tannebaum was there to assist on Christmas Eve! He was the Marina neighborhood cop. I smiled. I stayed with them and Tayla too. Not that I, we, could do anything. I was more curious how they would handle the situation. Tayla kept pushing her nose in there, nudging at the man’s his leg. He seemed to react. He finally turned over and sat up. He groaned, and seemed to be in much pain. I could see he was young, had a diamond earring in his left ear and was wearing a clean Abercrombie jersey, a warm coat and clean sneakers. His face was marked up and dirty forehead. He got up slowly and stood there with a dazed look. His legs were weak. His said his legs were like pins and needles, and looked like he was in major pain. Once he got himself composed, he straightened up. The officer asked him a few questions – ‘do you need an ambulance? What’s your name? What year is it? Where are you? I guess the standard questions. He said he is fine, just sleep deprived. The cops apparently got what they needed, as they turned away and started talking amongst themselves. He stood there in a daze with all these people staring at him on the busy corner. Tayla walked ahead, she seemed to be steering him down her favorite path. I asked if he wanted to sit somewhere inside the park and then led him away from the crowd. He could barely walk, he wasn’t drunk but limping. His right leg was limp. He told me his L 4 and 5 were injured. He walked some more ahead of me, then bent over and fell to the ground. I walked over and asked if he could make it the stairs of this old vacant house ahead. He got there and just wanted to droop and sleep. Office Tannebaum drove his car around the park and up to the house where we were. He asked if he needed to go to the shelter. He declined. He wanted to “stay in nature” and not go to shelter. He said he needed to sleep. He also told me his name in Nels. We left him alone. Then the Park police came over, this was now his territory. He seemed nice, just checking in with Office Tannebaum and di the pass off. The park police was also the Park dog unit, Tayla was interested, they talked for a moment in their little whimpers to each other. His car had wreath on it, and he was playing Xmas music for his 3 year old police dog in the back seat. I thought again, him Christmas Eve; here we are trying to help Nels. I stood there shaking my head. Is someone playing with me? I said thank you to both of them and Officer Tannebaum said Merry Christmas! I went back to Nels, stilled curled up on the stairs and told him a safe place to sleep behind the old house. It was much more comfortable and warm, a good place for tonight, Christmas Eve. I walked away thinking is this real? We felt good helping out someone a Christmas Eve …the story is not yet over. Tayla and I walked across the street home.
I just kept thinking about Nels over there across the street from our home. What was his story? What more could I do for him? He didn’t seem to want anything. I ran to the rooftop terrace to see if I could see him and if he was still lying there, he had shift to the bottom of the stairs. I just couldn’t let it be. He must be hungry, maybe a hot meal. I ran back into my kitchen heated up the buffalo chili from lunch, and toasted some bread, and cut into some just baked brownies. I gathered into all together. Tayla sat there at kitchen entrance just sitting and staring at me. She knew what I was up to. What more — oh, he needs a drink? Hm….I looked in the frig for something bottled to give him, and saw all the micro-brewed beers the neighbor brought over. Well, I thought we better not give him that, even though it’s Christmas Eve, then we saw the Pepsi and grabbed that. Perfect. We gathered it all up and placed in a strong bag and headed out.
Off we went down the elevator, out the main door, to the traffic light, across the street into the park. Tayla ran ahead. Whew, he was still there. What a relief he was right where we left him on the steps of this old army barracks house. He must have rolled down, as he now lying flat stretch out on the bottom of the steps. I remember him saying that he was sleep deprived. Tayla went up to sniff him again. She also remembered. We didn’t want to harass him or make him feel less dignified. I really just wanted to bring him a warm dinner, maybe talk a bit and say goodnight again. We approached him and saw his bagged items were still there with oranges, toothbrush and toothpaste along with another torn bag of food items. It didn’t look like anyone had bothered him but it did look like he had another scratch, probably from falling down the steps. We approached and noticed he was moving. I got low again and yelled to see if he would respond – he moved and actually leaned up. Tayla approached him, sniffed and pushed her nose to his face; I think she gave him a kiss. Nels pulled back and sort of laughed.
I said “hey it’s Mary; we brought you some hot dinner.” The chili was still warm and ready to eat. He looked so tired yet got up to talk. He said his legs were still pins and needles, and numb in some areas.
He started eating. I also wanted to talk and told us about being bipolar. He apparently just took two weeks of meds at one time. Script said to take four milligrams a day; he took them all at one time. He took the total dose of 54 mg in one dose. I guess that explains why he was so tired. He also has dome major back issues from his metal working job in Seattle. It was an interesting conversation, he was quite articulate. Nels let Tayla continue to smell and nudge her head into him, he responded with a little giggle. He said “I know dogs don’t like to be approach, so I’ll just let her see if she likes me first.” He really liked her Tayla, there was a genuine connection. He asked about her collar, and we said it was from Kenya. He really wanted to talk. As we talked, I could see he was a gentle soul, kind hearted and just seem to be down on his luck. He was in a lot of pain in his back and legs. He looked beyond me and saw a man approach with his dog. It was our neighbor and his cute little beagle out for a walk just returning from his news report job on KRON4. He was curious what was going on, of course, as he is a reporter. Nels greeted him with his arm sort of waving, and his dog came in closer to sniff. We made some small talk and then he moved on.
As I write this I am thinking of who I may know to meet with him and see if there a potential job out there for him, someone to give him a chance. He wants to work. He really wants to work. He told us he sleeps at his camp near Chinatown at Jackson and Powell. I was so relieved to know he had a shelter to go to, and especially for tonight, Christmas Eve. Nels talked about how he kept his belongings in his camp handmade from metal scraps and wood he found in the neighborhood. He finished the Chili, and started on the brownies and we talked a little longer. He was still sleepy. We were worried about him, yet we knew he was a big boy, street smart and that we had to let go. It was time to say goodbye.
Fort Mason was known for its raccoons, skunks and the odd person traveling through the park in the night. We tried to encourage him to go back to his “camp” and gave him some money to take a cab or use how he wanted. We all said goodbye and wished each other a Merry Christmas.
I was filled with emotion – mixed emotions. I was happy to know he would be fine, yet I felt sad, and my stomach was churning. Nels reminded me of someone very close and dear to me who had passed recently. Maybe we all have a Nels in our lives. I shook it off and continued walking. Tayla was behind and wasn’t leaving Nels quite yet. He continued to talk with her and gave her a final little pat on her head. It was adorable. She stood there, looked at Nels then looked at me. I gave a final wave to Nels and Tayla gave him a nudge, then walked to joined me. Her walk turned to her usual little prance as she passed in front of me to show me the way back home for our Christmas Eve.