Last month, blogger Carmi Levy wrote an article about homelessness that struck a chord. Carmi is a Canadian journalist & 'tech-y' guy and all-around gentleman... basically the anti-thesis of me. I'm far from Canadian. Anyway, he posits that we should all look out for the homeless and destitute, since any of us could wind up saturated in our own piss, talking to buildings and extending our nicotine-stained hand out to passers by to eke out a living.
In response to his post, I wrote:
...Yeah. We're all a lawsuit/bender/divorce away from being indigent or destitute, but I think most of us have the capacity, resourcefulness and will to avoid such a fate...
Sure, it could be any of us, but I don't find myself to be all that charitible to neighborhood cadgers anymore. This might be due to the fact that I live in an area with a high panhandler to regular person ratio.
Here's a historical glimpse of such characters:
A fifty-some year old guy who for a span of three or four years would approach people in front of a convenience store, asking for money "out of desperation." How long can one be 'desperate'? I think after three or four days it ceases to be desperation and becomes a flat-out nuisance.
A thirty year-old bearded hippie who spent a couple of summers rustling up some change to catch a bus - at the same stop, for hours on end.
The short pigeon toed dude with the fake "shakes" and the plaintive f*cking expression on his face. He'd waddle back and forth in front of the Blockbuster Video store looking like he was about to cry. This was his post for a couple of years.
The grizzled 'Vietnam Vet' guy who'd sarcastically respond "God Bless America," whenever you'd pat the pockets and shake your head as you walked by.
Then there's the 'ran out of gas' routine... That's a winner. F*ck you. Especially when I'm paying 3.02 a gallon to keep my rusty piece of sh*t on the road...
Yeah, it's enough to make anybody calloused. In a way, though, Carmi's right. It could be any of us. A few months ago I started running into an old acquaintance of mine named John. I hadn't seen this guy in about eight or nine years. He used to be normal. At least normal enough to bag one of my old female friends back in the day. Now he starts appearing out of the blue and chats me up for ten painful minutes with some kind of incoherent babble. I don't like to talk to regular people for half as long. As f*cked up as he sounded, he starts rattling off stuff about people we knew and we parted off with a 'nice to see you.'
A couple weeks later I run into him again, looking a little messy. Now I'm thinking, "Man, what kind of f*cking drugs did this guy start taking?" as he goes on and on about the same sh*t as our last encounter. I kind of tugged at my collar and herded the family along and gave him the 'nice to see you, again.'
One or two days go by and here he comes again, looking far more deteriorated and disheveled. He introduces me to some teenage kid he refers to as his friend. As I try to make my getaway with my dog, mother-f*cker hits me up for a "couple of bucks to get some drinks with the ladies."
I gave him the "bunt sign" (patting pockets to indicate lack of monetary content) and rushed off, as he shouted a couple of "Aw... Come on's."
Did I feel like an a**hole for not helping him out? Maybe just a little. I kept thinking that if I really wanted to help him out, I'd give him a ride to the local Bry Lin Treatment Center next time i saw him, but giving out a couple of quarters everytime I see him or any of those other 'destitute' f*ckers on the street is bull sh*t.
I take care of my more resourceful vagrants by leaving out my empty returnable bottles and cans on garbage day. The ill feeling I got standing behind a fat housewife or houseband with 73 empty diet pop cans at the supermarket just wasn't worth the $1.55 I'd garner on an average load. I also 'give at the office' with the United Way and any other legit charity I deem worthy.
I pose this question. At what point should I toss out a quarter? Am I just a cheap bastard or does anybody else get annoyed in this situations. Does it, in fact, make me a heartless a**hole?
As much as I hate to say it... John, next time I see yo' ass, I'm probably crossing the street. You need a little more help than I'd be able to give with $0.73. I hope you find it.