Wednesday, March 19, 2008
California is good to the homeless
I feel really bad for the homeless. I really do and I always have. When I was little, we had this graduation from 6th grade and we all had to say where we thought we'd be in 20 years. I wrote that I would win a lifetime achievement award in music (deluded much?) and end homelessness in New York state (awwww). Most of the time, when someone asks me for spare change, I dig something up for them --even as much as $2, which is generous when you consider I could buy a whole bottle of Charles Shaw (oh, how I love thee) with that cash. I realize that on any given day, the only thing separating me from a homeless person is a checking account containing about $86.
And I understand when people say they are just going to use that money to buy drugs or booze. I know this from personal experience because once I offered a beggar my french fries and he turned them down. And another time I bought this woman a piece of pizza and she totally gave a flying fuck about it. So now I know that actually I waste even more money buying food than just giving them cash for drugs and booze. And you know what? I'm fine with that. What do I care? None of my business. They got themselves into this mess and now things suck for them and that's too bad. I hope they've learned their lesson. And so if they need a little money here and there, I'll help when I can. I'd prefer to just give them a hand than have them stealing or whoring themselves out for it.
Yet despite my good intentions and sympathy, I'm finding it harder and harder to give a shit. Sometimes they don't say thank you, and sometimes they yell scary things about the apocalypse at me and call me a sinner. And sometimes they leave their shopping carts on the street in front of my apartment building, making my neighborhood look even worse than it already did. These are all really general statements, but I also have 3 specific encounters with homeless individuals that really pushed my buttons. Here they are, in chronological order:
1. My first apartment in L.A. was in West Hollywood. I, naturally, was in the dodgy end of the community, and occasionally would hear shouting matches in Russian coming from the streets in the wee hours of the morning, or would encounter half-dressed, wigs falling off, tranny hookers making their way home as I embarked on a jog before work. But it wasn't particularly a dangerous place, and so I never felt too weird about walking to the 7-11 a few blocks away at night. So one night I went for a walk to buy some wine. On my way back, I saw a man walking toward me, muttering all kinds of crazy to himself. I tensed up and kept walking. Then he stopped, stood really close to me, and I just froze in place. "It's all your fault!!" he screamed in my face, and then moved his arm in toward my stomach in a fast, thrusting motion that one would use to, oh, stab someone. In that split second I held my breath and thought "this is what stabbing feels like," but then looked down and saw he was unarmed. He had just mine stabbed me. That asshole! So I shrieked and took off in the opposite direction. He chased me for a few steps, and then when I looked back, he had stopped and was walking the other way. I ran the rest of the way home and poured myself a big ol' drink.
2. Two summers ago, I was studying for the LSATs (Why? Well, that's a whole different clusterfuck I'll get into some other time. Maybe tomorrow.) I found that my favorite place to do this was in the library downtown. It was really big, like 5 floors, and not too crowded and had nice big windows to sit by. Also, downtown intrigues me because I never go there and it feels like a whole different world and I like exploring. So I'd always be in good spirits while studying in the library. Feeling busy and productive and, well, studious. This one day I found a good little space in some remote corner of the 4th floor, sat at a study carrel, and began taking a practice test. I get halfway through the analytic reasoning section, when I hear this weird noise coming from across the room. A weird noise and the occasional Ha! Ha! I peer up over the wall of the carrel and don't immediately see anything. Oh well, I have no time for this. Eleven minutes to go on this section. But the noise is distracting. Thap thap thap thap thap. HA! HA! Thap thap thap thap. I stand up this time and look around. Then I spotted him. The homeless man masturbating happily in between two book shelves. I fought off intense nausea and the feeling I might faint, gathered my stuff and ran for the kids section, where it might be loud, but I'll bet the library staff keeps an eye out for such creepy men.
3. A couple months ago, I stopped at Starbucks on my way to work. There are usually roughly 4 homeless people lingering around the front entrance. [Look, I don't live on skid row or anything. L.A. just has lots and lots of homeless people. Approximately 400 per square mile, I'd guess.] After I got my mocha I exited and was walking through the outdoor seating area when a man stepped right in my path, leans his dirty face toward me and asks "can i kiss you?" "NO!" flew out of my mouth, at the top of my lungs, before I could even think about how thoroughly disgusted I was. I stepped to the side and walked away. "GOD!" I screamed back at him for good measure.
So I'm conflicted. I may start calling them bums instead of homeless. I know there are always some bad apples, so I shouldn't start being so negative. And I'd be kidding myself if I said I'm going to stop giving out money. I'll never actually stop caring...
But, WTF?! You know?