“Does anyone have any change, any food?” – cries a homeless man who looks no different than the average Angelino.
When I think of the homeless, I imagine dirty, stench-covered, subhuman, ex-drug addicts and alcoholics.
I realize this is a very sadistic and inaccurate description of unfortunate few, which puts me on par with all of the assholes in this world.
This man, dressed in a regular shirt, earing clean pants, hair trimmed and styled just sits there –one hand open, begging for food.
A typical pedestrian knows better than to hand over any money to a homeless, and thus, in an almost robotic sort of fashion we all walk by without as much as glancing at the poor souls.
It’s an unspoken code among us day-slavers: if you see a homeless, do not make eye contact, just keep on walking and if at all possible pretend they don’t exist.
“I’m not a wall” – he says, raising his voice.
This single statement stops me in my tracks.
A feeling of disgust and that which follows lasts for what seems to be an eternity, even though I keep on walking.
“What did he just say?!” – I think while turning around.
It hasn’t occurred to me that the ten or so people directly behind me are also purposefully ignoring him in much the same way I follow the code, looking in another direction, almost stumbling over his slumped chunk of flesh and bones.
“I’m a human being, god damn it!” – he says, this time even louder. “And I’m hungry!”
It’s not at all unusual to see raving lunatics who best suit psychological care facilities rather than streets of L.A. to roam downtown and scream profanities. But I can tell he isn’t one of them.
This man is perfectly sane, capable and most likely a victim of our crumbling economy.
The “code” doesn’t mention homeless getting upset over unsuccessful panhandling. They are supposed to do it quietly, repeating the same phrase like a broken record.
How dare he break the code!
He can’t just get upset because hard working people choose to ignore him! He can’t yell back at us! No, no … no!
But he is.
If I open my mouth, the first expression will be: What an asshole! Get a job!
But… I don’t dare say those words. My programmed behavior to treat homeless worse than pigeons (at least I throw some crumbs at them) is about to be shattered.
There is something wrong with me!
I could be in his shoes any day! I am no longer my own boss, I could be fired. I could lose my job, never find another one and end up on the same corner, occupying a small, dirty patch of concrete.
His luck had run its course and he’s merely looking to be fed, perhaps searching for that last glimpse of hope from what he used to call a normal life.
Feeling as though I can somehow redeem myself for allowing such thoughts to occupy my mind, I search for some change.
“I can be good” – I say to myself. If I can only prove that his cry is heard and that he is not indeed a wall, my conscious will clear.
I dig deeper and deeper, faster and faster. “Where the hell is my change?”
Joyous thoughts fill me. I’m a good human being for doing this.
I’m nice to people, I listen, I give free advice and do things for strangers without expecting anything in return.
I’m not greedy.
I can do this.
I’m a decent human being.
I’m an idiot!
I don’t carry cash. My bus is here, I have to go.
Who am I kidding? Redemption doesn’t come that quick. Giving away a bit of money won’t change the fact that I allowed my opinion to be shaped so harshly against anyone who begs to survive.
It won’t change the fact that I’m a hypocrite.
It won’t change the fact that…