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Tuesday
Apr212009

Sparing 

I don't like what DC is doing to me.  One of the main aspects I dislike about working within the Beltway, in addition to the fact that I actually have to breathe the same oxygen as Congress, is the high Mean Person quotient.  They're everywhere, and I fear I'm becoming One of Them.

Now, we all know how I feel about people (hate them) but as a downtown rat I'm now in constant contact with panhandlers (am well aware I'm not supposed to hate them).  This city is rife with beggars, even in the low-tourist-traffic district where I work.  There are several regulars, all of whom I am terrified of and avoid, especially after I saw one of them propping up his tip cup with a fresh pack of cigarettes-- which is precisely why I much prefer to make direct product donations to food banks, drop an extra tithe percentage or five into the coffers of homeless shelters, or offer a person panhandling for a meal food out of my bag.   It's mere quality assurance.  Also, solving world hunger one 100-calorie pack of Chips Ahoy at a time.

Some of the local panhandlers, however, don't even try; one, who looked to weigh in at least the Walter Perry range, set his cup near his propped-up head and stretched out full-length on a concrete wall.  Dude. If you haven't the good grace to maintain at least the appearance that you're starving, at least remain upright.  I'm more inclined to donate to those who at least entertain me, like the guy who stood in front of the subway stop last month holding an enormous sign crammed with very small lettering.  At the top: OBAMA KILLED PRINCESS DIANA.

Most difficult to face are those who are mentally ill; clearly, a donation to them isn't enabling a lifelong career of cup-holding; clearly, they need help; clearly, I have absolutely no idea how to help them; and clearly, as a person with a mental health history of my own about as thick as a Wookee thigh, I'm about five steps away from pulling up a piece of street corner next to them.  One more admonition about moving sheep and goats about state lines crosses my desk, and I'm joining the lady who last month  stood at the busy crosswalk of a Metro station, shouting "F--K YOU!!  ALL OF YOU, FAKERS!" into the traffic.

There's one regular who sits in front of a local museum when the weather's nice, occasionally shouting about proper dinner table settings; the last time I saw a man drop a couple quarters into his cup, he was rewarded with a top-volume diatribe about socks.

But that wasn't even the worst part about it.  The worst part about it was that no one walking past this poor guy made eye contact, or even pretended to.  Including me.

Maybe it's a safety issue.  Maybe it's because we're in a hurry.

Or maybe we just don't want to look suffering in the eye anymore.

anyway, happy Tuesday at:  mbe@drinktothelasses.com

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Reader Comments (13)

I swear there was a homeless man on M street in Georgetown today talking about place settings. I could NOT understand what he was trying to get across to us...maybe your guy has moved to a different locale??

April 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKT

I guess Mexican beggars are in a need to be more creative—being that there's a whole lot of them more trying to make a living off of people's pity/guilt.

That's why in Mexico you get to see your flame-throwers, jugglers, as well as your generic http://juanmanuelsarabia.blogspot.com/2008/10/mientras-tanto-felipe-juega-los.html" rel="nofollow">big-butted child clowns.

There's also the rather annoying http://www.bandini.com.ar/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/limpiavidrios.jpg" rel="nofollow">windshield-cleaners, who obviously have to resort to plain rudeness and not heeding the pleas of the drivers in order to gain a few pesos a day. But things can get tense with them, believe me.

I guess that the difference between how we perceive these people in Mexico, and how they are perceived in the US, is that we kind of acknowledge that there are plenty of reasons why they could end up in the streets—runaway children fleeing from domestic abuse, farmers migrating to the cities, etc. But I think that—until now—the view most Americans had of homeless people was that they were incompetent or lazy, or that they were the main culprits of their own situation.

And I say until now,because we are now witnessing how many 'average' American citizens are forced to leave their homes and put up a camping tent in order to survive. We are realizing that there are more ways to fall amid the cracks of the system that we realized.

April 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

I"m not sure how the housing situation is being reported where you are, because we are FAR from "people in tents." The vast, vast majority of the foreclosures are on people who are house flippers, or stupidly signed on to interest-only mortgages on homes WAY beyond their means, or because the government forced the banks to take on high-risk lendees. Charitable organizations are reporting that more people are needing help as job losses mount, but it's really, really not a case of "average Americans" suddenly taking to the streets. It's a sluggish economy and will probably get worse, but we're not talking Dust Bowl here.
I would also argue that there's a really easy way to remedy "falling through the cracks" of a system which is ridiculously socialistic to begin with, but as the commenting policy warns against getting into poli-fights, I'll leave it at that.

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeena

Indeed. I hereby declare the Housing Bubble Battle That Wasn't officially done.

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMB

In NY, we had the Squigee Men who sat in underpasses. I'm sure they are similar to the winshield cleaners mentioned above, but with one difference: they would target the cleanest windshields and race to filthy it up with their (really) dirty rag before you could get your window down to yell at them. ...then they'd gleefully tell you not to worry, that they'd clean it right up for a small donation. (I've since moved away, but I'm sure they are still there.) I swear those guys grinned while they did that. Bastards.

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVicki

MB, it's probably safer that you don't make eye contact. The last thing you need is the guy remembering 'the pretty lady who gave him cookies last week' and pressuring you into continuing the donations.

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterj.s.

I'd bet they smiled. That's a really sleezy thing to do that only really sleezy people could do day after day without feeling guilty.

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLadyLadyLady

Good on you for offering people food and not money. I can't tell you the number of times we've stopped someone - in our tiny rural town - holding a "will work for food" sign and handed them a bag from a drive through or cans from Walmart and got met with a look of disgust.
Historically, begging is just another job. Sometimes people got quite annoyed if you set up on 'their patch' - see the Holmes story 'The Man with the Twisted Lip'.

April 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterstarnarcosis

Love this blog I'll be back when I have more time.

April 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermrred

[...] On sparing Share and Enjoy: [...]

MB - I feel ya. My daily travels through Union Station were often eye-opening. I had a crazy lady who scared the hell out of me one day - she was shouting something at the top of her voice - but it was only in spurts and RIGHT as I walked past her. I almost peed myself right there.
Then there was the guy who jumped right in my path and then sprung out of it as I was walking towards my train. Another heart stopping experience.
From what I was told, a few years ago, they closed one of the major "institutions" in the area and a lot of the homeless are from there. It's very sad that these people have been turned out with no one to take care of them.
Good for you for giving food and not money. Good for you for giving them anything at all AND for thinking about them. Seems a lot of people don't even let their presence enter their minds.

April 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKris

You need to visit Okinawa as soon as possible. The people here are so nice, you don't even get road rage when they cut you off because you know they would most certainly let YOU in were the situations reversed. Heck, they use the horn more often as a "thank you" beep.

This comes from someone who's lived in NYC, Philly, and the DC area. Seriously. These people will restore your hope in the goodness of human beings.

April 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLt K

I lived outside the beltway and I had only been driving a year before moving there so I did most my learning by observation of the maniacs that drive there. I then moved to Seattle and grinned with glee at the unsuspecting coffee and cell phone toting NOT driving imbeciles that live there (yes including my family). To which point I then developed the worst road rage EVER and alas I had to banish myself and moved to Alaska.

So I feel for you and don’t resist the assimilation “Resistance is Futile!”

May 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlaskaMe
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