VETERAN PANHANDING WITH PRAYER BOWL | SAN FRANCISCO | MARCH 20, 2009.
says he has two purple hearts. injuries sustained.
tells me about shannon his high school sweetheart; and the stuff they did together. how they used to dress up – wigs, makeup, costumes, colored contacts, ... to see rocky horror at the local theatre. after, everyone would meet up at the nearby denny’s. the whole lot a sight to see. all thinking "aren't we so goth." shannon got him into that. "i was a different person. you know how you go through phases?"
"yes," i say, "i know."
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I've never quite been able to put my finger on why it's so hard for a lot of us to face the unhoused of San Francisco. My dad always instructed me carefully to not give money to "that bum", and I agree with him. I try to offer a smile and a direct look in the eye. That kindness is sometimes rebuffed, but to be fair, that sort of kindness is rejected by lots of us with fancy apartments.
If it's one of the rowdy gutterpunk street kids on my corner, I know them, in a way: an uneasy truce with my gutterpunks is often broken if I sneak them leftovers. (Or broken the other way by yelling out my window when they start in too loudly.) They're tourists, too, just not armed with whizzy cameras.
It's hard to say. The border between the junkie and the mentally ill can be a hazy one. Is there a defining line with the lazy vs. the unhireable. Do we see ourselves in their faces, and so we cannot look too closely? Do we see what, but for the grace of a little luck and good friends, we could be? Do we see they're human, or is it the last acceptable form of hating someone simply for being who they are? For being unable, unwilling to change? (Even when the best people I know find change difficult at best and impossible at most.)
I am as inured to it all as the next San Franciscan, but I keep asking because I want to know: who do you truly see?