In my 6 years, I'd heard nary a peep from the homeless in NY - which, admittedly, made it easier to turn the blinders on. But when I came to SF, I had no other option BUT to notice. The blinders were forcibly removed. It didn't matter where I was -- downtown, across town, bay side, ocean side. Everywhere. It was like the shame and guilt I'd been carrying about ignoring the homeless, and it being "universally accepted" to do so -- was staring me in the face. I was confronted and didn't know how to be. This disturbed me. And it still does.
What am I supposed to say to you [and you, and you, and you] when you ask me if I have change to spare? From where I'm standing, my spare change ain't gonna help you. I know they say "every little bit helps", but does it? That's not going to give you what you really want and need. What you really need is a place to stay, don't you? Or, has it become so far gone that the street is what you consider to be your place to stay? Do you ever imagine yourself in a home? What would you do if someone gifted you a place right now? Would you live in it or come back to the streets? How did you get here? What do you eat? Are you going to buy drugs and alcohol with this change, like society tells me you're going to?
These are the thoughts in my head. Still, I drop my change in the cup, and carry on. Still disturbed by who I'm being in the face of this ... chaos. What is this? How did so many people end up on the streets? I've heard the rumors of NYC former mayor Rudy Giuliani sending the homeless on a one-way bus ticket to the Bay, but never spent any time of my own to actually research that specific detail.
Wait...this is "awkward"? ...For who?
Enough with this "hi" and "bye", passerby. Who are you?
There I am, walking up to my building, and the Bearded Man looks me in the eyes. I stop. He doesn't ask - and I say, "I have a dollar!" I told him last week I'd get him on the way back and he wasn't around at the time I came back, so I kind of strangely felt like I "owed" him. Or more accurately, that I didn't honor my word. I'm happy to be in a position to help, in this moment. I pull out two singles from my wallet, do a double fold, and hand it to him. He tucks it away into the right outside pocket of his tattered jacket, zipping the pocket. "It's not gonna help my name - which I never made one of myself."
I'm now curious; perhaps too curious. I stay, standing on my steps, arms slightly akimbo. I'm dying to know this man's story. Why do I freeze when I see him?
"What happened to you? Why are you here?" He looks at me. I feel no threat, no feeling of me being better or him being less than. No separation. Presence.
"I will never have the answer to why I was born as me and not someone else. I was in love with a fantasy." he confesses. "But, I didn't stand a chance. When the people around you are feeding you cigarettes, alcohol, and the worst food on the planet, how are you to know any better? Did I make some bad choices? Yes. But even if I had a chance, this would still be my destiny." He runs his fingers through his oily hair, and down to the tip of his grizzly beard.
"Have you always been here - I mean, in San Francisco?" I ask... not knowing what to say.
"This isn't San Francisco. This is Hell. I don't exist. This is infinite death, and it's not fair ... I have every disease there is, and probably some they haven't even given a name to yet. That's what I have to look forward to."
He went on for a while, and I listened. I wanted to.
"What do you consider what the "rest" are doing here?"
"The only word I can think of for what you and the rest are doing is: LIVING. And you are the creators. I'm a slave."
"Sooo....Do you have a name?" He shakes his head no, "doesn't matter anyway."
"What do I call you?"
"Whatever you'd like to call me."
"Ok, Brian. Thanks for sharing that with me, I know you probably didn't want to get into all of that."
"All I have is time."
He shares some more and I'm realizing, the conundrum of me having to go because I am... short on time. I still have one more thing I'd like to ask. "I can make assumptions, but... what is it that you really want?"
"What I want will never happen?
"What do you want?" I probe.
He stares off into the busy street, a few people pass by, shaking his head in resignation, "To be loved."