I just read about an apparent new trend — how widespread it is, I’m not sure — in which individuals are creating Facebook pages for their local homeless people. No, not charitably or humanitarianly (is that a word?), but as in turning the homeless into online local “celebrities,” as objects of satire and ridicule, without their knowledge, apparently.
Rude. And wrong.
However, I am guilty of having nicknamed most of my neighborhood homeless people, whom I affectionately think of “homies.” However, I’ve never shared my nicknames for them (or my term “homies”) with them, and I never would. And I certainly never would take their photos and post them to the Internet, and I most certainly wouldn’t start a Facebook page for any of them, because that shit is mean and isn’t funny. (It’s not as bad as “bum fights,” true, but it’s still bad.)
Over the years — I’ve lived in the same Sacramento apartment for nine years now, because I really, really hate to move — in my neighborhood there have been:
- “Chimney,” the old guy who smoked like one. He was an old, tall, very thin white guy with a long white beard who used to hang out within a radius of only a few blocks of my apartment. He’d listen to the radio, mostly talk radio (not right-wing talk radio, that I could discern), and sometimes I’d see him reading, usually a newspaper, which he probably got from a trash can or a dumpster, I always surmised. If he drank, I never detected it. However, because of his lack of hygiene he smelled to high heaven, so much so that when passing him on the sidewalk I would hold my breath for several seconds, but for me it was a live-and-let-live situation. He never seriously bothered me, except sometimes to ask me questions about my comings and goings that made me at least mildly uncomfortable, but, except for how he smelled, especially on a hot day, he was rather harmless. He never asked me for anything at all, that I can recall, not a penny, not a bite of food. I think that he utilized at least some of the local services for the homeless at least sometimes, but I’m not sure. Unfortunately, after I had become used to having him around for years — he was a fixture of my immediate neighborhood — some months ago, Chimney simply disappeared. A neighbor of mine whom I don’t know used to let Chimney hang out in front of his apartment, sitting on a chair, where he had the shade of a small tree. (Where Chimney slept at night, I don’t know to this day.) I would ask my neighbor what happened to Chimney, whose real name, I believe, was John, but I’m afraid of what the answer probably would be. Chimney/John was around for so many years that his sudden disappearance seems like it could indicate only one thing.
- “Frankenhobo,” who walks like Frankenstein’s monster, with his arms outstretched and his legs far apart. He is an old man who is so perpetually dirty that I think he’s white, but he actually could be of another race (that is, he might not be Anglo). He walks slooooowly and often stops dead in his tracks, for no apparent reason, sometimes for a long time, before ambling on slowly again. His arms he often waves about jerkingly and apparently uncontrollably. My best guess is that he fried his brain on drugs years ago. He’s harmless, but you don’t want to get within noseshot of him. He never speaks, but he once, recently, made a very strange, very loud noise outside of my apartment as I was leaving for work, if memory serves. At first I thought maybe he’d had a major medical episode, and right in front of my apartment, since he had sounded like a large, cud-chewing animal bellowing in distress, but I saw him then continue to amble on. Frankenhobo’s range is much larger than was Chimney’s; I see Frankenhobo all over the place, even outside of my neighborhood (and I’ve seen him within the past week), and he seems to walk all day long. Where he goes at night I have no idea.
- “Crazy Hide-Her-Face Lady” was a white woman probably in her 40s. She would wear all black, including a black trenchcoat, I believe it was, and black gloves, too, if memory serves, no matter how warm the weather (Sacramento hits the 100s in the summertime). When you came anywhere near her she immediately would hide her face with her hand. I know that “Crazy Hide-Her-Face Lady” isn’t a very nice nickname for someone, but as she never spoke and as I never spoke to her — she would run away, actually, when you would approach her direction on the sidewalk, even if you were on the other side of the street — I never shared it with her. Like Quasimodo used to hang out at at Catholic church, Crazy Hide-Her-Face Lady used to hang out primarily in the vicinity of the large Catholic church in my neighborhood. Like Chimney, she disappeared, too, but that was a long time ago. Given her youthfulness compared to Chimney’s, I’d like to think that she disappeared for a better reason than Chimney apparently did. I always wondered why she felt the need to always hide her face from view. I never noticed any facial disfigurement or the like, so I always wondered if some severe childhood trauma was responsible for it.
- “Crazy Bark-at-My-Dog Lady” is a white woman in her late 50s to 60s, I’m guessing, who seems to dress too well to be homeless, but she’s mentally ill, it’s pretty clear. I see her at neighborhood coffeehouses, wearing full-length dresses, usually, no matter what the weather, and too much makeup. She seems quite in her own little world, chatters to herself, and rarely, if ever, to anyone else, that I ever have observed. Whenever I walked my now-deceased long-haired Chihuahua past Crazy Bark-at-My-Dog Lady, she inevitably would make an “Arf! Arf!” sound at my dog. This annoyed me greatly, but as my dog completely ignored her and was not spooked by her whatsoever, I let it go. (I could not have a Dorothy-is-indignant-because-Toto-is-being-terrorized moment, very unfortunately…) I saw Crazy Bark-at-My-Dog Lady just a day or two ago. As I no longer have my dog (her name was Kit, by the way; I named her after the kit fox and she lived for a good 15 years or more), I might have to rename Crazy Bark-at-My-Dog Lady someday, except that as I no longer have my dog, these days she ignores me altogether, so a new nickname for her probably is not forthcoming.
- “Cardboard” is a woman who, I am guessing, is at least in her 50s. Her ethnicity is difficult to discern, as she sits in a plastic chair and surrounds herself almost entirely with pieces of cardboard, and I believe that she keeps her head and face concealed with a scarf or scarves or some other material. She seems humped over and I’m not sure if that’s her spine or if she intentionally keeps herself hunched over, cowering from her environment. As she employs the pieces of cardboard regardless of the weather, I’m not sure how much of it is for protection against the elements and how much of it is from her belief that the cardboard protects her from the world. This woman usually sets up her cardboard camp right in the middle of the sidewalk and people just pretend that she isn’t there. “Cardboard,” I know, is not a very clever nickname. “Fort Lady” doesn’t really seem to fit, since she doesn’t build an actual fort like my brothers and I used to build out of cardboard boxes when we were kids. I’ll work on it…
- Finally, there is this little white-bearded troll of a man whose name is John. I’ve yet to nickname him, but “Troll” seems appropriate. Like my boyfriend is, this man is one of those people I call “vaguely ethnic-looking”: you know that he isn’t Anglo, but you’re not sure exactly what he is: Italian? Jewish? Arab? Some mixture? What? He’s at least in his 50s and he’s the only one of these people I’ve described who I know is an alcoholic, and it’s OK with me if he wants to drink and pickle his liver — it’s his liver — but it wasn’t OK with me when he was sleeping on my front porch. Well, I would have been OK with him sleeping on my front porch, actually, except that he’d leave cigarette butts and other trash on it, and he wouldn’t leave at sunrise, but he would sleep in — on my fucking front porch. Once I took Kit outside for her morning walk around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday. He was still on my porch. I gave him a dirty look, which I thought was a clear communication of, “Your ass had better not still be here when I return from this walk.” But when I returned with Kit, he still was there. Unfuckingacceptable. It was that time or shortly thereafter that I blew up at him. I normally don’t scream at people, but I yelled at him at the top of my lungs, and every other word was “fuck” or one of its derivatives. It was the only thing I knew to do after I’d already instructed him at least three or four times previously to stop sleeping on my porch, since he’d thought that he could stay there all day and litter liberally. My having gone ballistic on him worked. He no longer sleeps on my porch. I still see him lurking around my apartment sometimes, usually with a bicycle. When I see him from my porch I usually shoot him a stone-cold look. So that he remembers. So far, it has worked.
I probably sound callous, but the fact is that after at least nine years of living in my neighborhood, I’m quite used to seeing homeless people. I don’t like being a member of a society that doesn’t take care of its most needy, especially with all of these self-proclaimed “Christians” running around amongst us, but at the same time, I’m quite middle class and there isn’t much, if anything, that I can do for these people in terms of any long-term solution, and further, I am of the full belief that I play plenty in taxes already and that my tax dollars should go to things like helping the homeless — and preventing homelessness in the first fucking place — instead of to things like bogus wars for the oil-military-industrial complex and to corporate welfare.
As a member of the middle class, which is disappearing with the polar ice caps, I feel thoroughly fucked up the ass (in a bad way) as it is; using what money I have left over after taxes and other paycheck deductions, and after my monthly rent check to my slumlord, to help the homeless people in my neighborhood would make me feel like a colossal fucking chump.
If we of the middle class pay out of our own pockets for what our tax dollars already should be covering, when will the abuse of our tax dollars ever end?
I do care, but I don’t have any solutions, especially when it strikes me that I’d be the only one trying to solve the problem.
I like to think that I’m at least one notch above the vast majority of my cohorts who see the homeless people who populate my neighborhood and yet don’t see them, my cohorts who probably don’t even bother to take a moment to give the homies nicknames.