In Stark Contrast

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I suppose I left my heart, at least part of it, in San Francisco. Either that or I picked up a transmission from somebody else’s muse, because sometime around 1:45 a.m. this morning I awoke from a bizarre dream. Across the city, people were walking down long tunnels, slamming doors behind them as someone shouted, “Watching the judge! Leave me alone.” From all directions, people were slamming doors and shouting. I don’t know where they were going, but they woke me and ended up following me downstairs to the sofa. I tried to get their images out of my mind. I couldn’t get back to sleep until I’d written this:

Reality Show

Look at the wasps and the japs with their smart phone apps
The  metrosexual and über intellectual loving their beautiful lives
Gathering rust instead of gathering dust
I guess that gets them through the day

Watching The Judge
Leave me alone

Look at the prince and the punk with their urban funk
The freaks and geeks chasing wiki leaks to plan out the rest of their lives
Following info wherever the wind blows
I guess that gets them through the day

Watching The Judge
Leave me alone

Look at the tourist and the local purist with their antibacterial dreams
The neurotic and psychotic scoring prozac until the end of their prosaic lives
Better coping through sedation
I guess that gets them through the day

Watching The Judge
Leave me alone

They all come together in bold mosaic right in front of my eyes
They never notice I’m watching them, witnessing their pathetic lies
How they judge themselves and they judge each other, they don’t see me here
I am invisible, nothing to them, only an irrational fear

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*****

I’ve seen people living in doorways and public spaces from New York to Denver, St. Louis to Seattle, Chicago to Dallas and this year, from D.C. to San Francisco.

I’ve seen the cardboard signs that say Homeless Vet Need Help God Bless. I saw one that said, This is an experiment in human kindness and watched the man holding it hock a big loogie and spit it onto the sidewalk. A woman carrying a Fendi bag lifted her Ferragamo to step over it, but her labradoodle walked right through it. I’ve seen the news reports and heard the urban legends of the money-making scam that is panhandling AND I’ve seen some things that made me doubt my own eyes. One morning we walked to Market Street to take a cable car out to the Embarcadero.

As an aside, if you go to San Francisco planning to have an authentic cable car experience, build an extra day into your visit because that is how long you will stand in cueing lines to ride one. Public transit does not operate as advertised. We took the advice of our hotel concierge and purchased the three-day pass at $22 per person. Readers here know what comes next. MOTHER OF ALL RIP OFFS. It does not matter what time you plan to ride; you are gonna wait and wait and wait some more. The line was so long at the pick up on Market Street that we walked all the way up to Nob Hill. We only saw one cable car go by in the time it took us to walk all that way. It was a long way. Sure, we needed the exercise.

You’ve no doubt heard stories about people walking up hill both ways. Well, I am convinced that all started in San Francisco. To the bay and back to our hotel was up hill both ways. Passengers, actually would-be passengers, waited hours to board while operators sat on the nostalgic cable cars parked one behind the other only a block away. WTFSFMTA?! Yes, we had a rental car, but finding a place to park would require adding another day to our visit. So, we decided taxis were time and money better spent.

We were told the F Line was the quickest way to Fisherman’s Wharf. Be advised, the F stands for FUNK. There were so many people packed onto the thing we could not move…or breathe. What I would have given for a can of compressed air!

Back to my point, I do have one.

On our walk, we saw American flags blowing in the wind everywhere we looked. The symbolism wasn’t lost on me or my loyal follower. We know full well what that star spangled banner represents. The symbolism smacked of hypocrisy when we came upon a man sitting on the sidewalk with two young girls. A sign explained that they’d lost their home. I paused as one of the girls caught my eye. I cannot describe the look on her face because I’m not sure if it was shame or fear. My heart broke. It is broken still. Is this for real? Is this reality? Is this man using these girls as props? People with signs, people sleeping in doorways, people living out of grocery carts have pets? Is this their choice? Their lot in life? If this is not Oprah’s problem, is it mine?

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I cannot stand to hear people say things like, “There but for the grace of God go I.” What about that grace? Who gets that grace? Who among us deserves such a thing? What’s the alternative? To go around asking each person living on the street if they want something more? What about God helps those who help themselves? What about love your neighbor as yourself? I think about the lessons Millie Hollingsworth learned as a child and wonder, did I need to know her story to make me aware or to make me accountable? To ignore what I’ve seen with my own eyes, is that a sin or just apathetic Beyond Belief?

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Related Posts:

https://honiebriggs.com/2013/04/22/on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven/

https://honiebriggs.com/2013/05/19/in-the-beginning/

https://honiebriggs.com/2013/05/13/its-lifes-illusions-we-recall/

https://honiebriggs.com/2013/05/30/an-ordinary-day-around-here/

https://honiebriggs.com/2013/06/28/they-call-it-tingle-cut-off/

https://honiebriggs.com/2013/08/02/millie-makes-a-friend/

https://honiebriggs.com/2013/08/13/cost-of-living/

18 thoughts on “In Stark Contrast

  1. Nice piece. I have noticed that living in a place with nearly no homelessness, that it bothers me more when I see it when I travel. In Vegas I saw a man sleeping in the grass outside of a fast food drive through. I have had a man take my half finished coffee out of a trash can in Atlanta – it always stuns me. I know there are those who make a fine living out of panhandling and those stories can jade us, but I think that that is on them, and not those kind enough to give. I have taken families into my home in the past when they were in dire need. More often than not I wondered after the fact if I had really helped at all or if I had just extended the time before the next crisis. It’s a tragedy that is too easy to ignore.

  2. Kudos to you Honie! I ride public transport and walk the city streets 6 days a week. Not the nice train with all the professionals at 9-5 jobs, but the bus with the the dour, the friendly, the crazy, the all sorts of people. This isn’t a big city, but a string of small towns near San Diego with nice weather and a constant supply of people pushing shopping carts or carrying several bags who haven’t had a shower or much to eat in a while. I notice everyone. Most are friendly, some are too sad for more than a smile. These people I see are not faking it, they have been put through the ringer. (Yes once a year or so I come across a con, but they still look worse off than me.) My fellow commuters want a better life, but resources are few in a recession. Giving loose change feels cold and impersonal when I do share. I prefer to ask if I can buy them a sandwich or water and see the gratitude and surprise in their eyes. I see random acts of kindness on a regular basis. My heart swells with pride of humanity at each one. I have heard bus drivers stand up for a crazed woman asking fellow riders how they would feel living in a mind as chaotic as that. I saw a man give money to a down and out mom with 2 kids and a new baby. I see love. My time on the bus and at the stops keeps me compassionate.
    I could go on, but I think you get my drift. We are all here together, lets help each other out.

  3. Truth is, when you are immersed in it, surrounded by it, after a while you get hardened to it. It’s the only way to survive. Every day, I bought people food and water and meals, handed out business cards, promising to help people get jobs (yeah, then, I really could make it happen). Every day, for years. And one day, a guy dropped his pants, and defecated in the street. And I thought to myself that he had the ugliest butt I had ever seen. When I was relaying the story, it hit me, and I started to cry. I had lost my humanity. It was one more tick mark in the “move” column.
    On a very real level, paying for dinner and offering job help… those were my values, and if they wanted my values, I would help them. Otherwise, they were on their own. And maybe, maybe… that bottle of alcohol really would have been better. Who knows. So when I relocated, I decided to instead put my effort to help keep people from becoming homeless.
    Even though it feels so little, we do change the world one kindness at a time. It’s better than not doing anything at all.
    Great post, Honie.

    1. I have often wondered what preventative measure could have made the difference to people living in this condition. I have often had cause to wonder what, if anything, could have changed the lives of many I have known who struggle with addiction. Struggle to the point they can no longer cope at all. What you have said here is touching and honest and very commendable.

  4. Funny, I’m a big fan of Judge Judy. Not sure if that’s the judge you’re referring to, but she fits the bill as good as anybody else. Speaking of…that poem is sheer amazeballs. Trust me, that’s high praise indeed. Your words sucked me in. Good stuff!

    1. Yeah, the “don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining” kind of judge. Somewhere between my waking and stumbling downstairs for a glass of water it seemed there was a dim light from a TV in my dream. You know how dreams can be, hazy and goofy, all figurative and literal with a dash of sheer amazeballs. Your high praise is much appreciated. 🙂

  5. Thanks for the tips about SF’s cable car – someday I’ll get back there.
    The homeless people – people living on the street is an outrage. How can this country get up everyday and not do something…like using part of the money being paid to other countries to be our friends – when so many here are in need.
    True some are scammers (we have a big homeless population in this area with the mild climate), some are lost – and the longer anyone is on the street, the more lost they become to the point of hardly being able to function in society.
    The mayor before this one had a great plan. A big campaign to stop everyone from giving money to people on the streets – but to give instead to the city’s fund for the homeless. That money was used in facilities for meals, showers, cots – and on site were health teams, counselors, phones, and people with solutions for individuals. Police and buses offered free rides to these shelters – and it worked. It became rare to have people on corners – and help was given.
    New mayor – stopped all that. Now the corners are loaded, campers in over grown lots.
    All I can do is hand out water bottles for man and beast. And ask why those in other countries are more deserving of help than out own.
    Great post

    1. Time for another new mayor, perhaps. You are doing, and that is important. Don’t forget that. And don’t discount the impact you may have on an individual. It’s hard to accept that we don’t always see the result of our actions. We have to be faithful (not religious) to what we believe is the right thing to do and Do that thing. Thanks for the comment. I was beginning to think maybe I dove too deep with this one. People tend to look the other way when I do. Oh well, that’s what I do.

  6. Yet most of look past, we do so because to look closely is frightening. We are scared because we we feel helpless. Helpless in the face of so much despair, so much much pain, so much bleakness. Where do you start?

    One kindness?

    1. For me, I can’t help noticing, staring even, to try to get the full picture of the person who did not come into this world living on the street, eating out of trash cans, being so far removed from life experiences we take for granted – a birthday party, a warm embrace. This is the see something say something moment for me. I know how easily people slip away, become not a lost soul, but an invisible one. And you’re right, Val, it is too overwhelming for most people. I completely get that and would never want anyone to be offended by my pointing out what they do not wish to see. I just couldn’t ignore the topic.

  7. I love visiting San Francisco, but like so many other cities, it’s difficult to comprehend the amount of homelessness. I try to impart the despair of it to my children so that they’ll never look past these people, and that they’ll always be grateful for what they have. Then again, what do I do to help? We’ve given food to some, an occasional dollar or two. But that’s merely a drop in the ocean. I’m sure they look upon me just as you’ve described in your post.

    1. Me as well, Carrie. I don’t want to be judged by that woman. I don’t want to judge her. It is hard to comprehend. When we arrived home I was waiting at a different gate for my husband because we flew home separately due to a work thing. A young woman approached me and timidly asked if she could use my phone to let someone know she’d missed her connection and would have to stay the night in the airport. The call was made and I walked with her over to the gate attendant to ask if there was a way they could arrange a hotel for her, I even offered to pay. The best they could do was a cot or a shuttle to the Super 8 far from the airport. To me this was not good enough, not nearly good enough for a woman who’d been traveling for four days only to be delayed in customs just long enough to miss her final connection. The rude “supervisor” made me so mad. “At least she could get a shower and a good night’s sleep,” I said.

      “She can get a shower in terminal D for $15,” was the response.
      “Would you want to pay $15 dollars to shower in terminal D? I wouldn’t.”
      “Hundreds of people have this happen,” he snarked back to me.
      The young woman was satisfied to stay at the airport and sleep on a cot. What could I do? I went home and agonized over it.

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