Tuesday, September 27, 2005


When I walk through the city at lunchtime I put singles in my pockets so that when I pass homeless people holding change-cups, I can easily give them money without opening my wallet on the downtown streets--something I'm loathe to do, even in the best of sunny blue-sky afternoontimes.

But I don't always give them the money.

Maybe I am a hypocrite. Some homeless people scare me.

Cincinnati is a fairly large town. We have a decently diverse body of homeless people. It's no Chicago or New York, but there are a good-sized number of them here. Ever since Katrina, I've seen more diversity in the homeless population. I rather doubt that any of the people I'm seeing are evacuees, because frankly, most of them could not possibly have gotten their shit together enough to have made the trip from Looziana to Cincinnati without being arrested, shot, or accidentally killed from walking in front of a bus. I don't know if the hurricane has a direct correlation with the numbers and weirdness of the people on the street or not. Probably not. I'm probably just imagining it.

My building is in an area downtown that's sort of the arse-end before you get into the warehouse district where no homeless people hang out because there's nothing there except old buildings and broken glass and twisted metal. There's no one to panhandle from there. Homeless people are more rare in the area where my building is than in the northeast part of town, up near the jail, where they live on the streets in clusters. When I see a homeless person on the street where my building is, they're in dire, dire straits. They've usually been forcibly shunted down thataway by the rest of the homeless people who congregate in the more populated areas. Last winter, there was a woman out on the streetcorner in the bitterest cold, walking in circles and picking her feet up and shaking her hands and crying. I gave her money on numerous occasions and it always made her cry and say "thank you" in a slurred-with-cold voice. Once I gave her a pair of gloves and I thought she was going to evaporate with gratitude. I asked M if he could ask his cop buddies to look out for her. I saw her yelling at some people in a van once who offered to take her to a shelter. She was yelling "I can't go back there" and getting ready to cry some more.

Sometimes I crossed the street to avoid her teary face and her torn clothes and her utter and complete desperation. It's not that it scared me so much as that it hurt me because seeing it on her face made me feel just a fraction of it and I didn't have a capable way to handle it.

Now and then I see her up in the park near our old office, in the more populated part of town. She's always eating lunch out of a plastic bag. She looks a lot better than last winter. I hope she's not back down on the corner again this year.

Other homeless people I have seen regularly:
  • There was an elderly Asian woman wandering around in a pink jumpsuit for a few weeks last summer. She looked shellshocked, as if she had no idea who she was or what she was doing or where she was or anything.
  • A middle-aged, very thin black woman wearing a torn t-shirt and jeans walking through throngs of lunching businesspeople on the streets, pleading in a hopeless way for money. A homeless person who is walking through crowds holding her hands out asking for money is much more desperate than one who sits on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign and a cup. This woman had very obviously lost all hope and was only walking around asking people for money to keep herself moving and alive. I gave her money last year. I haven't seen her this year.
  • The autistic guy and the woman with him. They always have a little milk carton full of snacks and gum that they're trying to sell from their sidewalk seat in the sun. They're older, probably in their sixties. The man is always rocking back and forth, twisting his fingers together. He always wears shorts and his thighs are burned from the sun. The woman is always smiling. I haven't bought anything from them, but today I planned to. I walked by their space where they always sit outside the Skyline Chili, but there was a scaffolding there and I couldn't find them.
  • The guy with one leg, perpetually leaning on his crutches outside the Federal Reserve bar. I'm pretty sure he's a veteran.
  • The dude who sits outside the Walgreens and talks to you about the weather and doesn't ask for money. He just swirls around the change in his white plastic cup. He calls all the blessings of Allah down on your head if you give him money.
I wonder what that's like. To be so very homeless that you do something to get arrested so you can sleep in a heated building at night, even if you're in a cage.

One of these days I ought to write a post about M's job. About the people he tells me about. The faces he sees on the news and says, I know that person. I found a bag of crack on him last year, or she's been arrested more times than any other woman in the county, or that guy was brought in on child-rape charges, or that woman beat her son with a dinner plate.


I know this isn't very cheery. I'm having some adjustment difficulties coming back to essentially meaningless, trite stuff-I-do-for-a-living after a really nice vacation during which I felt more in touch with who I am when I'm not dealing with all this shit than I have in a long time. I have a good job. It pays decently. My coworkers are great. But when I get home from there, I know that I haven't done anything to make the world better. And I don't know how much longer I can do this. It's putting a hole in me.

My pictures from the Black Hills are now up on Flickr. In that set you'll see some buffalo, some donkies, and a turkey, and also the moon, one of our campsites, and some poison ivy. If you're bored, you can wander outside that photoset and into some recently posted but not sorted stuff, where you'll find a picture of yours truly. I hope to get the Badlands pictures up some time tomorrow.


At September 27, 2005 11:03 PM, Blogger OORANOS said...

Have a good time

At September 28, 2005 1:28 AM, Blogger Mr. Brightside said...

Donkey!!! El burro!!!

At September 28, 2005 2:38 AM, Blogger Elemmaciltur said...

You know...this entry had got me thinking. I've just finished Paul Auster's "City of Glass" right before getting on the net and reading this entry. My thoughts are at a jumble right now, but the only thing I can tell you is that it really got me thinking.

Sometimes it feels as though life is meaningless....but deep down in that meaninglessness there is a meaning after all...I'm babbling a bit now. I think I should get my thoughts a bit more organised first. So many things to do today. My flight back home is tomorrow evening and I still haven't started to pack yet!

At September 28, 2005 7:35 AM, Blogger cmhl said...

wow--- that really hit me when you mentioned that you crossed the street because you felt like you didn't have the resources to handle her anguish. I so know how you feel--- I find myself holding back from people that are in extremely emotional people, just because it is outside of my comfort zone. I have "befriended" several people on the street as well, one in particular loves a happy meal hamburger with only mayo. So far, no bad experiences.

At September 28, 2005 9:25 AM, Anonymous atpanda said...

Hey. So, I'm from the suburbs of Phx and of course I know that there are homesless people here, somewhere, but I don't ever see them. I've volunteered at shelters and such, but I had the buffet bar separating me from that life. I was in Cincinnati for a week once for a conference, staying in the downtown area. It was the first time I'd been alone in the center of a city like that. I went wandering one day looking for interesting food, and ended up on a shaddy street. I'm ashamed to say that I immediately got scared and high tailed it the other direction. Its interesting for me to read the perspective of someone who lives and works there.

At September 28, 2005 10:21 AM, Blogger Jenelle said...

My heart always goes out to the homeless. And whenever I went into Manhattan, I always had a pocketfull of change that I would disperse secretly because if my aunt caught me....oh boy would I get it. But I just couldn't help myself. They always seemed like they needed the eye contact more than the change though.

At September 28, 2005 2:55 PM, Blogger suleyman said...

I'll tell you, both the nicest and most belligerent homeless people are to be found in San Francisco. They range from just plain creepy/destitute to clean and polite. They either try to sell you communist literature or get you to repent.

I'm not really used to the homeless since I live in a pretty small town. We have one guy here in Podunk called "The General," an old veteran, but there aren't any other really visible street people. When I come across them elsewhere I don't know how to react, but I give change when I can.


At September 28, 2005 3:08 PM, Blogger Greg said...

I see many homeless people in Huntington Beach, but very few who panhandle or ask for money. We all have a tendancy to avoid them, not look at them, ignore them when they stand directly in front of us.

Your post has me thinking of what I can do to help....

At September 28, 2005 3:44 PM, Blogger Indigo said...

I used to live close to college, UW-Milwaukee, and there was always a homeless man that hung out in the commons all day, and sometimes I'd see him wandering my block too. I was *obsessed* that he have clean socks. Why? I'm not sure, I think it was right around the time the movie "With Honors" was out, and if you've seen the movie (who hasn't?) you'll KWIM. Anyhow, I began carrying a spare pair of white sweat socks in my backpack so that if (when) I saw the man I could give him clean socks.

My (uncompassionate) best friend/roommate, couldn't understand my need to give him these socks, or why he'd want to take them.

Of course, I never saw him again. But, at least I tried.

At September 28, 2005 5:06 PM, Anonymous e said...

You know...you're just the best. So glad to "know" you.
Beautiful post.
Beautiful pics.
And you know...I've been waiting for that last paragraph...Like I said, nice pics. :) I'm curious to know what made you decide to unmask.

At September 28, 2005 8:15 PM, Anonymous mary said...

Hello, found my way here from E's place. She wasn't kidding when she said you have fabulous blog. I'm a bit overwhelmed after reading this post, flicking through your truly awesome photos, finding one that connected me to your "Ocean" story, then reading that as well. Wow.

My husband works in law enforcement and routinely sees and is part of the kind of world that M knows, too: homelessness, rape, child abuse, desperation. It's difficult to wrap my head around it sometimes. It's all too real.

I cannot think of the right words to tell you how much I've enjoyed reading you... 'Thank you' will have to do for now.

At September 28, 2005 10:36 PM, Blogger Indigo said...

Found the pic, you are sooooooooooooooo sneaky.

At September 28, 2005 11:51 PM, Blogger Adeline said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At September 29, 2005 11:34 AM, Blogger Kross-Eyed Kitty said...

I live in a neighbourhood with many, many homeless street people. There is also a woman's shelter across the street. The building directly across is a co-op for schizophrenics. I'm amazed at how many people I see and recognize daily in this community. It is definitely eye-opening.
thanks for writing this post, it's made me think about my neighbours.

At September 29, 2005 7:35 PM, Blogger d.K. said...

Vacations can have that unintended consequence - the huge crash that happens when it's over. I hope you understand that intellectually, even if you have to let it go through your system. I get those feelings sometimes - I call it "restlessness" but it's closer to what you describe.
On another note, but related to your post, my brother, who's a year older than I am, has been a cop in a large city in California for almost 20 years, and it has taken its toll. He also interacts everyday with the same people M deals with, and with that much exposure to the underbelly of our cities, the stuff most of use see in very small doses, it gets hard to shake.


Post a Comment

<< Home