Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bummed Out by Bums

At one point in my life I was extremely generous to the homeless. Not naive, mind you, I didn't get suckered in by every sob story I heard or anything like that, but if I had some extra change I usually forked it over. The longer I lived in Chicago the more and more grizzled I got. A lot of this was out of necessity; if I gave a dollar to every homeless person I encountered I would have been joining them in begging for food money after a week or two.

Roughly 15 years of city living later and I find myself completely oblivious to homeless people. Other than the annoying ones outside of Trinity Church who are apparently still occupying Wall St I really don't notice when people are begging for money, and if I do notice I just quickly shake my head and keep going. The only reason I notice the occupy jerks is that they are always sprawled out on the sidewalk while I'm on my way to work and more often than not I have to step over one of them, if they weren't a tripping danger I probably would ignore them as well.

About a month ago I was walking home from work. As usual I was in my own world and sort of singing along to "Skate or Die" by Teenage Bottlerocket when a young lady asking for change stopped me in my tracks. She was sitting up against a wall with a sign that said something about needing to get back to Georgia. Next to her was an adorable but obviously underfed dog, you could see every single one of its ribs. The girl was looking up at me with the largest eyes I have ever seen, they would have been considered big for anime eyes, and my heart just broke.

I gave her the two dollars in my pocket, smiled, and kept walking. I couldn't get the image of her and the sad little pup out of my head, it was as if it was burned into my retinas. So, without really knowing what I was doing, I walked into the closest Duane Reade and started shopping. Twenty something dollars later I walked out with some dog food, some people food, a few assorted travel size toiletries and gummy worms. I went back and found the girl and gave her the bag and quickly took off before she could say anything.

This is the part of the exchange that I have been playing over and over in my head and getting really angry about. Why didn't I strike up a conversation with the girl? Or at the very least let her say thank you instead of shuffling off as fast as my little feet could carry me? Because I was ashamed is the answer.

I was ashamed, and more than a little angry, with myself for caring about this homeless girl and her puppy. Why you ask? Because she was cute. I knew in my mind, regardless of what I might try and convince myself of, that the only reason that I had gone out of my way to help this girl was because she was cute. If I wasn't attracted to her I would have just kept on going and not thought a damn thing about it, like I do with the other 5 to 10 homeless people I see every day. Yet I went way out of my way to take care of this girl, and her pup, entirely because I was attracted to her.

What the hell does that say about me? For my whole life I have tried to convince myself that appearance means very little in the grand scheme of things. I like to think that I am above base thoughts like that, that I am enlightened. But that's bullshit. I valued her life over every other homeless person I see walking to and from work for no reason other than when she looked at me with her enormous, sad, green eyes I was attracted to her.

If I was sitting down with someone having a conversation about homelessness I would talk about how I hope all of the homeless people could be taken in, that every person deserves to have a roof over their head and a meal in their bellies. Yet when I needed to put my generous thoughts into action I chose only to do so for a girl that I wouldn't have minded taking to dinner and a movie under different circumstances.

I can't understate how mad I was at myself about this, how it still eats at me. This is a way more personal entry than I would normally post on here, I recognize that. Yet if I have a blog dedicated to being angry and I'm angry at myself for being a hypocrite when it comes to helping homeless people I don't want to be a super hypocrite for not writing about how completely enraged with myself the situation made me.

The experience made me question whether I'm just as full of shit about every other thing I stand for. It made me think that I have no convictions, that I'm just a bunch of talk. When it comes right down to it I'm just a selfish prick like everyone else who will only act generously if I think there could be something for my benefit in the end. I know in my heart that none of this is true, but I still have been thinking it periodically since my encounter with the cute homeless girl. Against all odds my level of self loathing managed to kick it up a notch.

I'm a logical person, I know the real reason that I don't help every homeless person I meet is because I can't.  I make chump change and live in a damn expensive area of the world. I'm getting by comfortably but if I spent an extra five bucks every day on my way to work to help people out the electricity would be getting shut off in a month. I can't beat myself up over this.

So, I've moved on. Obviously, I'm still thinking about that girl a little bit. I gave half a sandwich to the ugliest bum on my way home the other day. It might not even things out, at least not yet, but I felt just as good helping out that hideous looking man as I did when I helped the girl. Maybe I'm not the heartless monster I feared.

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