The Unbearable Banishment: a cold city begets a cold heart

Thursday, November 20, 2008

a cold city begets a cold heart

There’s a homeless man who sits on the sidewalk outside of Benevolent Dictators, Inc. He’s there every evening when I leave work. He’s on the west side of 5th Avenue just north of 43rd Street and has a sign that reads, “I’m hungry, homeless,” etc. He has a dog with him. It’s a medium sized dog. Maybe a pit bull or a mutt. Do you know what I think when I walk past them every evening? “That poor dog.” How shitty is that? It’s not as though I lack compassion for the man. I just seem to have more for the dog. I’m a jerk.

When I moved to New York twenty years ago, I use to keep a lot of quarters in my pocket and dole them out to homeless people on the streets and subways. The city was in terrible shape when I first got here and homelessness was rampant. But it got to be too much for me and I did what a lot of urban dwellers did; I hardened my heart and the homeless became invisible to me. You had to. It was a defense mechanism. Otherwise, you became overwhelmed with melancholy. So I don’t think I’ve broken that bad habit yet. I should. I’ll try.

* * *

Last night on the train I was über annoyed because a woman a few rows behind me was talking talking talking talking talking without pausing to take a breath and I thought my cell phone jammer was failing because I couldn’t shut her up. (It doesn’t always work. If someone’s cell phone is using a frequency outside the range of my jammer, they’re unaffected.) Finally, I turned around so see who was running her pie hole and she wasn’t on the phone. She was with someone but was hogging the entire conversation and wouldn’t allow her friend get a word in. It was all about her! They need to invent a jammer that freezes vocal chords.



OpenID daisyfae said...

walking by isn't so cold... a handful of change is just a bandaid on a broken neck... can't really fix anything. but it doesn't feel good, does it?

November 20, 2008 at 8:20 AM  
Anonymous Rob said...

You know, the stories of the "homeless" panhandlers who actually treat it as their job and pull in 6 figure incomes begging on the streets, have a mansion and the suburbs, a wife and children and college kind of ruin the credibility of the bona fide folk who are down their luck.

It's hard to sort out who needs help and who's a scammer.

How does a homeless person support a dog anyways?

November 20, 2008 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Digital Fortress said...

The homeless here hang around the entrances/exits to the highway and some of them really pull at my heart-strings. I'll give them the spare cash that I have when that happens and ask them to spend it wisely. Afterwards I don't know if I should feel happy that I helped or like a sucker.

November 20, 2008 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

daisy: I use to think that handing out quarters was my small part to help out but it ultimately turned out to be a futile endeavor.

rob: I’m pretty adept at telling the difference between someone who is truly homeless and some trust-fund kid who’s out slumming for a few years. It’s part of my city skill set.

digital: I got no heartstrings left to pull.

November 20, 2008 at 1:27 PM  
Blogger Pearl said...

I think its the same everywhere, unfortunately. My heart hardened after being approached for $50, after being presented a letter by a womnclaimed from a church saying that her "neighbors should support her in her need", after being presented a laminated card from a man claiming to be deaf and then seeing him arguing with someone the next day.
And then there are people who truly could use the help...
I don't know the answer. Every now and then I'm moved to help someone out, but it's not often anymore.
And I kinda worry about that, ya know?

November 20, 2008 at 10:02 PM  
Blogger ~E said...

My church used to hand out food coupons for like mcdonalds and other fast food places. That way you know they'll use it for food and not anything else.

Also, homelessness isn't as huge here in seattle...but I can understand where you're coming from.

November 21, 2008 at 3:08 AM  

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