Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Disturbing scene tonight at Subway. On the way to pick KK up at ballet class I went in to get sandwiches for Joanna and the kids, meatballs for myself while Joanna waited in the car with the boys.I walked straight into the restaurant, rehearsing the order in my head. The young taking orders was distracted. "I've already called the cops on him." he said "Customers have been complaining all day. When I tried to talk to him about moving on he just started cussing at me." I looked out the glass door then and saw him - apparently homeless man, bearded, sitting on duffles in front of the shop. A young woman had offered to get him a bag of chips and he's said that wasn't enough. He wanted a meatball sub. She said she couldn't even afford a meatball sub for herself, just a bowl of soup. The young man behind the counter kept repeating that he hated having to call the cops, that he had always been good at settling disagreements, especially with his sisters. How young was he really I wondered - probably not much past twenty. The life of the man on the sidewalk probably cpompletely explodes his perceptions of the possible - mine too if I'm honest. I wanted to run and hide. I wanted to buy the guy a meatball sub and urried slip him a ten besides. Instead I averted my eyes and hurried to the car with dinner, relieved to be leaving before the cops arrived. Cowardly me. My circumstances alow me to avert my eyes from so much. And sometimes I do.


Chris said...

I wonder how we can survive in this world without training ourselves to avert our eyes. It is so easy to get overwhelmed with everything in the world that needs to get set right. I heard a song once on NPR that had the title "Don't wanna fight no more", I believe. An activist's lament that we carry a heavy load at all times. It's tough to carry that, set it down for a bit, and then pick it back up.

Ruth said...

That is a tough situation! I'm not sure what I'd do. And I admit I have voices in my head in all directions. At first I wonder what happened to make him cuss and yell and if people are complaining simply because they don't want to see him. Then I get angry that he was being so demanding and ugly. Then I have the little girl who just wants to do as you said--give him the sub and some money. And I have my new activist mind thinking about what policy I need to petition for to help make this less an issue.

And then I worry about the subway guy and the young woman who offered chips. I don't want people to have this sort of experience because it can really stunt your desire to do what's right. I know when I had experiences with the people on the corners yelling at me that they didn't need my charity when I gave them those packages I used to keep in my car (tuna, peanut butter, jerky, fruit, etc) instead of money I stopped trying for a long time.

And I have the echoes of Bob's warning that street people will just use the money on booze in my head as well. I remember being so mad at him for being privledged and judgemental when I was young. When I look back he may have said it about a particular person for a particular reason... and I admit I think that now too sometimes. (I know from personal experience that there is one woman who stays near the Randalls who asks people to go into the liquor store there when they offer to help). It's so hard to know what is real and what the best way to help is.

And then I struggle with the idea of what is "help"? If someone is hungry NOW how much help is it to write letters or sign petitions? And if they ARE making bad decisions (ie drinking away the money) how much help is it to just give them money and NOT work toward a systemic change?

Big questions: good on you for asking them.