Monday, August 11, 2008

Oh! Think Twice. It's just another day for you and me in paradise

The longer I live in New York, the more frozen and stony my heart becomes. I worry that some day soon it will be as hard as a stale bagel.

After residing in this fair city for the better part of a decade, I think it might be time to grease up the old compassion button. I'm just not sure how, see.

I know that you can't toss a quarter into the lice-ridden hat of every Tom, Dick and Larry begging for change on the street, but I used to be a lot warmer toward the less fortunate. Once I even traveled down to a Knicks game on Metro North with a boyfriend on a brutally cold winter night, carrying two of his mom's cast off comforters, which we gave to homeless people hanging out by the Garden. Just because.

I used to care.

Now, not so much. Not really at all.

I grew up outside the city, on Long Island. Though I lived only 30 miles from Manhattan, it may as well have been another planet to me. The closest thing we had to a homeless person in Northport was the woman who speed-walked up and down Main Street all day with a leg warmer on her head, yelling at the flag pole. You could say I lived a bit of a sheltered life.

So when I saw a homeless person for the first time in NYC, I started crying. I didn't know what else to do.

Every summer, when my grandparents visited from Florida, my family would take a day trip to the city. My sister and I would dork up in matching Polly Flinders flouncery that my mother insisted we wear (to make us look more attractive to potential abductors, maybe). I'd be holding my plastic Minnie Mouse purse, which was stuffed with dimes given to me by my grandmother as prizes for winning at "The Quiet Game" in the car. We'd go to a restaurant in Chinatown where my sister and I would slurp slippery wonton soup and spin the lazy susan around the middle of the table until one of us got yelled at.

I remember the day I was skipping through the city, in a pink frilly dress, holding my mother's hand, when a filthy, grizzled man staggered up to us and asked my mother for a quarter. I was terrified, and promptly burst into tears.
I'd never seen anyone act with such boldness, nor had I ever seen anyone butt-wasted and covered with feces in the middle of the afternoon. My mother gently explained that in the city, some people didn't have places to live, and so they lived on the street, in alleyways, on the subways, and asked for help getting food and stuff to drink (gin). I could not wrap my head around this, even in the 1970s, when New York was a cesspool of crime and poverty, and before political correctness stopped us from using the terms 'bum' to describe these people, who seemed to be everywhere.

I also could not understand what the fuck was wrong with the grownups all around me, who were somehow able to turn a blind eye and walk right by someone who so clearly needed a hand.

When I first moved to New York, I gave money to everyone. It was partly out of fear. A large percentage of New York's homeless today are simply mentally ill, though not criminally so, but I didn't know this at the time. I thought people who spat curses at subway maps and reeked like cadavers rolled in gorgonzola cheese were a threat to me. It didn't take me long to realize that most of New York's dangerous wackjobs had been hauled out of the city with one-way bus tickets to Paterson, NJ during the Giuliani reign. But if a guy walked on the train, screaming, "I lost my food stamps! It's all my fault! Please, God, won't anybody HELP me?!" I figured, hey, the woman with her hand in her purse is probably the least likely to get shot if this guy decides to really get angry here. So here, screaming man. Here's a quarter. That's a nice screaming man.

Soon I noticed though, that it's a fucking racket for some of these guys. And then I started to get pissed.

The screaming guy works the N train from Lexington Avenue to 42nd Street during the morning rush hour, and it's always the same old story. His approach, to be coarse, loud, and self-deprecating at a time when people have barely finished their coffee, is a good one. Hearing his voice jolts me out of my morning coma and I consider giving him a quarter just so he'll shut the fuck up.

Then there's the irritating 'homeless' mom who's 'living in a shelter with my kids' and 'is trying to find a job, but just needs a little help right now'. She's been working the #6 train since I moved to NY 8 years ago. Her kids should definitely be old enough to get jobs working at McDonalds by now. I'm just not buying it, lady.

See, this is where my heart gets hard. I don't know what to believe. I feel like the truly needy New Yorkers are eclipsed by the theatrics of these loudmouths who ruin it for the rest of them. So, I don't give to anyone anymore. No wonder Manhattanites have the reputation of being selfish assholes.

I guess I need a refresher course in compassion.

Also, more money.

But mostly,

the money.

21 comments:

jeremy said...

mmmmm, gorgonzola cheese...

Scooter said...

There are the conners, and then there are the folks with serious mental problems, and then there are the folks that have had just one too many really bad days all in a row.

Kris. Count the homeless on your way to where ever, and make that many quarters the next donation to a homelessness abatement program.

It's tax deductible, and it helps the folks with problems and the folks who need a few good days, and it leaves the conners out in the cold.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

I did a similar post about the homeless in Columbus. I've gotten to the point where I see the same homeless guy "just looking for work" at an intersection for several years and I just don't believe that anyone I see anymore is really just down on their luck. They just seem to have found a job that involves begging. I can only imagine how much worse NY City is compared to my little city.

SPARSELY KATE said...

We do get hardened up and cynical to lots of things in life. It's kinda sad that we lose that innocent compassion of kids.

Don't know what the answer is though, just try not to get all mean n' nasty lady on me. :)

Jack said...

The Ecuadorian babysitters who raised me didn't turn a blind eye - they were haters.

Everybody's free to wear sunscreen.

Pronto said...

i think sometimes it gets dark early in New York.


Just sayin'.

The Third String said...

so cliche with the P.C. bit. :) Anyway, several years ago I used to see this "homeless" guy on fifth avenue when I was going home. One night I was late. I saw him on the A train. He was talking with two other guys. Turns out it was a "homeless" guy convention. They were discussing how much money they made and then began to ask about each other's families that they were going home to. My compassion ends there.

Big Momma Pimpalishisness said...

Um you live in New York? We could totally hang out!

TED VELVET said...

we are from the same hood. I fished many times off the dock in northport. I used to do lots o' drinking at club G. better known as Gunthers. my wedding pictures were taken in the park. Do you remember the whole Ricky Kasso say you love satin thing? or to the spelling community, satan? small world.

Sproactually said...

Forget it Big Momma Pimpalishisness, i've been trying to buy this women a drink for months, i'd even spring for dinner.. Here, watch this...

Hey, I am coming to Manhattan Friday, i'll be in GCT around 5:15, and need to be downtown at 7:30.

Can I buy you that Margarita? I'll even give you a quarter....

Prunella Jones said...

I kinda like the ranting homeless who walk around wearing hats made out of tin foil and tube socks. For all I know they really are talking to Jesus and Elvis. After all, with friends like that who would care about getting a boring nine to five job?

Krissyface said...

J-Gross!!!!

Scoot-good advice.

Ron-yeah, it pretty much sucks. Summer is the worst time for the conners. Can't wait till October, when they jump a boxcar with Jump up Willie or whomever else they ride with and go south.

Kate- I'm tryin, lady. I'm a tryin.

Jack-they sound like big whores.

Pronto- yeah. What?

3rd-that story hurts me in my soul. And I know it's true, because you walked over to my cubicle to tell me about it after you posted your comment.

Momma-TOTALLY!!! Playdate!!!

Ted-OMG, do I know Ricky Kasso? I went to school with his sister. Wait, did you grow up in Northport?
What's the story, morning glory? I love Skippers. and of course, the clam bar. Dude.

Steve-omg, your timing is not good, man. I would totally meet you at Grand Central, but I've a special redheaded friend coming for the weekend, and I mustn't disappoint him. He'll be arriving right after I get off work. What brings you to my fair city? And when will you be back again???

Prunella-wait, you've met my mom?

Jack said...

You're just saying that because they were paid to have sex.

Kimber said...

I quit guving away my change on the streets when a guy in Kansas City, MO approached me shortly after moving there saying his car ran out of gas, this is all very embarassing blah blah blah. I gave him what little money I had as a freshman in college and felt good about myself until about a year later when the same Ahole approached me with the same exact lines. There are kids at Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco that panhandle while sitting on their asses like you owe them. I'll stick with community service and real charities now thank you very much.

catscratch said...

I'm not giving money to any damn body. When I see a guy standing on the freeway off ramp, with a sign reading "Will work for money" or "Will work for food", I'll stop, get something from the closest drive thru and they will have food.

I'm not forking cash over to someone for booze. At the time, I had little ones at home and I was lucky to be making it myself.

TED VELVET said...

The shack on 25a. I grew up on the other side of the tracks, east northport off of clay pitts road.went to saint anthony's of padua, but I was in northport constantly. I actually worked at both libraries for a short time. I also bartended at the fort salonga inn. I used to go to skippers a lot, free pickles. used to go fishing at the lilco stacks down in the Eatons neck pit. do you remember the bar O'lears next to the post office on larkfield road? i practically lived there for a couple of years.

Krissyface said...

Ted. No fucking way. I grew up on that side of the tracks too. E. NPT, Guthrie Court, off Catherine Street, went to Dickinson Ave.
St. Anthony was totally my church!!!

OMG, when did you graduate? We probably know many of the same people. maybe we were even in CCD together. Dude, I went to Our Lady of Mercy in Syossett for HS. Small world, dude. My sister's ex husband worked at the shack forever.

Sproactually said...

I know my timing is bad, I'm going to meet some of the boys in the club. I'm almost embarassed by this, but its to watch some train movies. And some of these guys make the homeless look safe, sane and normal.

It's the monthly meeting of the electric railroaders association, and the movies are from the 40's and early 50's of the subways and railroads around the city.

Okay, you can quit laughing now...

TED VELVET said...

this is very funny. I've only been up in ct. for 5 years so Npt was my home not too long ago. I know your area a bit. I used to cut through dickenson from elwood to laurel ave on the way home. I took out a fire hydrant in the rain one time near you. doubt we'd know the same folks though, I was in the middle of a box in between larkfield rd. townline rd, clay pitts, and cedar road, I went to st. anthony's from 1st to 6th grade and then to the commack schools because I was closer to them than npt schools. graduated commack north in 85' I'm old. remember when they filmed that kevin Kline movie down in north port with tom selleck?

flounder said...

I saw a guy in Boston last night that was holding a sign that said HELP ME GET DRUNK.

I slipped him a $5 for his honesty.

Krissyface said...

That's funny, b/c there's a guy by the Triboro bridge who holds a sign that says, "Why Lie? I need a beer!"

I always slow down to give that motherfucker a dollar.