Homeless People

July 4, 2016

Burgers and the City
I visited Chicago for the first time in many years.

There was a time in my past where I’d be there quite often, binge drinking and then chowing down chorizo burritos. Then there was the time when I lived there, trying to be a city mouse, at which point I realized how much I loved the noncity life. Put me down in the country mouse camp. But not too country either, maybe just let me hang with those suburban mice.

I’m getting off topic.

Back on point, so we went to some food district where there are tons of high quality restaurants and plenty of beautiful people in beautiful clothing enjoying being seen and eating well. Nothing wrong with that.

As we were crossing the road, a black dude coming the other way said something. I, being a suburban mouse, actually made eye contact, then realized he was a homeless dude asking for money. I promptly looked away, feeling a bit of guilt in my gut, but I didn’t want to engage either.

None of the city mice even flinched at his loud voice. It was as if he were a ghost and only I could see dead people.

Then we were waiting in front of this burger joint, with a unique reservation system. You have to physically show up and ask for a table. Then they will tell you about 2.5 hours later when the table is ready, via a mobile phone app. At which point, you show up with the exact amount of companions you promised to bring, otherwise you won’t be seated.

One of the folks in our group mentioned that this place was voted as the best burger in the country. Wow, pretty cool I guess. Luckily, they had come 2 hours earlier to let em know we’re coming.

So naturally, we spent some time standing outside the joint waiting for our app to tell us we were chosen.

My highly sensitive senses were on overload.
It’s like if you haven’t eaten spicy food in a while, even a wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich starts to burn the tongue. I felt all my senses get overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the city.

First I noticed that the restaurant was on a small corner, with no signage above the entrance. Must be one of those cool, hip type places.

Then I noticed all the folks seated outside all the restaurants on both sides of the street. It was a beautiful summer evening and everyone was clearly enjoying our good fortune.

I started to feel a little overwhelmed with the many eyes & glances of all the people, and I had to tell my mind to not get overwhelmed. No one’s looking at me, no one is judging me, it’s all good. Focus on the outer world and don’t get too introverted & stuck in my head. Trying to contain the spotlight effect.

I noticed all the frantic cars passing by.
Folks briskly walking back and forth on the street.
And tons of well dressed men and women.

I mostly noticed the women of course, my eyes kept getting stuck at one beautiful girl or another. I kept trying to get them back in line and focus on the people I’m with, but like a dog that wants to pee on every piece of lawn it passes, my eyes wandered here and there. I didn’t mean to stare but these pretty women definitely had it going on.

I then noticed that most of the folks here were white.
Few fashionably young asians and indians too. But mostly white.
Mainly young, maybe mid twenties.

All of which I’m perfectly fine and comfortable with.
I don’t care who’s around as long as they’re not bugging me.

Then this youthful black woman approached us.
Talking at high decibels, she came to our group and asked for money.
Said she’s homeless.

My brother and I looked at her with half our body language, then shyly looked down and away.
No one else around us flinched. No eye rolls, no extra nervous batting of the eye lashes, not even a skip of a heart beat.

Then the woman started to preach.
Raised her voice even more.
This isn’t right. I’m a human being, standing right in front of you, and you’re pretending I’m not even alive. This isn’t right. I’m a human being, asking for help. And you are all ignoring me. This is a big shame, you know that. This isn’t right. This is a damn shame, shame on all of you. SHAME ON YOU!

Super awkward.

But there was something curious about her body language.

She was not talking to me nor my brother.
She leaned in between us and was loudly yelling only at the white people in our group. Then she yelled at the other white folks nearby.

Eventually, she walked away after being ignored hardcore.

Soon after, the app alerted us to get inside.
Jam packed of course.

One person in our group chose to go home because for some reason they couldn’t seat her. Or maybe we would be split into two tables and she was a vegetarian anyways. Something like that.

The remaining six of us crammed into a booth meant for four, my body half on the bench and half hanging out. Loud hip music blaring from a youthful dj working on his tablet. Friendly waitress. All of us ordered burgers. I went with a double cheeseburger, waitress asked if I’d like an egg and bacon on top, and mentioned that’s their classic. Sure. Some fries as well.

My eyes and ears kept sniffing here and there while our companions chatted with each other.
There are way more beautiful well-dressed fit people in the city than the suburbs. That’s for damn sure. I’m feeling way out of my element here with my shabby clothing choices and lack of hair product. No one else cares of course, this is all just happening in my head.

Our food arrived and it was better than I could ever express with words.
Yes, it’s a damn good burger.
And no, I’d never take another adventure like that just to eat a fucking burger.

Homeless People
The next morning, I awoke and started listening to While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
This is not an unusual occurrence these days.

I’ve been on a severe Beatles kick lately.
And this song, I can’t stop listening to. It’s been on loop for many hours this past week.

As the guitars kicked in, my brain started revisiting the memories from the past night. Especially the black woman who was yelling.

I started to kinda feel emotional.

As the song played again, I felt more emotion.
Another loop, more emotion.

I started thinking that I should’ve helped that woman.

Maybe I should’ve pulled an Amma and given her a hug, right there in front of everyone else. I have no cash in my wallet but here, I can give you a hug. That’s the best I can offer you today ma’am. Maybe that would’ve changed her whole day. Or maybe that would’ve changed my life. Maybe everyone else would learn a big lesson that day too and applaud me for being a spiritual hero. On and on my mind ruminated on these unrealistic fantasies.

The weird thing about homeless people is that I never think they’re actually homeless.

There are some folks who stand by the highway exits with signs in the suburbs. They all look healthy and seem like they’re just collecting free money and not really homeless. And then there these abrasively loud folks I noticed in the city.

When I see homeless people like that, I start to think:
maybe it’s all a scam, a way to get free money.
maybe as soon as I open my wallet, they’ll snatch it and run off.
but if i give them money, won’t it perpetuate the problem and more of them will come?
they should learn to work hard and earn some money like the rest of us.

Then I thought:
What am I thinking, these are all buddhas hiding in a human body. Here is another god hiding in a flesh bag coming up to me for help. What would Mother Theresa do? What would Saint John of God do? What’s the point of donating to charity if I can’t help a homeless lady with some cash? What’s the point of cultivating spirituality if I can’t ease the burden of a stranger?

But then again, I envied her confidence.
Here I am, struggling to reign my senses and feeling awkward around all these eyes and she’s super confidently yelling at the top of her lungs in front of a large crowd. I’m scared to give a speech at Toastmasters and here she is, nailing it. She’s got the body language of Tony Robbins. She’s even got all the power poses down pat.

I don’t know.
There is no ending to this story.
I don’t think I’ll ever give money nor hugs.
Who the hell hugs strangers except in movies and those hippies with free hug signs?
I don’t know. I just don’t know what the proper thing to do is.

I do know that completely ignoring her as if she were a ghost made me feel ill.
And all of this has got me feeling more emotion than I’m used to.