I'm a real hypocrite when it comes to the argument against calling homeless people "bums." Naturally, I understand that it completely overlooks the possibility of affliction. Let's say, for instance, you once had a good job but you also had a heroin addiction and a junky lifestyle which may or may not have exacerbated a case of paranoid schizophrenia, now in the late stages. On top of all this, your friends have given up on you and you have no family or loved ones to speak of or shout about at 4 in the morning three feet from my apartment window.
You're homeless. You may have had a decent job at some point, but with your mental disorder you don't even qualify for the lowest rungs of employment. In fact, they'd rather hire sane people who don't know so much as a smattering of English. I feel sorry for you, and I wish I could help you in some way. But I'm at a loss.
Let's say you're hard up for money or food or a drug fix, so you break into my car and take one of the few marignally stationary items left after living in Oakland for five years, replacing more windows than I care to count. In this case, the lid to my electricity jack.
You're a fucking bum. Mental disorders and relapses aside. No more sympathy. I'm like Mr. Alexander in A Clockwork Orange: I'm something of a philanthropist when lowly, misunderstood subjects of discrimination are a risk to other people. But fuck with me somehow, and I turn into a monster.
I'm a pushover, and I don't really feel this way all the time, but goddamnit, living in the city can really suck.
I can only count one instance where a homeless person/bum tried to prey on my sympathy. Or was it my naivete? There's sometimes a fine line between being sympathetic and being naive, but in this case, the guy must have just been banking on the hope that I was a complete dipshit.
I was living on 23rd Street and MLK near downtown Oakland. For those of you who have never been there, imagine a milieu from Robocop except without so many people. I was living in a warehouse with a lot of artist/punk rock type of folks. It was a terribly run down area, but rent was cheap and I had even less money then than I do now. Despite my poverty, which was obvious if paid any mind to the holes in my clothes, I frequently found myself accosted and asked for money.
One day, as I was driving to work, I was sitting at a stoplight on San Pablo and 27th St. It was summer and I had my window down. Before the light turned green, I looked to my left and saw that I was being approached by a guy who was obviously homeless. Yellow eyes, black, disheveled. But this guy stood out from other homeless people. This guy had a stethoscope.
It was clear that he was coming towards me, and the first thing that ran through my head when I saw the stethoscope was, "Jesus. What kind of horseshit story is this guy going to try and sell me?" I didn't have to wait long, because he got to my car in a big hurry.
" 'Ey man. We got us a situation." He tried to put an urgent trill in his voice, but he was a bad actor.
"Oh?" I was trying my best not to smile. The urgency in my voice was much more convincing. "What is it?"
"Our ambulence broke down. We got a guy down the street bleeding real bad. We gotta get him guy to the hospital."
I tried to maintain a look of alarm on my face while looking this dickhead over . What made the whole thing so great was that he didn't even have anything on that even resembled something an EMT would wear. He just had, you know, bum clothes. And a stethoscope.
"Oh no! Where is he?"
The homeless crackhead mugger guy wearing the stethoscope pointed down towards a long alleyway couched between a boarded up building and a recently closed liquor store. Now I was ready to laugh. How convenient.
I looked up and saw that my light had turned green. "Okay!", I cried. "I'll be right there!" Then I casually merged onto 580 and drove to work.
I didn't know whether I wanted to give the guy a couple bucks for the charade, or whether I wanted to punch him in the face for thinking I was such a dumbass to fall for some stinky homeless dude wearing a stethoscope trying to pass himself off as an EMT whose ambulance has broken down and, I guess, has no way of calling for back up.
I've always wondered what would happen if I would have pretended to fall for it just for kicks. I remember not having any money in my wallet, and after living on 23rd Street for as long as I did, there was nothing left in my car to take. I guess they could have taken my car, whoever "they" were. Did he have a bunch of other homeless guys wearing stethoscopes laying in wait until given the signal to descent on me all ninjitsu style?