down and out or just down?
these are the people in my neighborhood
by dathan wood
Anyone who has visited San Francisco in the past few years has most likely noticed the homeless problem. It got to the point where you couldn’t walk 20 feet downtown without being accosted by some haggard individual asking you for change. Usually such things don’t bother me much but it was getting so out of hand and they were getting so aggressive that I started to worry that someday I would have to fight a bum. Now, if you’ve ever seen a real bum, you know that if you have to fight one, there is no winner. You don’t want to tangle with someone who’s been stewing in their own poo for a good 3-4 weeks.
A few years ago we voted for Care Not Cash which was designed to replace the $400 and change handout that SF bums received with free shelter and food. Sounds great right? Wrong. For some reason the overly liberal folks on the city council decided that the measure was inhumane, taking money from the poor. Yeah, that pissed me off too. So now, we have Gavin Newsom as mayor and he went ahead and instituted Care Not Cash all on his own and you know what? That bad boy works! The number of bums on the street has dropped dramatically. But even with the changes, some of the bums on my block have persevered and are still living the life. They are there to represent and show that not all bums are willing to take a hand up, they just want a hand out dammit! The following is a tribute to some of my favorite bums on the block:
Piss Bomb. PB earned his name because he likes to relieve himself into two-liter soda bottles and then leave them on the sidewalk. I haven’t seen it happen but I’m sure more than one poor fool has either picked one up or kicked one over and gotten a nasty soaking. Piss Bomb got arrested the other day. I happened to show up as they were cuffing him so I missed the incident but I’m sure the ‘Bomb was just in a drunken stupor or maybe loading up a Sprite bottle. My favorite part about bums getting arrested is that they get a ticket and are supposed to pay a fine. Where is a bum going to get the money to pay a fine?
Tourette’s Guy. This is the kind of bum that can scare the shit out of the uninitiated. When he’s off his meds, and oh yes, it’s really obvious when he is, he will walk down the street screaming obscenities at everyone he passes. If Bob and Edna from Kansas happen to bump into him on their way to Pier 39, they will likely cut their trip short and head for home.
Little Chair Guy. He makes these little doll chairs out of soda cans that are actually kind of cool. He sits there all day making them and people stop and give him a couple of bucks for one. He’s mostly quiet but you can tell that he’s going to snap someday. I mean they are really small chairs and that sort of thing can be tedious.
Smiley. At first Smiley just seems friendly and maybe a little goofy. She’s small and likes to smile and say hi to everyone who walks by. I used to think she was somewhat normal but one day she had about half her face covered with green eye shadow and bright red lipstick. When she said hi to me through all that mess it seriously freaked me out. It was like a horror flick where a doll is the killer. It was creepy, trust me.
Frying Pan. I have to give it to him for being unique. Most bums use a cup or a hat to collect change but he uses an old frying pan. It looks like a 10 incher, possibly non-stick. Frying Pan sits and reads all day while holding out his pan. He kind of pisses me off. I love to read but I don’t expect people to tip me for doing it. He’s usually so engrossed in his book that he’s not even trying at bumming! It’s like he just expects a handout because he’s literate.
Spare Change, Bitch. I’ve been walking by this guy for years and I’ve only ever heard him say, “Spare change.” or “Bitch!” He’s a true outdoorsman never to be seen without his sleeping bag ready to dash off on a camping trip on a moment’s notice. SCB is old school and likes to wear his ball cap with the bill flipped up in the front Breakin’ style. He used to sit on the planter outside of my building until they removed it. Now he kind of wanders the block, possibly looking for the planter.
There are quite a few more bums in my neighborhood but they are mostly B-listers who come and go. The folks above are the regulars who actually add a little flavor to the block. I used to think that the city should just round up all the bums and keep them medicated and out of sight. I’ve realized over the years though that some people have their own little world going on and who are we to tell them to conform or disappear? The Care Not Cash program seems to have gotten the freeloaders and the down-on-their-luckers off the streets and into the shelters which is great. Those who are still out there seem to have made the choice to be there and strangely enough, they appear to be thriving. How the hell Tourette’s Guy is still alive is beyond me though, he always looks like he just woke up and crawled out of the gutter. So, the next time you’re at Second and Mission and you see a guy with puke in his hair and a load in pants feel free to say hi! But for god’s sake don’t make eye contact!
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2.25.05 @ 8:30a
If I was a bum, I'd go to San Fran. Second only to Hawaii for best bumming IMHO, and there are some smart bums out there.
I was out there a couple years ago for wor. We were walking around, probably looking lost, and this bum walked up and helpfully offered directions.
So he gave some and then looked expectantly at us. I said 'uh, thanks.' He shook his head and said "Fuckin' internet guys" and stomped off.
2.25.05 @ 9:43a
HA! What a great new title!
I was in the parking lot of Office Depot the other night and a messy-looking guy approached me with "excuse me, Ma'am?"
Now, I've been a soft touch for a long time, so keep this in mind. I have been known to stop at a store, buy things like bread, peanut butter, soup and a can opener and go back and give it to a street person.
But this guy comes up, shoving bread in his face and says "Um, yeah, can I have, like, 75 cents to buy a taco?"
While he's stuffing his face.
I paused and then he said, "I had to get free bread at the bread store just to walk over here."
I paused again, then said, "You know, I hear the La Hacienda over there is hiring, and they give you up to two meals free during your shift." (which was true on both counts) "Maybe that's something to consider."
Then he said, "You know what I want? I want a nice car like yours (a 7-year old SUV) and nice shoes like yours (bought on sale at Penny's) and not a fucking 16-year-old so-called boss telling me what to do all day."
I smiled briefly, then said, "I work a full-time job, a part-time job, and also do freelance work. Think about that for a minute, then tell me what you want again."
He walked away. Bye-bye, see ya.
2.25.05 @ 12:19p
Those kind are the worst, Tracey! My wife (being the sweetest person on earth) used to buy extra bagels and give them to the bums on her way to work. After a few days one of them said, "Fuck, don't you ever have any money?" Nice.
2.25.05 @ 2:34p
There seem to be two messages coming across - the first few paragraphs lead me to think Dathan wants the homeless gone in any way possible; the final paragraph is a complete turnaround in that suddenly some of the homeless have become acceptable because of their unique characteristics. Hmmm. Sort of reminds of the age old discussion about diversity - unfortunately, in order to celebrate diversity you have to celebrate ALL things diverse, even people you don't like.
2.25.05 @ 2:51p
Joel, it’s actually more about adaptation. When you first realize you can’t walk 5 feet without someone in your face begging for change or just simply getting in your face all day long, you tend to get very defensive and frustrated. After 10 years though, it’s just routine. What prompted me to write this was that the other day I realized that I see these odd, tragic people every day and they hardly register anymore. I saw a dead guy a couple of months ago in an alley and I just thought, “interesting…” That’s pretty jacked up of me but it’s my reality.
3.8.05 @ 12:17p