There are days that I wish I did more work for charity. But I don't.
It's not for lack of caring for my fellow man. I'm not a Republican.
In fact, I truly respect people who give of themselves, either donating their time or their money to the cause of helping others. Some causes are more important, in my mind, of course. The guy who works at the soup kitchen definitely gets more props than the guy who teaches the handicapped how to yodel. My friend Loni running the marathon to support our troops is more likely to get a donation from me than if she were, say, running the marathon to save unicorns.
Years ago, my college roommate's fraternity did some sort of "walk for infants" thing. When my friend Eric came by the room to say hi, Justin tried to get a donation out of him by cajoling him, "come on, we're walking for the little babies."
"Give them a couple years," Eric retorted, "and they can walk for themselves."
Some people are better at giving than others.
In fact, my friend Yusef is - get this - spending a week homeless in order to, as his Web site (www.homelessforoneweek.com) puts it, "open your eyes and help inspire you to want to do more. To help you see that homelessness is a risk that we all face, but none of us deserve."
That's pretty impressive. I have trouble leaving the house to buy a sandwich.
I do sympathize a bit, however, as I once had to beg for change outside of the old Boston Garden.
No, it's true.
I had asked a girl - we'll call her Becca, since that was her name - to the "Rock of Boston" concert with me. Ten dollars for 6 or 7 bands, including Crash Test Dummies, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Extreme, and Peter Wolf and the Incomparable House Party Five (Wolf was lead singer for J. Geils Band). Seemed like a great deal and a good date.
Except that the day before, my ATM card had gotten lost. And by "lost" I mean "left in the machine by some writer who will remain nameless." Outside of my bank account, I had a grand total of $21.20. That becomes important in a minute.
Anyway, earlier that afternoon, I take the T ("subway" to those of you unfamiliar with the lingo) to the Garden box office to buy the tickets. The T, at the time, cost 85¢ each way. That becomes important in a minute.
I'd called ahead to the Boston Garden and asked them if they took checks. They did, as long as those checks were drawn on "a Massachusetts bank." I had a BayBank account (awww...BayBank), so it was not a problem. Until I got to the window. "I.D.?" asked the woman.
I pulled out my Pennsylvania driver's license. That becomes important right now.
"You need a Massachusetts I.D."
"They told me on the phone I only needed a Mass bank account."
"They were wrong. Please step out of the line."
So I'm standing there on the sidewalk out in front of North Station with a dilemma: $19.50 + one T token. If I sold back the token, I'd have the $20 I needed, but I wouldn't be able to get home. Conundrum.
So I started trying to stop people walking past me. I figured someone must have 50¢ they were willing to part with to help out a down-on-his-luck college student who had a date with Becca. Yes, the sweet, sweet Becca.
Now, I don't know how it is in your city or town, but people in Boston are not generally known for their courtesy toward strangers on the street. "Excuse me, but could you...." "Pardon me, but I was wondering...." "Hi, could I just...." Pass. Pass. Pass. They didn't even look at me or slow down. And it's not as though my appearance was in any way sketchy. My shirt was from Structure, for Pete's sake.
Fifteen minutes of turning like a sprinkler before I found a guy whom I cunningly trapped by noticing he was feeding a parking meter. In the end, in return for giving him $1.50, he gave me $2.00 in nickles and dimes. Served the lady at the box office right.
Later that afternoon, Becca canceled.
So that's kind of like being homeless.
Yusef's current efforts, however, do tend to maybe minimize my plight, if only a little. And, while I don't intend to downplay the seriousness of the homeless problem, I do feel that, in my travels, I have had the opportunity to observe some notable members of the indigent population. So I thought I would do my part to raise awareness by listing my:
Top 5 Homeless People
(Please note that the term "homeless," in this instance, does not necessarily imply that I have any real knowledge of their living situations. They could have an apartment nicer than mine; it's more a statement of their general dispositions.)
5. The guy in Harvard Square holding the sign that read, "I don't need your money. I just like holding signs."
He was also wearing a dress.
4. The maître d’
When walking down 7th Avenue with my friend Bill one day, a man stepped up to us and said, "Gentlemen, you've been expected. If you would have a seat, I'll be right with you."
Bill and I looked at each other, came to the same conclusion without saying a word, and sat down on the curb. A minute later, the man shuffled over. We stood up, each gave him a dollar, and continued on our way.
3. The guy who "plays" guitar and "sings" on the corner at my current job
I keep trying to listen to what he's singing, but I have yet to make out a single word. To be fair, the problem might not lie with me.
In addition to potentially not actually singing real words, it should be mentioned that he's also not singing real melodies. Or any melodies, at all, really. Among his talents, of which there may be many, is not carrying a tune.
This is okay, however, because he is also noticeably bad at playing guitar, as well. His rhythms are way too simple and his fingering is sloppy. August Rush, he ain't. Oddly, his guitar does seem to be in tune much of the time when I pass him, though. I can't for the life of me figure out why that might be.
And, as I think of it, I'm not certain that he's actually collecting any money. Maybe in his head he's doing a free concert to save the unicorns.
2. The guy at the Long Island McDonald's
He was in the parking lot when Jonathan and I walked out of the restaurant. He asked for change to buy some food. He then screamed and cursed at us when Jonathan actually tried to hand him an uneaten McChicken we'd decided to buy as a snack for later.
I can only assume one of two things. Either a) his claim of wanting money for food was only a ruse, and he was really trying to increase his purchase power for, say, the DVDs of season 1 of "Sex and the City," or b) he didn't like chicken.
I suppose it's possible he was also trying to watch his cholesterol, or something, but then maybe he should have been hanging out in the parking lot of a more healthy restaurant.
At least I think that's his name. He's told me that it is on more than one occasion. Though I've also heard him called other things, too, and there's a chance he once told me his name was Joseph.
Chris, tall, bearded, and shaggy, hangs out in my neighborhood. I can't say definitively that he lives there, again, I pretend no knowledge of the living situation of any of these men. What I can say is that I walk past Chris often.
Sometimes, he's hanging out in a doorway near the Citibank, with a change cup, panhandling. Sometimes, he's engaged in animated (though not violent) conversation with someone in a language I believe is Greek. Sometimes, he's sitting on a bench, reading a book. Sometimes, it's not a change cup, but a coffee cup, and I should have checked first.
Chris, as near as I can tell, is brilliant. When he's not begging for change, he's always got his nose in a book or in the paper. There's definitely an intelligent cast to him, and it's not simply because of his reading glasses. In the two or three times I've spoken with him, he's appeared to be lucid, engaging, curious, and (not surprisingly) well-read. My honest guess is he's probably schizophrenic, because there doesn't seem to be any other reason he couldn't legitimately hold down a job. Or shave.
There is, of course, the possibility that "Chris" is really a code name for "Christ" and he's actually the Messiah, living among us. I'm not inclined to believe that, however, not least of which because I'd have to apologize for everything I've ever said about those Jews for Jesus people.
If you do see any of these men (barring, perhaps, the guy in the parking lot), give 'em a smile, or some change, or guitar and singing lessons. And visit my friend Yusef. He's really trying to make a difference. You might even come away feeling a little better about yourself, too.
Oh, and the unnamed author from the story above? It was Hemingway.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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6.9.10 @ 3:43p
6.9.10 @ 3:52p
Hey, I didn't categorize mine. They're 5 actual people.
And I deliberately avoided the word "bum." I wasn't sure how it was spelled.
6.9.10 @ 4:04p
The Maitre d' is a champ!
6.11.10 @ 9:49a
Okay, new favorite homeless guy:
The one who told me this morning that he liked my shirt and that I was a good dresser.
I have no idea if I should just run with the compliment.