Only a few days left of voting for the Black Weblog Awards. Please head over here to vote for me. Please!
Picture it. I’m standing outside the AMC waiting for my sister and my bestie. Loaded with bags, headphones in my ears, my face in its typical resting position of mean mug. I’m watching the time, texting a hottie, and trying to determine whether I have time for a quick trip to World’s Biggest Bookstore before those heaux show up.
Suddenly I’m interrupted by a strange voice. Being a person who hates being interrupted even in the best of circumstances, I’m annoyed before I even begin to process what he’s saying. I look up, my eyes in the half-rolled position, and find a ruffian asking me if I have an extra cigarette. I exhale loudly.
My policy on giving out cigarettes to strangers is very simple. If they don’t say please, I say no. And this dude did not say please so even though I had my cigarette pack in my hand – open so it was clear that I had many more left in the pack – my answer was a terse “No”. And I went back to my text conversation.
But the ruffian didn’t leave. No instead he began to talk to me. He’s twitching, he has no shoes on. He’s rubbing his nose and looking over his shoulder every 2.5 seconds. He’s scratching his head, smoothing back his mullet, and talking and talking and talking.
I start to get that frantic look in my eyes; like oh God why won’t this creature move from in front of me? I’m darting glances at strangers as they pass by; signaling to them that I’m just as horrified by this person as they are, even if I appear to be engrossed in conversation with him. And he’s talking and talking and talking.
He’s telling me how he just got out of jail for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. How he was in jail for six months and his girl has a baby that he’s not sure is his. But he got her name tattooed on her arm anyway because he really loves her. He’s telling me that she’s a Crip; that she’s trying to leave gang life but once you’re in there is no out. He’s telling me about the last time he went to jail – for stealing two of his grandfather’s cars and driving drunk. He’s telling me about the little kid he took under his wings while he was doing “dead time” (he’s also explaining to me what dead time means”) and how the other guys “on the range” would have fucked that kid up for snitching if it weren’t for him.
Long story short, he’s telling me a lot of shit I don’t care to hear, he smells like a brewery, and he’s talking so loudly that I can barely hear Joe Budden in my ear. And I am annoyed.
After a while, he reached in his bag and pulled out a can of Coke. He asked if I was thirsty – told me I could have it if I was. And something in that gesture made me feel like shit. I realized that I wasn’t looking at him as a person, as a human being with a history and problems and struggles like everyone else, but as something slightly less than human sent to Earth for the sole purpose of killing my joy. And I wondered how I became so uncompassionate.
If you live or work in downtown Toronto, homeless – or otherwise unfortunate – people are a fact of life. You see them wailing in the fountain at Nathan Philips Square, fighting outside of bars, asking you for the change from your coffee on your way out of Tim Hortons, sheltering themselves from cold or rain in the bank machine. But when you watch the way people here (and every other city I’m sure) interact with the less-fortunate you can see they’ve become desensitized to them. And it’s not that I can blame them, really. The first ten times you have to step over a man sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk you feel awful, but the eleventh time you stop noticing it. You no longer feel compelled to rifle through your wallet to find change when you’re in a hurry so you just avoid eye contact or pretend you didn’t hear them ask and keep it moving. You look at the “crazy” man in the fountain splashing around and yelling and you feel less sorry for him and more annoyed that he’s interrupting your conversation.
When I first moved here I was heartbroken by what I saw. Witnessing the way some people have to live made my eyes well up at times. I always stopped and gave money and I never cared whether it was going to be used for drugs or booze or pussy and I never wondered if it was a scam. I let squeegie kids wash my window with their piss water even when my car was clean. I always walked around people when they’re sleeping in the street and I forced myself to use the bank machine even when it’s “occupied” because I didn’t want to make the inhabitant feel as though I was repulsed by them; even if I secretly was.
Although I still do all those things, I don’t do them as much. I stop when I have time and I keep it moving when I don’t. I give money if I like the way they ask and if they don’t say please I say no. I’m annoyed when I have to step over a puddle of piss rather than feeling pity that someone has to conduct such a private act in a public place. And I roll my eyes to the heavens when a ruffian wants to have a conversation with me when I’m standing on the street doing basically nothing.
I used to pride myself on my compassion for my fellow man, but I realize after the other day that I don’t have as much of it as I thought I did. It seems I support the struggle of the disenfranchised as long as they don’t interrupt my conversation and I’m willing to help as long as they ask me the way I want them to. Somewhere along the line I’ve become desensitized like everyone else. And I feel bad about that.
But what about you guys? Are you compassionate toward those less fortunate or do you think they should just get up and get a job? Is it normal to lose your sensitivity to the homeless after seeing them day after day or am I just a fucking asshole? Speak on it in the comments.
And please don’t forget to vote for me to win a Black Weblog Award or four. If you don’t want me to be the Susan Lucci of black blogging, do me a favour and click here