The Things They Couldn’t Carry (Part 1)

A lot of people resent the homeless, I get that. Yell things like “Get a job” or speed up their pickup trucks when you are crossing the street so they can slam on the brakes and roll their eyes at you being in the way.

They probably think that an annoying homeless person just made their life difficult, probably aren’t even aware that they are speeding up to create conflict, and if they had just continued at the rate they were going, you would have been long gone by the time they reached the intersection.

As I write this, many unpleasant encounters in crosswalks come to mind almost completely on their own.

Once, in front of that little market on 13th Avenue across from the ski shop, I was crossing the street, and let me tell you, seeing as how I walk everywhere, and I deal with cars all the time, I am very good at judging their speed, and whether I have enough time to cross, so when they speed up and pretend I am slowing them down, it is I who should be rolling my eyes.

So anyway, I was crossing 13th, and there was a car coming that was still a long way off, and by the time he reached the crosswalk, I was already 8 feet beyond the street. Nowhere near him. He slams on his brakes, stops in the middle of the crosswalk and yells:

” What the hell are you doing?”

See that? His plan was to give the homeless guy a good talking to for crossing the street in a dangerous way. Unfortunately it made no sense to follow through on his plan because I was already long gone; being a human being in good standing, he didn’t let the facts get in the way of his plan, so he sat there, smack in the middle of a crosswalk, raging at me:

“What is your problem?” “That’s dangerous!”

I said, ‘I am nowhere near the street,” enraging him further, and funny also was that now he was stopped in the middle of a three-lane one-way street that moves sometimes at a good clip. He was the danger.
But of course the gentleman hobo demurs when it comes to rubbing noses in the obvious.

So many of these funny-weird experiences.

The passive aggressive things people do with their cars are actually more annoying than straight-up abuse.

Because passive aggression is still aggression, just mixed with cowardice.

How much more tolerable would be a full-throated sincere curse lobbed my way.

How sad, how, my-day-sucks-and-in-addition-to-resenting-the-homeless-now-I-can-take-things-out-on-them-too-because-no-one-will-notice-or-care this is.

It is surreal, really, how a person’s car, in some cases, transforms into an externalization of whatever neuroses they have.
“Sigh, poor me, can’t go where I want because of homeless people.”
These people are just plain dangerous, a threat to public health. “

How submerged in rationalization it all is, accompanied by faux-righteous indignation.

I realize I might be overdoing it on the examples, so remember, I have been bottling this up for 30 years, and I would appreciate it if you indulge me a little.

How about when you are waiting for a crosswalk light to turn green, and a car to your left wants to turn right, directly into your path. There are no cars coming, they have all the time in the world to move, but they don’t turn, do they? They wait and wait and wait until the crosswalk light turns green for you and then they suddenly go. So you start to walk, and they make a quick false charge and then stop, you stop, and you both go, and both stop and engage in a completely unnecessary awkward little dance that is completely of their creation. They have created it out of thin air. All they had to do was go when they had right of way and the coast was clear.

No deal.

And there are worse examples out there. Of pointless aggression masked as altruism.

I read somewhere that 1 in 25 is a sociopath.

If that is the case, I have met many of them at the pointless battlefield that are street corners.

It can’t be a coincidence, and it can’t be unconscious.

This is what they do.

They reach the crosswalk long long before you get there, and instead of driving on, they stop, like, 30 feet up the street and motion you to cross, which means you feel pressured to walk faster so as not to make them wait, and then, right when you get to the crosswalk, they inch forwards, crowding you, as if you are still taking too long.

Clearly psychos messing with you.

They’ve got you jumping like a marionette on a string, speed up, slow down, stop go stop go, now be confused they have stopped in the first place. It is just so uncomfortable to be sucked into their neurotic little worlds, always worried what they will do.

My solution for these psychos is simple and elegant if I do say so myself.

I just walk at my normal speed and stop at the corner, refusing to cross or look at them. I don’t engage, I just wait.

And this is when you realize that there is no miscommunication, no inadvertent awkwardness, no, it was all intentional, because if you do not engage with their scenario, then the abuse really flies:

“What is your problem?!? Hellooo? Old Mann. Wake uppp.”

Yes, I realize I have possibly given too much thought to the psychodynamics of crosswalks. I’m cutting myself slack on it though.

After all, when you are as solitary as I used to be, crossing the street is pretty much your primary relationship with others. And writing this becomes a form of therapy, voicing unvoiced thoughts that have lain dormant for decades. The silend walker finally speaks, possibly getting the last word.

I empathize with the flipside though, believe me. I know that some tramps do slow down and make cars wait for no reason. And it is completely understandable that a person who has stayed the course of their life, lived up to their obligations no matter how difficult, might be a little chapped in the presence of someone who figured f**k it, I do what I want now.

Truth be told, no one bites the hand that feeds it better than a homeless mouth.

Just a bunch of mooks, free from all responsibility, all encumbrances, taking up too much space and taking too long doing it, hampering folks who are just trying to get things done, in many cases, for their families. (Hence the title of this post.)

Homelessness does give you time and space to ruminate, I will give it that. Now and then I ask myself if I was the same way before I became homeless, feeling such resentment towards a class of people. All I can come up with was indifference. I neither disliked nor cared about the homeless. Before I became one of them, they were just background figures in the movie of my life.

Now that I think about it, a memory bubbles to the surface of when I worked the graveyard shift at a humble little diner, long gone now, situated where Coburg Road meets Franklin. An old guy, a mess really, unshaven and hair in a long combover that was never combed over, hanging like a sheet off his head, bearded, wearing what looked like cast off clothing, carrying a whole mess of paper shopping bags.
He used to come into the diner in the true wee hours of the early morning, and didn’t I let him stay there all night, buying him a coffee if he didn’t have the money, asking only that he didn’t block the aisle with his bags?

So good. At least, in this area, I am not a hypocrite.

And that makes me happy because this blog post is not about what don’t or won’t carry, it is about what they cannot carry, and at this point, I will let you in on a little secret.

Once I found myself in a shelter, particularly during the Covid lockdown and guys had nothing to do but talk, and even now chatting with my fellow villagers, one thing is pretty clear.

Normal people know sometimes you are cruising through life, and sometimes a curveball hits and you have to find a much more powerful gear to shift to, deep in yourself, it doesn’t have to be fast, just powerful, to get you through the trying times.

And you also know, I hope, digging deep into your will, you always find, one way or another, the will to carry on, the inner resources to get things done, or if you don’t you have people you can count on to have your back.

So here is the secret.

I used to be one of you.

I could stay up all night to deal with something if necessary, a sick child or something or at work, when one of the waitresses, who had spent the previous night partying, started crying, handed me all her checks, and quit on the spot, well, I could summon up whatever was necessary, rally the troops, treat it as a challenge, and just get it done.

And what a subtle pleasure it is to know that you will come through in the clutch, what a submerged bit of pride, something just in the fabric of your personality, something you don’t have to think about but is always there, giving you the confidence to believe in yourself in life.

And looking back, the beginning of my slide into homelessness was the day when I lost that.

When I went one more time to the well, only this time it was empty, and how emotionally devastating that was, a piece of who-you-thought-you-were ripped unceremoniously from your grasp, maybe forever.

It was a long time ago, and I knew nothing of burnout and had no one in my life to help me consider it. So all I had was the fear and panic of suddenly being unable to do my job. I was a waiter, and it was my job to be patient and polite to the customer no matter how they acted, at the same time keeping all the various orders of about 30 people in my head.

And one day I couldn’t. If a customer was unreasonable, I just couldn’t curb my tongue. I would say, “No, you can’t send that back, there is nothing wrong with it.” Not rude. Just true, truth being simply unacceptable for that job. I couldn’t be Mr. Happy-Unruffled-It’s-All-A-Big-Game-Keeping-These-Big-Babies-Happy. And I couldn’t keep the orders in my head anymore either. It was like one day I could and the next I couldn’t.

I am sure somewhere out there were resources for dealing with burnout, and people who would have been glad to help me, so the problem was that I didn’t know it. I took it on myself to get things done and would never have considered asking for help, and I was no longer able to do my job.

So internally, I was already experiencing the isolation common to homeless people, the feeling of not being able to do what normal people do anymore, and already experiencing the belief that it was up to me entirely to fix things and if I couldn’t it was my problem.

In a way, that self-condemnation and sense of isolation was already in effect, I already had the homeless mentality, and it was now only a matter of running out of couches to sleep on, and the homelessness was on its way, even though I still had a place and a bank account.

The path was set.

It is as if life stopped on that day, it was the first day of my new life, the life where real life ended, and a thirty-year limbo ensued, thirty years of trying not to think about the life denied me, thirty years of just passing the time, surviving, and hoping not to get sick.

Well well well. As always, this thing is much longer than originally planned, as events and feelings work their way to the surface of my consciousness, and off I go on possibly tangents, or possibly into deeper aspects of the subject at hand.

So I will end here for today. The next post I will finish up. The overall point of these two posts is this:

While homelessness is obviously a product of the choices of the individual, what I have found consistently, talking to people on the streets, is that one or more traumatic experience in their life was just too much, and they couldn’t cope with the life they were used to living, and not being able to stand the pressure was traumatic as well, and that left them/me/us in a kind of emotional holding pattern, having checked out of what we saw as our life, doing something new, or perhaps not-doing something new, just existing, just passing the time, just trying not to think of what we have lost.

An altered consciousness.

Next post we will develop the idea further. Thank you for reading. I have no idea really if I have readers at all, or how many. Checking website stats is not my thing. But if you are out there, thank you for taking time out of the day to read these posts.

I won’t insult you with false modesty, saying something like, “thanks for having the patience to endure my ramblings,” or anything like that. Because I actually think I do have something to say, and deep down inside I think it is worth reading, so whether or not anyone reads it doesn’t matter on the deepest level.

The fact is no matter the painful thoughts or feelings or self flagellations that come as a result of doing this, I continue to do it week after week.

I have done my part. I have no control over the rest.

Final shout out to Gedit text editor. Pale gray text on darker gray background. Who would have thought of it? So much easier on the eyes.

Talk to you all next week.

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