Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Day 88 - "Put it in your sock my friend and save it for another time..."

There's a "homeless" man hanging around in midtown who's officially on my shit list. I put his supposed state of affairs in quotes because the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced he's actually not homeless at all. He's probably just pretending to be.

Now, I'm not one to go around judging those who are down on their luck on a regular basis - in fact, I've been known to give them money fairly often, against the apparent will of the MTA. There's one guy with kittens (that apparently aren't growing up - is he just dumping them as soon as they get old enough and getting new ones?*) that gets a dollar from me EVERY TIME. Even though it's obvious I am only putting that dollar there for the kittens. I sometimes literally put it under one of the kitten's paws, in the hope that it will hide it within it's fur, and one day saving up enough to buy a ticket to the Bahamas and escape it's (I can only assume) cruel master.

But I digress. Back to the guy I hate. You may have actually seen him before. He stands out from every other panhandler that I've ever met in NYC, by the simple fact that he's wearing newspaper. That's right - he literally wraps himself in a gown of newspaper. It's obviously a fairly intricate design, since newspaper doesn't exactly lend itself to being worn. To say nothing if it's actually wet outside. But, however he does it, 'ol Newsy McGee manages to be covered - pretty much from head to toe, including a paper hat to complete the ensemble - in what I can only assume are discarded city rags. The portions of his body that are not covered in paper - i.e. his hands and face - are black, presumably from newspaper ink, though it seems too proportioned and spread out to simply be from handling and being covered by newspaper.

My theory is that this man has, in his own mind, created the most pathetic "homeless person costume" imaginable. One that evokes pure pity. Pity that will have Newsy laughing all the way to the bank. But it's pathetic to the point of being unbelievable. His outfit makes no sense. If you were going to fashion anything as a homeless person, wouldn't you use something a bit more durable? Disgarded umbrellas, lost gloves, rat carcasses? Anything but newspaper. In my mind this man takes his costume off when he's done "performing" at the 34th street F station, and he puts on something far more practical*. That's if he's not already just blatantly wearing it underneath his ridiculous getup.

This man has been doing his schtick for as long as I can remember, but I only started hating him a few months ago. Up until that day he was just stupid and goofy. I would think about how funny it would be if I walked up to him and asked him 'what Garfield was up to today,' and whether or not he would get it, and look over on his left shoulder and say, "still hating Mondays!" But on this one particular day, our paths crossed, and it left me with a terrible taste in my mouth.

I should state here that I have a specific lunch routine that I follow fairly religiously. Moreso than any actual religion, in fact. I bring a bagged lunch to work 4 of out 5 days of each work week. I'm somewhat flexible on the contents - though 99% of the time it is either a turkey/ham & cheese sandwich with cheetos or some unnatural cheesy treat, or two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The fifth day of the week, or "fun lunch" day (which is usually Wednesday, so I never have to spend three days in a row eating a terribly boring lunch) I am free to eat out in the streets of Manhattan, indulging in whatever meal I can find within a 20 minute/$20 radius of my office.

On this particular day, I played an audible at the last minute. I had packed a ham and cheese sandwich along with a sizable Ziploc baggie full of White Cheddar Cheez-Its, but a few of my coworkers decided on that day to visit Chipotle for the first time, and I couldn't resist the urge to show them the proper way to order a burrito, something I've done on average twice a week over the past 2 years. So we dined on burritos for lunch, and since I didn't think I was going to ever get around to eating my sandwich before it went bad, I decided to offer it to Newsy when I saw him a few hours later.

Let me try to set the stage here as best as I can. My newspaper-laden friend is sitting on the floor near the bottom of the staircase entrance/exit leading outside. A very high traffic area, which means he often gets in people's way. Another reason to hate him. Anyways, as I'm rushing to catch my train I stop in front of him and he gives me a smile, and holds his hands out. I pull the sandwich out of my bag and I offer it to him (the Cheez-Its, being less perishable, would go towards tomorrow's lunch). Immediately his smile turns into a grimace, and he growls at me:

"What is this?"
"Oh, it's a sandwich. Don't worry, it's good. I made it for myself for lunch today, but I..."
"Do you have any money?!?"
"Well, not right now. No, but I'm telling you, this is a goo-"
"Hey! Get...the fuck away from me with that...right now!"

I hadn't heard such loaded words in a long time, and I was completely taken aback. Get the fuck away from me with that right now. I was apparently insulting him with my sandwich. I was taking away precious seconds from his begging of strangers for cash, which was apparently the only thing worth taking from anyone. I was interrupting his little routine - which he instantly went back to. Looking sad, lonely, desolate. Maybe even a little hungry. Seconds earlier he seemed ready to stand up and shove my sandwich down my throat and steal my wallet.

Now, I get that my (untouched, ziploc-baggie-sealed, nestly safely in a paper towel wrap) sandwich might be worth less than a dollar (or even a handful of change) to most people. Heck, it was pretty much a toss-up between giving it to him and being thrown in the garbage (Of course, after the man made such a big deal out of how worthless it was, I made it a point to scarf that thing down* - if only to prove to the world that I wasn't offering the man a bad sandwich). But, at the end of the day I was being generous. I was attempting to give a man something for free. Food. Sustenance. With Helmann's Mayo and real American cheese. He could have smelled it and made his decision then. He could have taken it and then simply thrown it away when my back was turned. Or, he could have politely turned me down, and told me he didn't know where I'd been, to which I would have responded, "fair enough," and been on my way.

But no. He reacted so strongly, so negatively to my offer, that he just made himself a lifelong enemy. A nemesis, I dare say. Out to thwart his every attempt to sucker another person from their hard-earned cash. Now, whenever I pass by him, all I can do is fantasize about a time when he finds himself starving. And he steps outside, in the pouring rain looking for food, but nothings open anywhere. "Sandwich! Sandwich! My kingdom for a sandwich!" he'll yell. And - in a moment he'll regard as his absolute lowest for the rest of his life- his only choice is to eat his wet, soppy, ink-stained newspaper dress to get through the night and silence the hunger pains that refuse to go away.

As for me, and my sandwiches? Next time, I'll save 'em for the kitties. As Milhouse can attest, they lovvvvveeee cold cuts!


Yeah, but I'd still rather be playing: It seems like EVERYONE is playing something on the train these days. I wonder if all this rejection will eventually somehow turn me into a cantakerous, gaming-hating coot?

*Note to self: add this to "mysteries to solve" list, right after the D.B. Cooper case.
*Like a sweater made of police tape.
*After eating about 1/3 of it, I still went ahead and threw it out, having clearly made my point.


Whitney said...

This is exactly why I don't give money directly to the homeless but willingly give it to organizations that help the homeless. The guy wanted money so he could buy alcohol. If he was really starving he would have taken your sandwich. I know someone who bought 2 large soups from Hale & Hearty for 2 homeless people sitting outside the store and they refused it cause they didn't like the flavor, and it was like 20 Degrees out too.

There was a woman in Houston back in the 80's who every morning would dress in old raggedy clothes, her Husband would drop her off on one of the Bussiest corners in the city and she'd beg for money. Then he would pick her up in the evenings on his way home from work. They made several hundred dollars a day. Which in Houston, in the 80's could go a very long way.

I've never trusted the homeless and I don't care if that makes me a cold bitch.

Liz Remus said...

Before I read the part of his refusal of your food, I wanted you to take his picture. His outfit sounded hilarious. But now I feel like you should make his life hell. How could he? This just goes to prove how people don't trust homeless people and expect them to squander their money on booze.