50: homeless

After an 11.5-hour hibernation period last night (following an overwork-caused near-passout), I woke up this morning feeling refreshed.

At work, I was able to complete good projects and attend meetings where I formed and relayed good thoughts full of clarity. At 1 p.m., I deserved a break.

I walked outside and strolled around the block, enjoying the light breeze and the clearly fall day (note that it’s December — thanks, GW! … global warming, not George Washington). Around the corner from the office, I grabbed a hummus and roasted eggplant sandwich from my favorite sandwich shop, then sat outside the local bookstore to people-watch and eat in peace.

Except a homeless man sat next to me.

Crap, I thought. I can’t possibly eat this now; I’ll feel really bad. I held my brown bag tight without opening, pretending I was just enjoying the weather. But his eyes were fixed on me. “Don’t be scared of me,” he offered. I turned and looked at him, with a half smile. “I’m not scared of you,” I said. He was dressed in black, good clothes without holes, and had a few gold teeth. His face was acne-free and clearer than mine, but he looked a bit downtrodden. I wondered if he really was homeless after all, then wondered what cleanser he uses on his face so that I might start too.

“Don’t be scared because I’m black,” he spoke again. “I’m just like the rest of you.”

I turned my head and watched the traffic coming from the opposite direction. Oh, no, you’re pulling the race card.

“You know, I was with my wife for 13 years … 13 years!!” he cried. “13 years and then she left me!”

Please don’t moan. I just want to eat. If I wanted noise, I’d sit at my desk and listen to my co-workers. “I’m just like the rest of you, and she left me.”

I sighed and closed my eyes, lifting my hands up to my neck and massaging it in place as if I had a big cramp. A passer-by said suddenly, “See, her neck hurts! Her neck hurts, and mine does too!” I opened my eyes in time to catch him turning and leaving. Dumbfounded, I wondered if I had stumbled in a block of nuts. In the meantime, the nut next to me was at it again, asking me not to feel fear again. Sharply, like the pain in my neck, I turned to him. “I said I’m not scared of you.”

But he wouldn’t let it go, and on again he was going about his wife, his life, his problems. I can’t be your psychiatrist, old man, and neither your friend, I thought. So, I got up, feeling my sammy cooling down. “I’m gonna go; have a nice day,” I said and smiled quickly.

“I told you not to be scared of me!” he yelled after me. “Why are you all so scared???”

Psychopath. I felt slightly annoyed walking down the street. Slightly irritated rather that I’d missed the opportunity to sit outside and soak up the chilly sun and brisk activity of the street, and now I had to go back to my windowless desk and sit and eat until my half hour was up.

What a waste, I thought. Both my lost half hour and that guy’s attitude. Just because he has problems in life doesn’t mean that I don’t. Just because his wife left him doesn’t make my life better because I don’t have to deal with that. Because I have a whole other set of issues that were given to me to deal with in this life. Sure it’s tough to be alone and possibly homeless, but it’s also tough to have to work 10, 11 hours a day at times in a room without a view (no book title copying intended) and have to deal with the stress of the job and deadlines and answering to things and people.

Now, I’m not complaining. I’m glad I have this job. But it was given to me because I got the chance to have opportunities in this life that led me to this job. Maybe he didn’t (if he is homeless). And maybe he wasn’t made aware that it’s nice to have a home, and that’s why he keeps going on like this. So that’s stressful, but he’s used to it. My set is stressful too, and I’m cognizant of the things that I’m lucky to have in my life, but just because I don’t want to listen to him doesn’t mean I’m heartless.

Because just as this guy cherishes his wife, well, I cherish what is close to me, and that’s myself, and the only time I get to spend with myself and wholly so too is my lunch hour. (At night, I’m too busy cooking or chatting with roomie or going for drinks or movies or doing chores or work.) So respect that. Even if you don’t know that about me. Assume it. Ask me then if I have an ear to spare, and if I say no, say fine. Let it go, let it be.

Of course, if you’re homeless or newly divorced and downtrodden, it’s easy to lose sight and assume others that have it better than you (have a job, home, coat and lunch) don’t have an open heart or mind if they don’t want to listen to you.

But I guess what I’m trying to say is that oftentimes, people assume that you HAVE to give to those worse off otherwise you’re heartless and selfish. As if you didn’t work for what you have. No, you worked hard, so why then should you not ask for things for yourself? I work hard and stress and have brething problems and overwork near-passouts, and all that I do for the money I make and for the free time I have. So if I don’t want to give you either, well excuse me, but I busted my butt for it. While you sat there complaining.

I guess I’m going to try again to sum up what I was trying to say: We all have issues, and we all feel the same stress more or less except the details of our life are different. We react to different things, but more or less we react the same. I really believe that. And I believe that because I’ve been worse off. I’ve been so much worse off than I am right now, but my mind has protected me. Like a little blankie shielding me a little from the world so I could still feel comfort to go on the next day. And it never let me know how much exactly worse off I was, and now I feel that I felt the same. I have a different set of worries now than I did back then, and trust me I’d much rather have these worries than those (just like I’d much rather have these worries than a divorce or no home on my mind). But I still worry about my own issues of these days, and I worry about them in the same degree as I worried about other things in the past. So, as I had breathing problems then, I have them now.

So: Just because my life seems better than yours, don’t assume it is. Because it’s not. It’s all about attitude. And just because I can’t hear you right now doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to later. So, don’t cast it off as fear or use the stupid race card. That’s all. Except it takes someone to teach you that, and I don’t expect anyone to know this all on their own.

And unfortunately, the kinds of people that need to hear this like the man on the bench today probably don’t have an Internet connection.


About tali2

I am a recent grad of the wonderful English major. Though I don't regret studying English one bit, I realize why my teachers, parents, friends, and imaginary mentors warned me against it: Because it leads you nowhere. But it did give me great writing skills which I hope to continue honing in this blog as I chronicle the tribulations of the terrible job hunt in the terrible job market of NYC. And I hope that my blog reminds fellow unemployed recent grads that you are not alone, inspires some hope within us, while presenting a snapshot of our lives to others who do not share the same self-imposed troubles.
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