Poverty or Coffee

I’m sitting in a nice little coffeeshop in Sacramento, getting some paperwork done. And reading the House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

I noticed a man on the curb outside a few hours ago. And I just looked up now and realized he’s still there- tattered clothes, his feet sticking halfway into the street. Greasy hair and laying on top of a backpack- all of his possessions. I thought he was asleep all morning, but just realized that the way he is laying he is supporting himself up, and can’t be asleep. Just looking in the opposite direction. Barely moving. And people walking past him without a second glance. With hope, clarity in their step, sparkling new clothes adorning their bodies. Not even looking down.

And I don’t really know what to do about it, so I’m going to write about it.

This morning, seven o’clock and the sun’s just coming up, I got a ride downtown with Heather, and then we split off.

I walked to a coffee shop, and passed Cesar Chavez park. And waiting at an intersection for the light, an homeless old man in a wheelchair pulls up. And when the walk sign comes on, he says the word, “Push?”

And I say, alright. And I push him across the busy street. What kind of a person would I be to refuse this? The thought runs through my mind of the scene from Silence of the Lambs, where the guy pretends to have a broken leg to lure the girl into helping him. But this is a real situation as far as experience has taught me, and we’re in broad daylight in the middle of a busy intersection downtown. I would not do this if I was in a deserted area.

And I am torn apart as I push him into the park, asking where he wants to go. Because I’m happy I’m able to help him out, but also wondering if he’s trying to take advantage of me. And, I’m embarrassed to say, I’m worried about what other people will think of me associating with this homeless man.

What the fuck.

Yeah, I just said that. Better to get it out than to keep it in, yeah? Maybe I can find some peace by writing it out.

And that’s how I feel about that man out there on the street. I’m not going to go out and help him, no one is, probably. And why am I not doing it? Because no one else is. And why is no one else doing it? Probably the same reason as me.

But how much harm would it do to ask? Why are we afraid to ask? We assume they are where they are for a reason. And it’s their fault. And they are a mess and that’s why they are where they are.

And there’s definitely a reason to be skeptical. Because, let’s be honest, if I was homeless, I would not find it immoral to steal a few bucks. I would just think of it as needing to feed myself. And the more desperate I was, the more loose my morality would get, I’m sure.

So, I don’t know.

It’s fine that I was protecting myself and making sure that I didn’t get taken advantage of. I’m a 24 year midwestern girl trying to figure out what the fuck poverty is, I’m not supposed to know it all. But the thing I’m embarrassed of is how I cared what the other people around me thought. And worried they would judge me for associating with this person on the street.

I tell the man I have to go the opposite direction after I push him to the center of the park. I don’t think he really has anywhere in particular to go, or it’s not anywhere close for that matter. And I’m not about to push someone aimlessly around town. But I don’t even look in his face as I communicate with him, he says here is fine, and I turn around and walk the other direction without ever seeing what his face looks like.

Walking across the street in the other direction, a man holding a cactus plant in hand exclaims, “Good morning, sister!” As we pass each other on the cross walk.

“Wow. Look at that smile. Lighting up the day!”

This city really reminds me of the culture I experienced in Spain. The abundance of cat calling, the stream of consciousness coming out of the people’s mouths in the streets.

Mix of feelings about it all. Regardless, I do not sit out in public and read in this city. You are not able to be outside and not be approached by people, talked to by people, having to decide about people.

Learning. And working on my own struggles as I communicate with others.

I then go to this coffee shop, where two men sitting by me are having a fantastically enthusiastic conversation concerning business. It’s how I talk about politics and ideas in cafes with my philosophical friends. Except the conversations I have are usually condemning what these men have their mouths watering over. And it’s a pure joy for them, they are just in love with competition and money. And they’re using the classic American “self help” and “law of attraction” positivity business mentality. Talking about “setting forces out into the universe..” etc. Except their only aim is to make money, not aiming for world peace or long term ideas. It’s all the present. Making the dollar, strengthening the business and the groupthink of their employees. Just like the many a frantic hippie conversation I’ve had with strangers, these men are frantically discussing the economic, capitalistic laws of the universe. And I wonder, paradoxically, isn’t business capitalism one of the most “zen” things in the world? Pure present. No thought of the future, or of future implications. Just the now.

Fuck that.

Zen can be whatever you want it to be. That could never be my zen. Me and those men were different.

And let’s bring it back to me sitting in this nice coffeeshop, with this view of this poor, pained man on the sidewalk. And me just looking out and continuing to enjoy my hot coffee. I’m just sitting here. I’m focused on my own pursuits, not helping with his. And isn’t mine just as corporate and single minded as those business men who I thought had no soul?

Are we really that different?

It’s all relative. We just all have to learn how we are supposed to fulfill ourselves, our lives.

On the bus now. A little non-English speaking woman just got on with a bag of chickens. Their legs sticking out the top of her plastic bag.


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