Christmas Day, 2012

When I worked in San Francisco's financial district, I used to run into a homeless guy named Tony who stood at the corner of Montgomery and Sutter Streets. When I first encountered him, Tony was fairly young. He wasn't all there, but he was always pleasant. These encounters were episodic and their frequency stretched out when I moved to an office along the harbor. So it was a shock to see Tony go blind and end up in a wheelchair, looking like an old man, much before his time. He may now be dead - I haven't seen him in a while.

The photo below is of a homeless man, apparently an East Bay fixture, who was murdered a few months ago. They found his body a week or two ago, and are now looking for his killer. He and I were about the same age, so the photo spoke to me of the relative difference in wear and tear. 

Walking down Spear Street earlier this month, I saw a young guy who'd been panhandling in the first block for several days. I gave him a $20, and during that transaction, I got the sense that it wasn't his fate to be standing there. I didn't say this. A few days later, he'd moved on. I hope that what I saw was true. When the Occupy movement was at its height, one thing I liked about it was its embrace of the homeless. They were in the thick of it, suddenly brought to life. It was pretty obvious that some of them were crazed as loons, but their lives were briefly better as a result of finding themselves in the midst of something bigger, buoyed up by people who took them seriously.

We live amid different strands of time. A younger friend in England posts photos of her dog, a deerhound that I admire, too. He's in the prime of his dog life, but a dog's life is shorter than ours. I look at him and feel a certain sadness that his days in the sun will end so quickly. I had a dog like this, too, and his death was a big blow. It's odd to say it - it's like we care more for our dogs than for the homeless among us, but this reflects our attachment and the love that dogs show us, affectionate creatures that they mostly are. Understandably, the homeless tend to shower us with need. Tony, mentioned above, was an exception - he was cheerful and interacted with people on that basis. He never asked for money, although he had a small sign pinned to his jacket that read, "Help Tony." I always did, but my episodic help was not much use, in the end.

On the New York subway earlier in December, I read signs that urged people to give to charities rather than give to the homeless. I wish there were a safety net that could save people like Tony. Despite all the money that splashes around, there's never enough for the homeless, so they live in our midst, trapped in a different time that sucks the life out of them.


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