Title: I pissed off a hobo last night.
Posted: March 06, 2009 (10:27 AM)
First, a word on hobos. I've been living in Philadelphia since August and have surmised that there are a lot of homeless people wandering the streets, and they would very much like to have my money. Security does a good job of keeping them off the campus (they know that confused, gullible, parent-funded college students are primary begging targets), but I leave the campus on a regular basis, because hey, I'm living in Philly and I want to take advantage of that.
So I encounter a lot of hobos, and it's always an awkward experience. The "camping" hobos will choose a place where they know they'll see a lot of people (particularly a bench on a busy sidewalk), park themselves there all day, and attempt to grab the attention of every single civilian who happens to walk by. The more persistent "scouting" hobos will wander around, examining potential victims and specifically trying to engage in conversations with their targets, establishing some sort of connection before getting down to business. These hobos are more difficult to ward off because you can't simply ignore them; you've literally got to talk your way out of this situation.
Now, I've really got nothing against the homeless. I feel sorry for them for being homeless, and I don't blame them for attempting to bestow pity upon passersby in an effort to gather all of the loose change they can. I, however, do not contribute directly to hobos. For one thing, I almost never actually have any money with me, since I've learned to use a card almost exclusively and be spared the hassle of fumbling with cumbersome cash. But even then, if I really intended to give money to every homeless person who has asked me for spare change, I would be broke by now. In the rare instances that I must speak with one (i.e. when the scouting hobos make their rounds), I've discovered that the best excuse is to simply tell them I've already given my spare change to someone else. It's always a lie, of course, but it's a very believable one, and they couldn't possibly argue with it.
What surprises me is that most hobos are actually very polite, which may just be a business strategy, but whatever. Even if you don't have anything to give them, they'll usually respond by saying something like "Have a good day" or "God bless you" or something like that. As if to make me feel sorry, as I'm walking away, that I have nothing to give. (Or that I'm simply an asshole.) One of the only notable exceptions to the polite hobo rule was a man who approached me on the street and asked me how I was doing, to which I responded, out of instinct, "I don't have any money, man." At which point he said, "Yes you do." That scared the living fuck out of me, and I kept walking.
(The funny thing was that I really didn't have any money with me at the time. So he was both rude and incorrect.)
The other exception, well, let's talk about him. One of the perks of living in the city is that I now have access to a slew of independent and foreign films that I couldn't have easily found in Lancaster County, and I head down to the Ritz theaters quite often to take advantage of this. They're on the east side of the Philly, which, as anyone who's familiar with Philly can tell you, is the nice part of town. It's the cleaner, richer and more historical part, where you'll find such places as Independence Hall and the U.S. Custom House. It's also on the riverfront, with Penn's Landing giving a breathtaking view of Camden across the Delaware. Beautiful area. I've been down there twice in the past week, and both times I took the opportunity to snap some nighttime pictures while snow was still on the ground.
Anyway, there are also far fewer hobos on the east side, because I suppose richer people are less likely to give money (which sounds upside-down but wouldn't surprise me). It's also not as busy as center city, so I guess it makes sense. But a few have made it into the area, presumably because there's less competition down there. Ambitious, these few. And one of their favorite hang-out spots, coincidentally, is right between the busiest Ritz theater (Ritz at the Bourse) and the nearest subway station. The exterior of this particular building is home to several very large, deep windowsills that are perfect for sitting on, and where the hobos can hassle those Philadelphians who at least have enough money to see a couple of non-mainstream movies. Not a bad strategy, and it seems like a different set of hobos every time.
Now, I'm usually wearing my headphones whenever I walk any lengthy distance, and not earbuds: They're very big, obtrusive headphones that are impossible not to see if you're looking directly at me. Which is great, because I can ignore hobos and act like I simply don't hear them. (I am always aware of hobos, and I never listen to music loud enough to drown out the world around me, anyway.) So just last night I headed down there to see Gomorrah while listening to, I don't know, Muse or something. A pair of hobos were perched in the usual spot. One of them was, from what I could tell, silent. The other had a loud, raspy voice. I never looked directly at them; the one thing you learn about camping hobos is that you never make eye contact.
So this guy was trying to get my attention, and yeah, I heard him, but I pretended not to and never even diverted my eyes, giving no indication that I was even aware of his existence. After several attempts, then came the insult: "FUCKING DUMBASS!"
Okay. Now let's examine this for a second. The only reason I'm even living in Philadelphia in the first place is because I'm going to college here. It's also worth noting that I have a job, and I'm making money. And this guy I calling me a dumbass. I wasn't offended by it; quite the contrary, in fact. I found it hilariously ironic. I had a hard time maintaining a straight face as I continued to walk toward the theater at a steady pace.
But, I have a certain sense of justice. I feel that a man who treats people like this has no business asking people for money when they have absolutely no obligation to give him anything in the first place. Plus, my actions were justified: I was listening to music and "didn't hear him" (note the sarcastic quotes). And so it became my intent to fuck with this man in the most subtle way possible.
So, after the movie was over, I knew full well he'd still be there, because camping hobos are called that for a reason. (They usually retire around 10pm or so, but it was only around 8:45.) I put on my headphones again, eager to convey the same persona that I had when I entered. I made it about a block, and sure enough, he was still there. Once again he tried to get my attention by saying, in the same raspy voice, "Hey buddy!" Once again I totally ignored him, until, once I'd passed him by a couple of paces, I came to a stop, turned around, and reach into my pocket. He assumed I was about to grant him a few coins, and he thanked me. Instead, I pulled out my camera, took a picture of him, and then continued walking without saying a word.
And that's all I did. It was the complete indifference I conveyed that made me so proud of what I'd done. I never once looked him in the eye, even when I took a picture of him. (Looked at the screen.) And it was tough: I wanted to be like, "Hey, fuck you, buddy! You called me a fucking dumbass! I think I'm gonna keep the money I worked for!" (This would be followed by me rattling my pocket so he could hear the jingle of the loose change that, yes, I was carrying at the time.) But I didn't. The subtlety was what made this instance so amazing. I doubt he learned his lesson; he probably didn't even remember me from when I'd walked past, two and a half hours beforehand. And I doubt any of you are impressed by this story; if you've managed to read this much, you're likely disappointed by the complete lack of payoff. But for me, Thursday, March 5th was a night to remember.
Like I said, I don't usually treat hobos this way, but this guy was asking for it. As aggressive as they can sometimes be verbally, they're never physically confrontational, which is the great thing about them. This guy did throw something at me after I took his picture (I didn't see what it was, because it landed somewhere behind me), but that's the extent of it.
So there you go: You're all spending your college time working on research papers and I'm out there pissing off hobos. My life rocks.
Posted: March 06, 2009 (12:24 PM)
The hobos around here keep different hours and have a rotating shift. I think they work out the schedule ahead of time, since there's not as much space in which to beg and because most people around here are dead broke (unemployment in Oregon as a whole is now 9.9% and here where I live it may be even higher). You don't really see camping hobos as much because it rains a lot here, but you see them working shifts from around 9AM to about 6PM. They're generally pretty friendly, though sometimes they'll come into the store to buy beer or whatever and piss themselves while standing in checkout line or whatever. Hobos are in front of us now in every city and town, but we're becoming increasingly adept at ignoring them. Someone like Michael Moor needs to make a documentary, I think.
Posted: March 06, 2009 (04:17 PM)
Portland Hobos are pretty lazy and most of them have part time jobs as waiters, like me.
Nice article, Suskie. That was... well, really well written.
Posted: March 06, 2009 (04:22 PM)
I don't think hobos usually ask me for money because I look like a drug addict.
Posted: March 06, 2009 (04:47 PM)
As long as someone doesn't try to hand you money because he thinks you're a hobo with dignity, genj, you're probably okay. ;-)
Posted: March 06, 2009 (05:06 PM)
I was sitting in a shop's doorframe one day to do up my shoelaces and someone gave me a pound and told me to get a cup of coffee or something. True story.
Posted: March 06, 2009 (05:30 PM)
You wouldn't find yourself in these situations if you'd get shoes with Velcro!
Posted: March 06, 2009 (10:03 PM)
or vans slips.
I once put change into the coffee cup of a homeless looking but not actually homeless man. he was not amused.
Posted: March 07, 2009 (04:18 AM)
Maybe you missed the moral of the story.
I got free money.
Posted: March 08, 2009 (03:05 AM)
What's your secret, EMP? Do you not shave or bath for days before sitting on stoops?
Posted: March 08, 2009 (03:06 PM)
He's English - what do you think? =D
Posted: March 11, 2009 (07:30 AM)
What a wonderful blog!
There's a lovely homeless man who hangs about near where I live. He'll always ask for a bit of money, but he also seems just as interested in stopping for a chat, just to pass the time of day. In the couple of years since I moved here, I've found out a lot about his life, seen him as he's made progress, got onto the Council House waiting list and so forth. He's only a couple of months off having a house now. Lovely stuff. A real gentleman who acknowledges the mistakes he made and does his best to rectify them.