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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Yesterday, I threw in the towel!

I debated calling this post: Why I like SF, Reason #37.

I didn't. Because this one kind of fits better. You see, San Francisco is a very homeless-friendly place to be. I don't think I see a day pass when I don't see someone hand a homeless person their lunch, offer money, or just stop to listen.

I like that about the city. It seems like the right thing to do. But there's a point, I guess, at which it gets out of hand.

Yesterday I was doing my laundry -- 5 loads, normal for me -- in a Laundromat on Geary Street. I had just returned to take my laundry from the dryers when a homeless guy walked in. He was wearing two coats. The top one was filthy, kinda like a down-filed jacket, the undercoat was quite nice --a black leather jacket full of silver accessories. Anyway, he told me it was hot, I nodded in agreement, as we're having an early summer bit of the old heatwave. So he takes off his outer coat, the down-filled thing, and pushes it in the washer. He then yells, "Are these the dollar fifty washers?" Another customer tells him no, they are $2. (Blogger's note: They've been $2 for like 8 months now, where's this guy been?). So I quietly begin to unload my clean laundry out onto one of the counters, hoping he doesn't feel the need to talk. Or stand near where I'm working (I know how I'd smell wearing two coats on an unseasonably warm SF day). So I'm folding and basketing and shaking out the cat hair (maybe I should use Bounce?) that managed to thumb it's nose at the dryer's centrifugal suction when he walks by. I think he's leaving for now, but before he reaches the door he turns back and stops at my counter. Stupidly, I look. That's an invitation for unwanted conversation every time.

"Hey man, you got a towel I could use?" I give him a questioning gaze as I tuck the middle of a white towel under my chin and bring my hands together.

"I need to wash my pants. They're really, really funky, and I need something to cover myself with."

I look at him, at the towel I've just folded. Before I know what I'm doing, I hand him the towel. "Here you go," I say, then quickly return my gaze to my laundry. But he's still there, so before he can do more than thank me, I say. "Keep it."

A half hour later, the dawn turning to night, I'm driving down the road with a full basket and two laundry bags of refreshed clothing in the back seat, I pull up to a traffic light. I turn to my right, for no reason though reason enough, and from the elevated cab of a Muni bus, the driver looks down at me, waves, and giggles like a school girl. A second later the light changes and we both pull off.

I must have thought about that bizarre interaction even longer than I thought about the homeless guy with the towel around his waist.

Yeah, I like the city.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm glad you told him to keep it. But the other interaction intrigues me more. I don't know why.

Clifford said...

Yeah, I agree. It was strange in a disturbing way. I ride the bus all the time, and let me tell you, there are some characters behind the wheel. This was likely one of them.

Kate S said...

Maybe the driver thought you were cute, Cliff. :)

Clifford said...


You're such a romantic! 10 years ago, maybe, but I'm well past that stage and into the "look at that dufus with the toilet paper trial dragging behind him!" stage. And if I hadn't been seated in a car, I would have checked(:

Kate S said...

Oh, now don't be so negative! :)

My mother always told me if people were staring at me it was because I was cute. Of course, later I realized it was because my fly was open or something, but still...

Think positive! :)

Thomas M. Sipos said...

S.F. is beautiful -- and I love its cold summers.

But I hear the cost of living, and housing, is even more expensive than L.A. And I'm looking to move to a less expensive city, not more so, :-(

Clifford said...

Hey Thomas,

If you moved to SF though, you could hang out with ME. That must count for something (:

Thomas M. Sipos said...

Sure, it'd be fun to hang out with you. But as I get older, I want to own my own house. And there's no way I'll ever be able to afford a house in L.A., much less in the more expensive S.F.

Anyway, you can always move down to L.A. if you want to hang out, :-)

What DO you think of life in L.A.? Does it hold any appeal for you, or are you among those who hate La-La-Land?

Howardd21 said...

I guess I am wondering why you don't really help that homeless person and engage in a deep conversation with him about how he got there and what he is doing to get out of that situation. I often think that the occasional dollar, or towel in your case, is really a "here is something now don't bother me" payment. Would you agree? It seems from your description you would and did. Wouldn't it be better to keep the dollar and really talk to them, and help them? Aren't we just propogating the problem to keep them sustained in their situation, instead of helping them improve on it?

Clifford said...


Ah, house ownership...now that's an entirely different issue. As for LA, I really haven't spent much time there. But for me, it's a bit too sunny and warm. I need my blustery climate (: And hell, if I moved to LA, you'd end up moving anyway (:


The homeless problem is pretty extreme in SF. It's a very homeless-friendly place in many ways. On a daily basis, I get asked for money/food/beer half a dozen times or more. Stopping to chat would be fruitless. Most homeless on the street have mental problems, there because the system has no love for those who can't take care of themselves. When I give a handout, I don't delude myself into thinking that I'm helping the problem in any way. I don't even care if the person intends to purchase liquer or drugs with the money I give them. If I can simply help ease the pain they're feeling...if only for a minute, the karmic wheel turns on. Should I be doing more? Should I stop and chat with each of the people who pushes their way into my sphere? Hell yeah, I should. And I probably should be on the street with them, having shared everything I own, till I have as little as them, but I'm neither that strong nor that selfless.

Thomas M. Sipos said...

Howard, there are plenty of homeless here in Santa Monica (where I live), and the problem is pretty overwhelming. The city provides free lunches every day to whoever asks. There are also free clinics, and a Salvation Army shelter. All it's done is attract more homeless to the city.

I try to be understanding and nice, but sometimes it isn't easy. Some of the homeless are downright rude and nasty. There's a guy I call "the Fuck You man,' because I've passed him a few times, and he suddenly turned on me and screamed FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!

And it's not just me. I've heard him screaming FUCK YOU! from around corners, apparently at other passersby.

Cliff is right. Many of them are mentally ill, or substance abusers. Chatting with them about their problems won't help much. There are already social workers in this city who chat with the homeless, to the extent that it does any good.

Cliff, I hate the sunny & warm weather too. Maybe someday I'll move to Seattle. I hear it's cheaper than L.A., with nice, gray skies.

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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.