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The H-Word (996) (1 Viewer)

velo

Retired Supervisor
The cop didn't care that it was three days before Christmas and below freezing. He wasn't at all sympathetic to the fact that I was living in my car, that I had no place other than the back seat to "go home" to. The fact that I was merely parking in a parking lot, not bothering anyone, causing no disturbance, not even leaving any trash behind, was of no concern. I was simply someplace I shouldn't be according to some rule written in some book and only enforced when the mood struck someone. Besides, I was homeless and that was enough for him to know I deserved no pity.

He was "just doing his job" by forcing me to move on with threats of incarceration and admonitions not to question an officer when he gives a direct order. It's almost funny- threatening a homeless man by giving him a room and a bed, even if it is in jail. I wanted to argue with him, to see if I could wrest an iota of compassion from behind his scowl or to make him see that the spirit of the law didn't mean to kick a guy when he was down but only to keep the park safe for people who would use it respectfully, like me. I simply chose to move on, though, and find another place to steal a few hours of fitful, restless sleep. My self-righteous indignation would never stand up to his shiny badge in court and my pride wasn't worth the potential cost if this officer was the unsympathetic type and chose to press the issue, as most I've come across seem to be.

The stigma of the word "homeless" brings out a visceral reaction in you when I confront you with it. Even the word itself, like the dark wizard in a popular series of books, often won't even be used. The embarrassed flush the "h-word" brings to your skin makes the word stick in your throat, gutturally transforming into a weak euphemism, a nicer turn of phrase to say something perceived as wholly ugly and repugnant.

I don't have a mailing address, which is inconvenient at times, but never as inconvenient as when you ask where I live and I tense for the expected uncomfortable exchange to follow. Sometimes I flippantly rattle off my license plate number as an address with a wide grin, hoping to put you at ease, to take the edge off with humor and an easy manner. It never works. When you realize you are talking to an h-word person, you cast your eyes anywhere but in my direction, get very serious and condescending, and are immediately eager to end the conversation as quickly as you can.

Why do you act this way? I think it's because you are afraid. You are afraid of me, afraid of what I am and what I represent. I am living proof that humanity hasn't escaped Darwin. We've weakened him a bit with medicines, surgeries, charities, welfare, etc., but in the end if you aren't fit, you fall through the holes and die cold and alone. I am living proof that it can happen to anyone, all it takes is the right juxtaposition of timing and bad choices, for a few details to go awry, and suddenly you are staring back through the window that was once yours into a now-dark room wondering how on Earth it has come to this.

We reject what we fear, we shun it and cast it from us, now just as in the past. The homeless are modern day lepers, pariahs, the outcasts society is unwilling to even acknowledge, let alone make a place for. You sequester us in the dark alleys and places decent people won't go. You are too afraid of looking at us and seeing yourself. You don't ever want to be me and so if you ignore me, you are safe, protected from infection, secure in your sterile bubble behind the red warning tape and germ-proof glass.

The h-word is an all-encompassing category that allows no individualism, no distinctions. We are the untouchable caste, the lowest of the low, and as much you look down from lofty heights upon our unclean misery and give meaningless lip-service to your sympathy for us, deep in the hidden parts of your brain where you don't like to look you know you are merely a paycheck or two away from being moved out of the parking lot late at night.

You think you know me by now, but you really don't.

Does it matter to you that I have a decent job, a new car, and a gym membership for access to hot water and a shower head? Does it matter that I am intelligent, well-spoken, clean, and a law-abiding citizen other than the occasional overnight parking infraction? Do you care that I have access to e-mail, wireless internet, and my French press, kept at my desk at work, is well-stocked with fresh beans from Starbucks? Does it make you think twice to know that during the day I can pass among any of you and you could never guess what I am?

Do you think that one word sums up who and what I am?
 
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D

Dr. Malone

Nice. I could see this in a magazine or newspaper. Interesting read, I also tend to bum around. You have an up on me with the car and the job and the gym though.
Good read. Very engaging.
I hate cops. They never listen or have compassion.
 

velo

Retired Supervisor
Thanks, I actually submitted it to a paper's opinion section just before I posted it here. We'll see.
 

velo

Retired Supervisor
bad%20cop%20copy.jpg
 

KristanLH

Member
Wow, good piece. I just have a few comments and nits, but I think overall it's very strong:

He was "just doing his job" by forcing me to move on with threats of incarceration and admonitions not to question an officer when he gives a direct order. It's almost funny- threatening a homeless man by giving him a room and a bed, even if it is in jail. I wanted to argue with him, to see if I could wrest an iota of compassion from behind his scowl or to make him see that the spirit of the law didn't mean to kick a guy when he was down but only to keep the park safe for people who would use it respectfully, like me. I simply chose to move on, though, and find another place to steal a few hours of fitful, restless sleep. My self-righteous indignation would never stand up to his shiny badge in court and my pride wasn't worth the potential cost if this officer was the unsympathetic type and chose to press the issue, as most I've come across seem to be.

What does this paragraph add? It's an anti-cop rant more than anything else, which kind of interrupts the flow (take it out and see how well the 1st paragraph segues to the 3rd) and distracts from your real purpose.

I admit, I was originally turned off by the use of "you," because of course no one likes to think they are so prejudiced. But after I got past the first few instances of "you," I realized it adds a lot of power to the piece (and doesn't necessarily attack me in particular -- it represents a greater subject).

Now for the suggestions/nits:

The stigma of the word "homeless" brings out a visceral reaction in you when I confront you with it.

That's vague. Tell me what it does: "The word 'homeless' repulses you. Like the name of a certain dark wizard in a certain popular series of books, you'd prefer it never be spoken. The 'h-word' brings an embarrassed flush to your skin, it sticks in your throat, it sickens you."

...gutturally transforming into a weak euphemism, a nicer turn of phrase to say something perceived as wholly ugly and repugnant.

I'm not sure what that means...

Sometimes I rattle off my license plate number as an address with a wide grin, hoping to put you at ease, to take the edge off with humor and an easy manner. It never works. When you realize you are talking to an h-word person, you cast your eyes anywhere but in my direction, get very serious and condescending, and are eager to end the conversation as quickly as you can.

Don't overuse adverbs. You don't need them; you have powerful enough adjectives and emotions working for you already.

I am living proof that it can happen to anyone, all it takes is the right juxtaposition of timing and bad choices. A few details to go awry, and suddenly you are staring back through the window that was once yours into a now-dark room wondering how on Earth it has come to this.

I'm not sure what you're referring to (part in red)...

The homeless are modern day lepers, pariahs, the outcasts society is unwilling to acknowledge, let alone make a place for. You sequester us in dark alleys and under highways. You are too afraid of looking at us and seeing yourself. You don't ever want to be me, and you think if you ignore me, you will be safe, protected from infection, secure in your sterile bubble of ignorance.

...deep in the parts of your brain you don't like to face, you know you may be merely a paycheck or two away from being ejected from a parking lot late at night.

You think you know me by now, but you really don't.

I would say something like, "Do you think I was expecting this?" It's a smoother segue, in my opinion. Plus the next paragraph basically shows the reader that they don't know you, so why tell them first?

Does it matter to you that I have a decent job, a new car, and a gym membership for access to hot water and a shower head? Do you care that I am intelligent, well-spoken, clean, and a law-abiding citizen other than the occasional overnight parking infraction? Would it interest you to know that I have access to e-mail and wireless internet, and that my French press at work is well-stocked with fresh beans from Starbucks? Does it make you think twice to know that during the day I can pass among any of you and you would never guess what I am?

Again, those are just nits/suggestions. I think this was a very strong piece, and I thank you for sharing it.

- Kristan
 
C

CaFFyXP

This was definitely an interesting piece to read. I can't say I haven't stereotyped homeless people and thus I typically think of them as dirty and out on the streets. I don't even know what to say other than "Whoa..."
 
A

Auria Cortes

I was simply someplace I shouldn't be according to some rule written in some book and only enforced when the mood struck someone.

I really like that sentence.

The stigma of the word "homeless" brings out a visceral reaction in you when I confront you with it.

Since you use the word confront, I wonder how you express that your homeless (your tone of voice, the way you look at them in the eye for a reaction).

It's interesting to read your perspective as to the reason why people turn away---out of fear it can happen to them.

I'm not sure the context in which you are writing. But if this is written in mind with people who just met you - something who doesn't know you at all. I doubt the reason they look away is fear that it can happen to them. They don't know enough about you to make a clear connection between who you are and who they are.

I think you do represent many things to others, but a mirror? No.
 
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Just Me

Senior Member
I found this to be a very powerful piece, especially highlighted by the use of the word "you" throughout. You put a different spin on the homeless stereotype and I'll admit that I'm guilty of viewing the living-on-the-street, tattered clothes, begging for spare change stereotype because that's what I see every day.

You point out the alternative to the usual stereotype:
Does it matter to you that I have a decent job, a new car, and a gym membership for access to hot water and a shower head? Does it matter that I am intelligent, well-spoken, clean, and a law-abiding citizen other than the occasional overnight parking infraction? Do you care that I have access to e-mail, wireless internet, and my French press, kept at my desk at work, is well-stocked with fresh beans from Starbucks? Does it make you think twice to know that during the day I can pass among any of you and you could never guess what I am?

I'm not sure whether I see it as positive or negative, but the piece does seem very confrontational.
 
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