Thursday, July 23, 2009

On Being Homeless

Overheard in NYC on Sunday, Downtown A Train:
MAN: Excuse me, can I have your attention, I'm sorry to interrupt your day, but I am homeless, and all I'm missing are the shoes. My boss is Jewish. He hired me under the condition that I show up to work tomorrow in a suit and tie. I got the suit. I got the tie. I have six dollars and all I need are the shoes. If you could spare some...
WOMAN: You can buy shoes for six dollars! (screaming)
MAN:...some change, I'd really appreciate...
WOMAN: You better watch who you talk about, when 25% of that group lives in this city! (still screaming)
MAN: WHAT did I say? I just said he was a Jew, I didn't say anything...
WOMAN: Well Good! Then you're alright with God!
MAN: I don't give a f*** about God!

The banter continued, each strange outburst from the woman inciting an "I don't give a f*** about _________!" (Your religion, children, etc.) until he concluded with "Because nobody gives a f*** about me!" and stormed off the train at the Museum of Natural History. (I bet he wanted to see the dinos.)

The whole conversation was so ridiculous and hilarious: one of those essential NYC moments. However, when he concluded "Nobody gives a fuzzybuzzness about me," my heart hurt a tiny bit.

After a long day of getting down and dirty on the urban farm, the skies' water broke and drenched everything, cutting the humidity and freezing all minimally clothed farmers, like me. I retrieved what looked like a spare rain coat from the greenhouse to wear on the long, over-air-conditioned subway ride to Wash Heights. On my way out of work, I spotted the bus and ran to catch it. At this moment, I caught my first whiff.

There is a comprehensive composting operation on the farm that volunteers frequently help turn. I did it last weekend, and it was quite a stinky job. I learned that things that don't really have much of a scent, like iceberg lettuce, absolutely reek when rotted. The scent clings to cloth, skin, and apparently rubber raincoat material.

I sat on the end of the train, in the non-handicapped two seater. The A train was empty when I got on at Jay Street, so I spread out a bit, lapping up the luxury of lounging and legroom. At Chambers Street, however, the stockbrokers piled on, all suits and pantyhose. Every seat quickly filled with people. Every seat, that is, except the one next to me.

You can see where this is going: somebody sat down, smelled me, got up, and I became the "smelly one." Knowing passengers glared at innocent newcomers who thought they'd spotted a hidden treasure, as if to say "Don't do it!" I busied myself. I tried to ignore the fact that a sphere of empty space encircled me. But I saw the looks at my dirty, bee camo-bedecked toes, at my streaked legs, at my mud-covered coat. I heard the whispers of "You probably don't want to sit there." And I'm not claiming that anyone thought I was homeless per say, (although it has happened, namely in San Francisco outside of a Kinko's at 6am,) but they thought I was smelly and dirty, and they were correct.

I wished I could make the stank evaporate, to allow someone to sit in the adjacent empty seat without nasal assault. I considered standing up and offering up my stinky seat, but thought I'd infect more people if I stood. So I sat there, from Brooklyn to 181st Street, stinking away, feeling awful about myself, even though I knew deep down that I did not stink, not the innermost part of me at least. Is this what all smelly people think?

Nobody on the train said anything mean to me, they all just looked at me with expressions ranging from shock to vague disgust to condescension. They say looks can kill, and trust me when I tell you they're not talking about big-boobed blondes.

When I emerged above ground, I stood in the rain and let the caked compost sludge flow back down into the ground, purified of my alleged sins. I hope the homeless museum-goer got his shoes and went to his job with the Jewish boss. I hope he got a chance to take a shower first. If he didn't, I hope the boss wasn't too hard on him.

1 comment:

  1. AnonymousJuly 23, 2009

    i too have been mistaken for homeless.