Letter: An encounter with decency on the street

I just finished reading Marc Goldfinger’s recent column on his history with Spare Change News. I’ve never read SC, actually. Not until today. I randomly bought a copy today through a random series of events. Actually I bought ten copies. Your vendor, Michael, over on Church Street, made a good sale.

Half the time, I always get a bad attitude around the homeless in
Boston. They’re often rude, often mean. But whenever I see Spare
Change folks, they’re often smiling, conversing… there’s one guy by South Station who makes duck sounds and it always gets a laugh out of some of the bankers who walk by. So today I saw Michael (I hope that’s his name), and he was just having a good day. I passed him by right before I went to the church there and forgot about him briefly.

So a few hours later, as I’m walking out of my first visit to UU in
Harvard Square, feeling all fuzzy and enlightened, I spot a crumbled $10 bill on the sidewalk. I pick it up and look around for anyone wearing a look of confusion. No face claims it, so I walk on.

On the corner of Church Street, there’s Michael, with an arm full of papers. People walk by him, a man in a suit looks at him angrily with his hands in his pocket and says,”I don’t have any spare change to give you!!” and picks up his pace. I say to myself, “Well, f… it”, walk over and buy 10 issues of this homeless man’s newspaper. (I had meant to do it last week in South Station but didn’t have $1. So I saw this as my chance. The SC newspaper is a program that allows homeless people to get some job experience, selling newspapers at $1 and being allowed to pocket 75 cents for themselves.)

The guy smiled super-wide, a few teeth missing, and promised me it would go to good use as he thumbed out 10 issues for me. I shook his hand, his name’s Michael, and wished him a good weekend, and walked off cradling a stack of these newspapers, slipping them into Starbucks and other cafe tables as I went.
Barely a minute later, I’m passing by a troupe of homeless people. You know, those packs of five or six who hang out on the benches in front of the ATMs, often with a pit bull or three. And one of the homeless guys elbows his drunk buddy, points at my sandals and goes, “Look at that, high heel sandals with toes. I bet she’s got the CLAP, that ho! HA!” and starts clapping, laughing hysterically. His buddies laugh too, partially obscured behind a wet cardboard sign, a sign with words begging passers-by and tourists to drop off a new pair of shoes or a few bucks.

Homeless people are jerks sometimes. I circled back and stood a few feet away from him, contemplating asking him why he had to be mean. But I couldn’t recognize who had originally said it, and walked off. This really bothered me. I’m still kind of upset right now, and I am fighting off the urge to being angry at the homeless community as a whole. But honestly, whatever. Michael. He was happy. I made him happy, he smiled, I hope he goes back to his distributor today with happy news about how he sold a lot of newspapers today.

Anyway, I guess the point of my email and story is to thank you for being real. It’s so easy for people who “aren’t” in that situation to separate themselves and forget that they’re people too. It’s so easy to forget that the homeless were once cute babies, cute kids, with decent lives and a roof over their head at some point. It’s like society just assumes they’ve always been that way, born that way.

Anyway, the other side of it is that it takes one nasty person to spoil it for everyone else. I honestly believe that nasty people will grant themselves lousy situations. So when that guy I walked by called me a “ho”… well, that old part of me came back that wanted to say “F… all you dirtbags”. But I remembered that just a few minutes earlier, I had talked to a completely decent human being, someone who was friendly and THANKFUL and just made me happy about helping him out. That’s more of what people need, I think. Everyone. Just a reminder that everyone’s a person on an equal plane.

– Annette Arabasz

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