(I’ll be back to dick jokes in the next post, so forgive me this droopy one.)
It began as usual. On the drive home after work last week, I stopped at the corner near my office. The last light before the freeway. The same woman was there with her change cup, just as she’s been every day since shortly after I started working this job. She waved, as she always does, and I waved back, as I always do. And I experienced the same conflicting emotions that I feel every day as we exchange pleasantries, wishing I could help her and not knowing what to do. I do nothing.
When she first showed up on this corner about three years ago, she looked to be close to my age. Average weight, average height, above average temperament. In fact, I think she was the originator, at least in this area, of the panhandle wave.* Now everyone is doing it. Since her arrival, her skin has become reddened and dried by the wind. Her face has taken on the sunken appearance of someone who’s lost all their teeth. Her body mass has melted earthward from what is most likely a diet of nothing but fast food. But she still waves at every car, and sometimes she smiles. That last happens less and less often, though.
[*side note: I like the panhandle wave because it allows you to acknowledge the fact that a human being is standing there, even if you choose not to give them money. Otherwise, you’re forced to try to look busy, have prolonged uncomfortable eye contact with someone just outside your car window or dig around for the cash you never seem to have, shrugging your shoulders in sympathy and awkwardness. The wave says, “I see you. I don’t have any money to give you, but I recognize your humanity and wish you well.” Maybe that’s overstating it, but you know what I mean.]
So I was sitting at the light last week, having given and received my daily wave, when I noticed another panhandler on the other side of the street. I’ve never seen anyone else working this intersection. This other girl was young and healthy looking, clean blonde hair dancing in wind. She was wearing a flannel shirt and short shorts behind her hand-lettered cardboard sign (which I couldn’t read). It didn’t compute. Then I noticed the camera crew. Yeah, she and a couple of friends were making a film, and from the way she was wagging her ass and laughing between takes, I don’t think it was a serious documentary about the homeless problem in Houston.
I looked at the dumbass chick, just across the intersection. I looked at the tattered woman, just outside my car window, who was most likely in the background of their shots. I couldn’t understand how the kids with the nice video camera could be so oblivious of the situation they were, what, mocking? documenting? reenacting?
Maybe they weren’t oblivious. Worse, maybe they just didn’t give a shit. I stifled my strong desire to get out of my car and kick each of them in the ass, realizing a lot of my frustration has to do with the situation. I’m sad for this woman to be in the shape she’s in. I’m disappointed with myself for remaining on the sidelines, doing nothing except waving like an impotent monkey and then driving off. I’m worried that as the economy continues to be shit (or get shittier than shit), more and more people will find themselves in the same situation.
I don’t know what the kids were up to. And I don’t know what the future holds for the woman who waves. I doubt it is very bright. She seems to be on the downward slope of her story. The denouement. And there’s nothing I can do to help her. So I witness her decline, and when she stops showing up, I’ll notice. It is, literally, the least I can do.
When the light changed, I drove on.
So it goes.