One day on Market St. near Castro, I came upon a woman with an armful of clipboards with petitions. As I got near her, she started yelling at the top of her lungs, “Get away from me! Get out of here, you disgusting filth! Stop wrecking my country!” She was evidently yelling at a passing homeless man, who edged away from her. He had a scruffy grey beard, loose-fitting clothes, and a mild, almost timid, expression.
Busybody/do-gooder that I am, I rushed over to apologize, to try to erase any trauma before it set in: “Sir, I am so sorry you had to be spoken to like that.” Then, sympathetically, “Does that happen every time you pass her?” The man looked back at me and said, “Oh, I don’t think she was yelling at me,” at which point I realized he was not homeless.
I replied, partly to erase the sting of having assumed he was homeless and partly because it had just dawned on me that this might in fact be the case, “Oh, maybe she was yelling at me!” The man and I smiled at each other and shrugged, and went our separate ways.
This caused me to remember Judy S., who said something a few years ago about being careful with her attire so as not to be mistaken for a homeless person, which struck me as being somewhere between very unlikely and impossible—a curious and even irrational notion on Judy’s part. But I’m starting to be able to see it. My neighborhood seems now to be almost exclusively populated by affluent young tech workers and affluent visitors from Europe. When I shamble by in my baggy cotton pants, grubby tennis shoes, men’s t-shirt, and ancient cotton hat—I’ve lost track of this hat’s exact birthday, but I know I was wearing it on my first meditation retreat, which was in 1996—do some of those people think I’m homeless? I’ll bet they do!
I did my errand and had to walk again past the yelling woman, except this time she wasn’t yelling. She was saying, just like a normal petitions lady, “Look at petitions to sign? Look at petitions to sign?”