life in and around NYC is insane

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mixed emotions

When I was in my 20's, a newly minted lawyer still clinging to an idealistic world view, I started my very first full time job in lower Manhattan.

And that's when I started to encounter the homeless. The street people. The woman pushing all of her worldly possessions in an old shopping cart. The man wearing six layers of torn clothing in the middle of summer. The woman who counted out 50 pennies to pay for a cup of coffee. The man carrying on a conversation with the demons in his head. The one sleeping on the subway who smelled so awful he had the entire end of the car to himself.

And then there were the beggars. Very different group of people. Clean and neatly dressed but with a sob story. You'd find them sitting on a corner with a sign telling their life story. Or haranguing a crowd in a subway car. Or hanging out in Penn Station ... As soon as you bought yourself something to eat they'd be in your face, begging for money to buy food.

I gave a dollar to a young man one day. He had a sob story about not having the money for a subway ride home. A week later he was on the same corner with the very same story.

My idealism took quite a beating. The revulsion I felt around the homeless. The cynicism I experienced when I saw the beggars.

And then Rudy Giuliani became mayor...and all of that "disappeared ". I'm not foolish enough to believe he cured the problem ... Only that he made it invisible to the average New Yorker. So we didn't have to think about it.

In the almost 10 years since Bloomberg has been mayor, it has all come back. And since the recession it's come back in full force.

The other day on the PATH train...there were maybe 10 of us sitting in this one car...as soon as the doors closed and the train began to move, a young man stood up and went into a speech about being unemployed and broke. Then he went up to each person on the train and made a personal plea for cash.

When he stood in front of me I buried myself in my book. I felt annoyed maybe even a bit angry that he was putting me on the spot. I was skeptical about his story ... Was he lying to us to get drug money? And I also felt embarrassed and ashamed for feeling this way ....
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2 comments:

Suzanne said...

Understandable.

Around here, the lack of subways has not deterred the beggars. No, they are at many busy intersections with buckets and orange construction worker vests, accepting 'donations.' They are dressed far too nice for the sob stories on their hand printed cardboard signs, smell far too good to be homeless and unemployed.

Or maybe I'm too cynical.

songbird's crazy world said...

That's the problem, you don't know who's being truthful and who's giving you BS.

there's real poverty in this world, the food pantries can't keep up with the demand around ehre...I give $$ to food pantires and outreach centers because I know it's doing some good.

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