A few days ago I was driving to Hollywood to visit my friend Eric and I must have looked super miserable in my car. People always assume that just because I'm not smiling at the moment, I look like I want to kill myself. Anyway, I got stopped at a stoplight, way too close for comfort to a relatively normal-looking homeless guy flipping his sign around like one of those guys who advertise Mr. Pickle's Sandwiches or Instant Tax Returns dressed like the Statue of Liberty. He saw me, dropped his sign and started pointing at the corners of his mouth, indicating that I should smile. I just looked blankly at him, praying for the light to change. Then he started dancing crazy, which did make me laugh and then he shouted through my window "You owe me a tip for that smile!" I was just like uh...sorry. And I drove off.
It reminded me of a time in Prague when I was absolutely miserable, walking back to my hostel, half-drunk at 2 in the morning, having had one of the worst nights of my life. I stopped in Wenceslas Square and sat on a bench, crying. A Czech homeless man came up to me, asking for money (I assume) but I really didn't have any. He saw that I was crying though took my hand and shook it, smiling at me as if he was trying to make me feel better. Then he walked away. It actually worked. He was so nice to a total stranger who had nothing to offer him.
I was driving again to Hollywood last night, and once more got stopped at a stoplight. A girl was standing there, wearing nice jeans and a cute Forever 21-type top. She was holding a sign that said "22 years old and homeless, please help." The person in the car next to me gave her money. I felt really bad, being 22 myself and very poor. But then I wondered if she really was homeless, or just running a scam. She seemed very nicely dressed for someone who was homeless. It got me thinking that does someone have to look like crap in order for you to really feel sorry for them? Or at least believe their situation enough to give them your hard-earned money?
I think one of the reasons I feel so uncomfortable around homeless people is because once when I was about seven, I was eating dinner with my family at a KFC in Albuquerque and a homeless man came up to us and asked us for money. We had an extra sandwich that we tried to give him, but he wouldn't take it. He just wanted money. This seemed so bizarre to me that if you were starving and to the point of asking others for charity, you would take what you could get. I know this was just one person, and is in no way representative of an entire subculture of people all with their own stories and personalities, but it really had an effect on the way I view the homeless.
Now I sound super-judgmental and harsh, but hopefully this will explain my hesitation about tonight. I'm also worried because it's supposed to rain. In Los Angeles. The one night I have to be out and about doing paperwork. But at least it's something, and so many of these people have nothing. So I'll quit whining, at least for now.