There’s this homeless guy who’s always outside my building. His presence disturbs me. Whenever I pass him he insults me.
He hangs around outside the 7-Eleven, sitting on an upside-down plastic milk crate. There’s no cushion. His butt must look like a waffle. He has a patchy beard, random tufts of white hair sprouting from his face. And when people come out of the 7-Eleven he says,”Spare change?” But he never says that to me. When I pass he just says, “Hey, how you doin'?” or “What’s up, big guy?”
Isn’t that insulting? What’s wrong with my spare change? I mean, I wouldn’t give it to him anyway. I keep my money in a bag attached to the side of my wheelchair. I can’t reach the bag so when I make a transaction the other party takes the cash out for me. So giving money to the homeless on the streets is too labor intensive and time consuming. But that’s not the point. Why doesn’t the guy perched on the milk crate not even give me the opportunity to turn him down? Does he not want to stoop so low as to ask a cripple for money? That’s not fair. When I pass a homeless person, I’m the one who’s supposed to feel a satisfying rush of condescending good fortune.
There’s another homeless guy outside the Starbucks across the street. He sells this weekly newspaper called Streetwise that homeless people around here sell to make a few bucks. At least this guy tries to get me to buy his paper. So I often oblige. But he still insults me. When he extracts the cash from my bag, he makes it a point to show me he’s taking only what he’s owed and nothing more. He does this, he told me once, because “God will never forgive me if I steal from the handicapped.”
What the fuck! It takes all the joy out of charitable giving when you can’t even feel superior!
But I’ll tell you who insulted me most of all. It was the guy at the disco. Some people believe God makes people crippled to keep them from doing something bad in life. The one time I started to believe that theory might be true was the one time I went to a disco. Because if I hadn’t been crippled I would have punched the guy at the disco in the head. But then again, if I hadn’t been crippled, he wouldn’t have insulted me so I would have had no rationale for punching him in the head.
But anyway, I went with some other cripples to a disco. Don’t ask me why. We must’ve been delirious with cabin fever. Jim Liptak was our token vert (which is short for vertical, which is slang for people who can walk). So the guy at the disco sees us when we enter and immediately plays that insulting game called Address the Vert. He spoke only to Liptak, as if he was our translator. “Bring your friends over here,” he said. “If your friends want something to drink, tell the server.” He kept playing Address the Vert and just when I was ready to punch him in the head, he said something that acknowledged my humanity and restored my sense of equality. He said to Liptak, “Ask your friends if they want to go in the office and do some cocaine.”
We all said no thanks, but often I regret it. It would have been interesting to follow him to the office and see how long he stuck with the Address the Vert bit. “Tell your friends it’s top shelf stuff from the Caribbean.” Or maybe he would’ve gotten high with us and said something to Liptak like, “Ask your friends if they ever wondered what it's like to live on Saturn and see 60 moons in the sky.”
But at least he recognized us cripples as human beings who might want to wrench up our brains with coke, like the other people at the disco. I didn’t want to punch him in the head anymore.