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Chernynkaya On February - 6 - 2011

Signs like the one I posted above appeared out of nowhere in Toronto. They were bolted to posts at major intersections in busy downtown areas. “Quiet,” read one, “Homeless people sleeping.” Another advised, “Homeless warming grate. Please keep clear.” But they were unofficial and taken down.

I have an affinity with the homeless. Becoming homeless is my biggest fear, and I never see one homeless person without thinking “there but for the grace of God go I.” I think most of us have the same thought. I sometimes (during my bravest and darkest periods) imagine myself as a street person. I think there is a part of me that could go there, and I’m not talking about the Will Smith depiction of that heroic figure in the biopic about Chris Gardner, or about the schizophrenics talking to their voices.  I’m talking about the others.

I don’t remember ever noticing a homeless person when I was growing up. But I had an experience with the homeless when I was about 18, when I went to try my hand at being a hippie in San Francisco in the early Seventies. To this day, I think SF has more homeless crazy people than anywhere else I’ve traveled and more than L.A. Back then, it felt as if they were on every single corner and in every doorway.  It was my first time living away from home, in a strange city with colder, foggier weather, and I had barely any money.  One afternoon I was in the downtown area riding on a street car when a middle-aged woman, obviously crazy and homeless got on and took the seat right next to me—mumbling to herself, and smelly. I averted my eyes and assumed that stoic far away stare. Within about a minute, she started whimpering and getting agitated, and she urinated. Right next to me. I can tell you, I was appalled and freaked. She got out of her seat and ran to the exit, dribbling urine, getting off at the next stop. A huge sadness overcame me. It was the first time I felt the weight of the world. I thought, “What can I do, in the face of all the pain I see around me?” I remember having a bonafide epiphany.  I understood the concept of Christ dying for our sins. At that moment I wanted to do that too if it would take away all the sadness I saw around me. Young people are like that.

When I was in my late twenties and thirties the homeless were off my radar. For one thing, there were very few of them in the San Fernando Valley suburbs (at least not visibly in an area where walking is practically unheard of) and for another, I never gave them a thought. I was too busy trying to live the most conventional life possible. Part of that conventional life was joining a synagogue. That’s when I learned something about the homeless that changed my attitude. Without going into the whole teaching, I learned that it is very wrong to ignore the homeless—to even call them “The Homeless.” I learned that giving charity is essential, but more important, I was taught, was acknowledging them as individuals. (The Hebrew word for charity, tzedakah, means “justice.”) We don’t have to give them any money necessarily, but we are forbidden from ignoring them. When they approach us, we can’t pretend we don’t see them. Instead we must look them in the eyes and talk to them, even if what we say is, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any money today.”  Once I started doing this it was a blessing to me. Literally. Every time I interact with a homeless person, they bless me. What a bargain! Not coincidentally I also began to notice how many previously unseen homeless people there really were.

There was this one homeless man around that time who I met through my ex-husband.The man was in his late sixties and he lived in his old Cadillac in a parking structure in Sherman Oaks. It was the structure next to my ex’s bank, so he saw him every week. My husband got to know him and it turned out he had been a second-string baseball player back in the day for a major league  team.  I’d cook extra food and my ex would bring it to him and they’d talk. Eventually, we tried to get him some state aid but he wanted no part of it. He didn’t have a substance abuse problem. I don’t know what other demons haunted him.

I’ve had debates with people about whether or not to give money to people asking for spare change. Some say they will just use the money for drugs or booze. Others say it keeps them from getting a job, or that it is a scam. Another argument against giving them money has to do with the effect it has on the small businesses they tend to loiter in front of—that they scare away business. (Of all the arguments, I am somewhat sympathetic to that last one, but just barely.) As for me, I don’t care why they ask for money or what they are going to do with it—they just obviously need it. And I also think that standing all day in the sun or rain or cold is hard work; it’s not as if they are merely lazy. And I have never encountered one who was belligerent or demanding. It must take a lot of patience to be turned down over and over and still maintain some equanimity.

There are a few of varieties of begging, at least the ones common here in Los Angeles.  The most frequent form of panhandling is to stand in front of any Seven Eleven store and quietly ask for spare change. There are homeless people who sit on the sidewalk, leaning against a building with a paper cup for alms. There are many, many beggars who stand along the side of freeway onramps or on traffic islands with signs: “Please Help,” “God Bless You,” “Homeless Disabled Vet,” and the now out of fashion, “Will Work for Food.” Personally, I enjoy those with a sense of humor and candor: “Why lie? I need a DRINK.”

Several months ago, I experienced a new form of begging when someone knocked at my door. He was a older middle-aged man, cleanly dressed in well-worn clothes and combed gray hair that was a little too long. His horn-rimmed glasses  had a band aid keeping them together. He was even wearing a tweed sports jacket, and I noticed he had a paperback book in his chest pocket by a mystery writer I enjoy. When I opened the door, he simply asked if I had any money to spare. I went to get some and we struck up a conversation but I can’t remember how that came about. He told me he hangs out a Starbucks where they allow him to use their rest room to clean up. He can stay there for a few hours and get refills and read the paper that someone’s left behind, or read his paperback. He told me that he had recently had a bad experience with the Long Beach cops. While he was sleeping on a bench, they rousted him and broke his glasses and they took his driver’s license for no apparent reason. He explained how hard it was to get a new one. Aside from the expense, he has no way of proving his identity—his papers were downtown in the Hall of Records, and he had no address where his new license could be mailed. Fortunately, he knew a kindly person who was helping him get his paperwork completed. I was really shocked and asked why in the world the cops would do that. He just kind of laughed and said, “Oh, they do that to the homeless all the time.” I never asked about how he came to these circumstances. He was clearly not schizophrenic or a substance abuser. He could have been anyone you’d see anywhere. After we talked for a while, I brought out some paperbacks I thought he’d like, judging from the one in his pocket. I told him to please come back next week—I could give him a few more bucks then too, but he said, “Oh no thank you. I don’t want to start depending on that. And besides, I try to keep from staying in one neighborhood too long.” I haven’t seen him again.

There are, though, a few homeless men who I see on a daily basis. I live near a portion of the L.A. River that has been turned into a bird sanctuary, with lovely trails. I walk my dog, Zorro, there every day. It’s about a three mile loop, and people bring their dogs and there are horse trails too. I don’t know exactly where, but beyond the end of the loop is a homeless camp. I got to know one of the residents because he has a dog, Sasha, with whom my dog plays. He’s wiry and quick and probably a lot younger than he looks because he has that leathery tan that comes from living outside. He adores his dog. Every summer, he scrapes together enough money to get her a haircut. He makes some of his money (as many do in my neighborhood) by going through the trash in our alleys and redeeming recyclables. He told me the other day that a “nice old English lady” just paid for Sasha’s dog tags and rabies shot so that the cops wouldn’t take her from him. (He also scolded me for giving money to that other homeless gentleman who came to my door. He said I can’t really know who he is. He has a point; a few years ago three men and two women were shot to death in that homeless camp I mentioned.) Also, whenever he winds up in jail, he knows a family who cares for Sasha when he’s away. The last time we spoke, I noticed he had one of those tattooed teardrops in the corner of his eye. I thought that meant death row, but I guess not.

The other homeless man with whom I regularly speak lives in his van by the river. (I know—that sounds so trite, like that old SNL skit with Chris Farley.) He has a dog too: Oscar. The last I saw him, he said he was moving to the Mojave desert with his brother. They were going to build a shack and live off the land, he said. He wanted Oscar to be able to roam free. How one lives off the land in a desert is beyond me. By the way, neither of these guys has ever asked me for anything. I have only given them food or treats for their dogs, for which they are grateful. (Zorro takes some umbrage at this.)

Then there are the true heart breakers. Again, by the L.A. River near me, but not in the pretty part—on the concrete embankment—is a young woman. From the overpass, you can just make out her blankets and bottles and whatnot. I have seen her walking on the street, but rarely. She is completely lost, completely crazy. Sometimes I see that someone has left her a bucket of Colonel Sanders or a box of food at the trail leading to her spot. One of the most horrifying things is, she is right next to the horse stables. I don’t even want to imagine how she might be abused. I called Social Services about her and she was gone for a while, but now she’s back, poor thing. It is a nightmare. The homeless women—they are the most heart wrenching to me. Them and the young people.

I am so disgusted by those “boot strappers” who have the smug attitude that homeless people deserve it. It seems to me that they use their self-righteousness to mask their fear. They probably are not all cold-hearted, but I’ll bet they feel at some deep dark level that misfortune is contagious, or that insanity is contagious, or that even weakness is catching. They are similar to people who shun those who have just lost a loved one. I’ve seen that happen to friends who lost a child, and then lost friends—as if their pain was too scary for others to witness. Or maybe some are too afraid of feeling the guilt and upset that  homelessness evokes.

Some facts about homelessness in the United States:

It is almost impossible to get accurate statistics on the homeless. The latest estimate from Housing and Urban Development (in 2008) is 1.5 million people who have used a shelter. There are about three times the number of homeless as there are shelters, so that figure is really inadequate. Plus, the economy has gotten much worse since that estimate; if you add all the foreclosed homes and job losses, it is much worse.

One out of 50—or about 1.5 million—American children are homeless each year, according to a 2009 study by the National Center on Family Homelessness.

From that same report, the main causes of homelessness are: Lack of affordable housing (and I wish they would add poverty to that); mental illness; substance abuse; low paying jobs; prisoner release; unemployment; domestic violence; and the release of 18-year-olds from foster care.

Almost as incomprehensible as those numbers are in the wealthiest nation in history, violent crimes against the homeless are on the rise, according to a report from National Coalition for the Homeless. And if that wasn’t despicable enough, many municipalities have made it a CRIME to provide food for the homeless in public areas. As Gandhi said,

“Poverty is the worse form of violence.”



Categories: News & Politics

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

97 Responses so far.

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  1. Silentdances says:

    The reason many homeless sleep outside versus the shelters is because the shelters can be a dangerous place. Especially in the southern states. The thing to remember is that they are people. Some of the folks you run across that may seem crazy, aren’t necessarily so. Some folks get a kick out of beating up or trying to rob homeless folk. If they believe you are crazy, sometimes they think twice. I’ve been homeless twice. There are some really great people on the streets. Intelligent, thoughtful, beautiful, and unfortunately either looked down upon or invisible to everyone around them.

    This was a pleasure to read, thank you.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      😳 Sorry, Silent. I misplaced my reply to Kilgore! But it absolutely could apply to your reply as well. I just find that beating up a homeless person or a crazy person is kinda like kicking a puppy. Really sick. Those people must so desperately need to feel superior. And that is pure sadism too.

      • Silentdances says:

        It’s ok about the mispost. No worries :).

        Sadism, a false sense of power. In my eyes, for anyone doing such to another person. Beating up people for the kick of it. It’s mostly the same to me.

        In so far as you trying to give up materialism. A suggestion. Step back and look at how it affects others whom are stuck in that way of thinking. Such may become easier for you upon recognizing what it does to others.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Kilgore, I really appreciated your wonderful comments. You brought up something --actually, a couple of things--that sparked an idea I had. About appearing crazy. When I imagine being homeless, I always imagine I would pretend to be crazy, and that I might actually BECOME somewhat crazy. I can see myself becoming almost feral--in self-defense and out of sheer frustration.

      Case in point: When I was 21, I contracted spinal meningitis. In those days, they had to isolate you and I was transferred to the County General hospital. I was treated like meat there. Never bathed; my long hair never tended. Once, they left me on a gurney in a hall for a day. The residents used me as a teaching tool. And I became like an animal.I was so ill, and couldn’t really articulate my indignation--plus, I was young. Anyway, I became very hostile and as much of a “thing” as they treated me. I think if homeless, I could see myself eventually reverting to that state again.

      And, what you said about the freedom that comes from dropping the material crap we are weighted down with--I’m struggling with that now.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        Your treatment was abhorrent, to say the least. I consider it downright criminal for any public institution to treat somebody that way.
        Homelessness is really horrible. You become a non-entity. It is outside looking in, in the worst of ways. But If one can endure, it is also a rare opportunity to honestly look at one’s self and see what one truly is, without all the pretense and society driven self images. I would never want to be homeless again. I wouldn’t make it. But my experience was invaluable to me, and, strange enough, I am grateful for it.
        Material goods provide comfort, but not real, inner peace and contentment. I would very much recommend reading the Tao Te Ching. Written over 2500 years ago by a man named Lao Tsu. It is pure wisdom, and a great guide for living. There are many great translations from Chinese to English.

      • Khirad says:

        First off, that’s horrible, shades of Frances Farmer’s autobiography there.

        Second, there’s a definite social psychology to it. Of becoming what we are treated as.

        I think it is as true for a person as it is for a people whom are discriminated against (and this is not limited to the homeless, of course).

        I know I’ve found myself in that role on a more elementary level. So, you treat me like I’m a fuck-up? Fine, I’ll really be your fuck-up!

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Now that you mention it, it was like Farmer, sans the later horrors. And yes, it IS a social psych phenomenon. I’m sure it has a name, but names and terms are out of my reach tonight. I think we can all relate to the example you gave too. Thanks, Khirad--you are our treasure.

          • kesmarn says:

            Something on the order of a self-fulfilling prophecy, Cher?

            And that is a terrible thing that happened to you, Cher! Think of the complete idiocy of leaving someone who is in that particular hospital because she needs isolation, out in the hallway on a gurney all day! Why not have done with it and put you in the lobby or the middle of the train station or city hall? What uncaring screw-ups! And — poor you!

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Dang, kes--ya saved me again! 😆 Yep--self-fulfilling thingy. Jeez.

              And yes--it was awful. That gurney time was after I was out of isolation. I eventually just got off and wandered around the MASSIVE hospital until I somehow found my room. When I got home, my mom hired a hairdresser to come to the house and she spent over an hour getting the tangles out of my hair.

              Did I mention massive? Here it is:

      • SueInCa says:

        So are we Cher. Not because we don’t have money but we have realized the one with the most toys does not necessarily win.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Same here, Sue. I am not a hoarder exactly, but why is my garage full of stuff that I cling to? (Rhetorical, actually. I think I know why.)

    • Khirad says:

      That totally makes sense to me. I know it’s true of some of the imposing ones for sure. Because I’ll give them a nod walking past -- acknowledgment -- and they’re nice enough. Like anyone else I pass on the street, except that they don’t have a home.

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      Very true, shelters can be dangerous places.

  2. seehowtheyrun says:

    What an excellent, thought provoking piece. I live in the SF bay area and have encountered a lot of homelessness. I’ve had many more positive experiences than negative ones over the years. I do give money, even if I think it might go to drugs or alcohol. If I were in their situation, I might drink too. My best friend let a homeless man live under her house. At one time, he was a successful electrician, but something in him snapped and he became no longer able to live indoors, as he put it. She was always afraid that he might accidentally start a fire, but her compassion overcame her fear and he had a safe shelter in her basement for several years. When she moved out of state, another neighbor took him in. There is a man who sits at the bottom of a freeway off ramp near my house asking for money. He has a rather imposing look and so at first, I’m ashamed to say, I avoided that exit. My conscience finally got to me and one day I gave him money. He was so grateful and his face lit up with the most beautiful smile. It was the best thanks I could ever get. I do what I can to help the homeless people, and the homeless cats in my area !!! It makes me so ashamed that people who are so in need are shunned or ignored in such a rich country.

    • SueInCa says:

      see how they run

      I meet the same guy at an offramp every two weeks when I pick up my grandson. The first time I saw him, I did not have any change or dollars. Now that I think of it, I carry extra dollars in my car in the event he is there. He always smiles, and says thanks, mam. I want to tell him that I am not that old, but I am. I guess it gets so normal, you can forget you do help out. Perhaps that is a good thing.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Seehowtheyrun-- thank you for reading and commenting on my post--I’m very glad you liked it! (But honestly--and I say this to the new folks here--even if you disagreed, I’d welcome your input!)

      I think it was courageous of you to take that first step with the guy near the offramp. And I’m right there with you about giving money even if they spend it on booze or drugs. They still NEED it, from my POV. Who am I, anyway?

      By the way, one of the founders of this site, Kalima, lives in Tokyo and she too feeds many homeless cats. I hope you get to meet her.

  3. SueInCa says:

    What a thought provoking article. I must say I don’t know if you are very brave or just very very kind to interact with the homeless on the street. I have a friend who runs a shelter for women close to the Bay Area. She does not make as much money as she did working for Wells Fargo Bank(we both did) but her life has so much more meaning now.

    I am like you, I will give them money and I don;t care how they spend it, perhaps it is time for me to start paying more attention. Thanks for the push.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Thanks, Sue! I like to think I have enough radar to know who is safe, but as one of my homeless friends told me, maybe I should be more careful. But I don’t know. I identify with them--same with drug users, even though I’ve never really done more than youthful experimentation. Must be that in my past life I was a street person. :-)

  4. Abbyrose86 says:

    What an excellent essay Cher.

    This is a subject near and dear my heart as well.

    When I started volunteering at my local shelter last year, it was the most humbling, eye opening experience of my life.

    It is a disgrace the amount of homeless we have in this nation.

  5. KB723 says:

    Cher, I will be sure to read this article when I get home tonight…

  6. Mightywoof says:

    I am ashamed to say that I had to learn about the homeless street signs in TO from a Californian! I last lived in TO in 1975 and worked there until 1988 but that’s no excuse for my ignorance. Back in the day -- pre-1988 -- homeless folks were around but not in great numbers and I was astonished on the few occasions I went to TO since then at how many more homeless people there were on the streets. It’s a worldwide phenomenom in the west -- at least in N. America and the UK and, you know what, it pisses me off big time. I was angry, and have remained angry, since the days of Reagan and Thatcher when food banks started springing up out of nowhere to feed people who could no longer afford to feed themselves. The economic mantra from rw think tanks who have prevailed since the mid-70’s has been that homo-economicus exists to make their way in the world only through self-interest -- commonly called greed -- and that, even when we give to charity or do a good deed it is not because we are altruistic but because our ‘reward’ is to feel good/smug about ourselves. I don’t feel good or smug when I donate to the food bank or any other thing hubby and I may do to alleviate the human condition -- I feel angry that our civilization has figured out how to fly to the moon and beyond but hasn’t figured out how to take care of the first 3 rungs on Mazlow’s hierarchy.

    Sorry for the rant but this is my particular bete noir and I remain in a constant state of anger at all political parties because they’ve all drunk at the poison well of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’, ‘everybody’s a leech and has their hand in my pocket’ and so on ad nauseum. When did society turn into a bunch of sociopathic, greedy arseholes who’s attitude toward anyone else is ‘I’ve got mine -- F you’

    My shame is that I share with Khirad a great discomfort when confronted with homelessness on the street -- I never refuse them money but I am uncomfortable; which is a moral failing in myself and not that of the person staring me in the face. I wish I was a better person and able to do the things you have done Cher or that CLady dedicates her life to or even the wonderful folks where Kes works.

    A side-note -- I’ve just finished reading The Trouble with Billionaires (from where I learned the term Homo Economicus) by Linda McQuaig -- an interesting book written in support of democratic socialism and why the income gap is so harmful to society. I highly recommend it!


    • Chernynkaya says:

      Mighty, here’s a link to those signs in The Toronto Star:


      And Please! no apologies at ALL about your rant--it is entirely appropriate and should make us all enraged. Mighty--it is NOT a moral failing on your part to feel uncomfortable around people who happen to be homeless. The MORAL failing is ignoring the issue, ignoring the problem, and ignoring the forces that are content with the status quo. I was really casting shame on those who do see the issue and get on their diseased high-horse and who feel superior to homeless people. As for me, I have done NOTHING!If I put my money where my mouth is, as it were, I would be haranguing our local politicians and at the very least volunteering time to work on behalf of the homeless population.

    • kesmarn says:

      Mighty, as soon as we get our stars and our thumbs up back, I want to give you 5 of ’em and a big “up” for this wonderful comment!

      • Mightywoof says:

        Thanks Kes -- you are too kind. This post is the result of close to 30 years -- ye gods, has it been 30 years of this bloody rubbish posing as good economic theory! -- of listening to friends and acquaintances all tut-tutting about how dreadful it is that people need to use food banks and looking astonished when I ask them why they aren’t angry about it!! We all seem to agree that it’s awful and we’d all hate to be in ‘their’ shoes but nobody is screamingly, ferociously angry about it. We seem to have accepted it as a fact of life -- how come??

        • kesmarn says:

          Yes, Mighty, anger is really a totally appropriate and sane reaction to this travesty.

          I think we like to tell ourselves that anyone who is really willing to work in this country will not be poor. And that might have been more true (if it ever really was) in another time.

          But now, as you know I’m sure, it’s entirely possible for someone to work very hard at a full time job and still be poor — really poor!

          How can anyone making $8/hour with even one child to care for possibly make it? That’s $320 gross a week! To be able to supply heat and lights for even a small apartment and still put food on the table is virtually impossible.

          Miss a few pay checks and it’s “game over.”

          The RW in this country has a lot to be deeply ashamed of. Too bad they have no consciences…

  7. kesmarn says:

    Cher, I don’t know how you do it. You consistently write the most thoughtful, thought-provoking articles. I just love them all.

    I have to tell you and the Planet about a little conspiracy that has gone on for years at the hospital where I work. (If you all promise not to tell…) We have had a homeless woman living there for years. She’s very nice, probably in her forties. She’s clean and not crazy, just very shy. I think the deal is that she has a car, and probably a small monthly check from disability (which surely would not be enough to allow her to get an apartment). I’ve seen her in the car, which is full of her stuff. Where else could she store it? She occasionally eats in the cafeteria and she spends a lot of time in a sort of upstairs lobby area we have, where there are chairs, couches and a television set. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever blown the whistle on her. I usually smile and say hi to her, mostly as a signal that I’m friend, not foe. And one day she very shyly came up to me and told me that she had some jigsaw puzzles that she would like to donate to the hospital and wondered where she should put them. I thanked her (and they really are appreciated, because visitors often have hours to spend in the lobby and TV gets old) and told her I thought putting them on the tables in the waiting area would be just fine. She wanted to give back.

    Even the smallest things can help. Some years back, a fellow with a beat-up pickup truck would regularly come around very early on recycling day and swipe the bottles and cans from my container by the street side. One day I came out of the house to find him rummaging through the stuff and he must have jumped a foot when he saw me, poor guy. I told him not to worry, that I would rather see a person get the benefit of the recyclables than the city. I said that he could come by any day of the week and just take what he could use from the container by the back door. And he did. It took the fear out of what he was doing (since it was/is actually illegal to take stuff from the roadside containers). God knows, there was fear enough in his life. He told me at one time that he was taking care of his aged mother and this was how he got extra money.

    For being the wealthiest country in the world, we’re doing a pretty poor job of taking care of our brothers and sisters, aren’t we?

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Kes, thank you. I value your input always.That was such a touching story about that woman in your hospital. It’s so funny that you mentioned it, because the fellow who lived in the Cadillac actually did that very same thing. I left it out of the story at an attempt at brevity, but the parking structure was adjacent to the bank AND Sherman Oaks Hospital. When my ex got to know him, he also talked to the staff there and they told him pretty much exactly the same story as you did. They too looked after him as best they could.

      I so agree about the recycling too! I think it’s a win-win: People take my recyclables and redeem them, I get to help ever so little in that way too. Fortunately, in this community it is not illegal.Many tears back there was a remarkable story in the LA Times about an immigrant couple from Mexico or Central America who went every day and took recyclables from the Venice Beach area, and they put there kids through college with that money!

      • kesmarn says:

        Cher, that’s amazing that the homeless guy you mentioned had the same experience with the hospital! Makes you wonder how many hospitals are sheltering people on the sly. I hope a lot!

        And on the recyclables: these people really do us and the environment a service when they pick up what the wealthier among us leave behind. Any one who says the poor are not really willing to work must not know any poor people!

  8. boomer1949 says:

    Cher, I came very, very close to losing the roof over my head over the last 18 months, most recently in Oct. 2010. It was a nightmare and that is putting it mildly. Had it not been for a local church’s chapter of the St. Vincent DePaul society, I would have been on the street in a heartbeat.

    Older, single women are particularly at risk unless working in a high-income profession (doctor, attorney, etc.). Minions like myself will forever be one paycheck away from the curb.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Boomer, it goes without saying that I am SO glad you were saved from that! And I also have to say that I can empathize. I understand all too fully how incredibly vulnerable we are. So many of us are literally one paycheck from actual disaster. It is infuriating that in this country--with all it’s bullshit “exceptionalism” this is the reality. Yeah--we are so exceptional that we are the richest country and the WORST Western democracy when it comes to taking care of its citizens.

      • boomer1949 says:

        Oh, and to just put it in perspective, my ex-husband recently built a brand new house, is on his 5th, I think, girlfriend (this one he is going to marry or at least that’s what the kids tell me), and brings home four times my annual income. Yet, I was a stay-at-home mom for 10+ years, kept the home-fires burning, and performed well at company functions.

        I heard through the family grapevine that “he cares about this woman, but he doesn’t love her.” To that, a good friend of mine replied, “Why doesn’t he just hire a maid?”

  9. Khirad says:

    It seems to me that they use their self-righteousness to mask their fear.

    I think you just nailed it. And yes, it is a fear of mine too. But for the grace of God, as you say.

    And seriously Jews and Muslims. Get it together. That Jewish concept of charity reminded me of, and is clearly related to,


    I must admit I do get uncomfortable still though. And a few times, I’ve perhaps looked upon them to pityingly -- even though I do it seeing myself in their shoes -- and have been sniped at with “what are YOU looking at?!” The mentally ill ones though I have the most problem with. I really don’t know what to do, and I kinda panic and go into stoic mode. Not that I’m scared of them or anything, I just have no clue what to do. I’m not proud of that. I’m just being honest.

    Lot’s of young ones in Portland. It’s a runaway’s Mecca and heroin hotspot.

    And Tucson has a lot too, especially winter because of the weather. Some sell papers in intersections.

    I too think begging is hard work in its own way. One of my friends though lived about a year in the forest -- said he got all wild-man -- using mud as insulation and sunscreen. He was never the sort to embellish or make things up. He was telling the truth. I don’t know how he did it. On the other hand, I have heard of scams. I think these stories may be played up as another excuse, moral salve, not to give away change though to some extent.

    As to the funny ones? On the one hand if they’re alcoholics I hate to be aiding that, but on the other hand, I imagine I’d want to be drunk most of the day too.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Khirad, I feel very uncomfortable with the schizophrenics too. They really are in a separate category for me-- plus, they don’t seem to ask for money so it is much easier to ignore them, unless they are near me. Now that you mention it--homeless schizophrenics are the double whammy of scary: Homeless AND insane! My two worst nightmares: Loss of self and loss of safety. I wonder how the “normal” homeless cope with them, as they are probably in contract with them a lot. Anyway, I hope you don’t think I am being judgmental about being afraid of the street people. I was mostly railing against the self-righteous.

      And yeah--about Islam’s “Saddka.” You know who the most vile curses are aimed at among the Ultra-Orthodox Jews? The OTHER Ultra-orthodox Jews from a different sect. I think there is a similar reason why Judaism and Islam are so hostile towards each other (to the extent that is really true)--BECAUSE of the very similarities! It’s a long story, as you know.

      • Khirad says:

        No I don’t think you’re being judgmental, don’t be silly.

        But along with this, we really do need to have a national discussion about mental illness.

        It’s not as taboo as it once was, but people still don’t seem to get it is a disease of the mind -- and not some sort of character flaw or just too much drugs.

        This is where Randism fails for me. There is no self-interested solution to the most vulnerable among us. Rather, it is about community.

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Khirad and kes--you both got me thinking. Guess what?

          49% of US Presidents suffered mental illness in Duke study

          The researchers wrote that the 49 percent rate mirrored national mental illness statistics, but the rate of depression was high for a male population.

          “A fairly high number of people have mental disease at some level, so it would be surprising if presidents didn’t,” said John Aldrich, professor of political science. “Certain things, like depression, are associated with artistic accomplishment.”

          Other diagnoses included anxiety, alcohol abuse, bipolar disorder and social phobia. Howard Taft apparently suffered from sleep apnea.

          At least 10 presidents were affected by episodes while in office, and the study found evidence that symptoms interfered with their performance in almost all cases.


          • kesmarn says:

            That is fascinating, Cher!

            So, in spite of the stigma attached to mental illness that supposedly “weeds out” candidates with histories of depression, presidents have the same rate of mental illness as the population in general — or even higher, in the case of depression? Talk about irony.

            Apparently the winner is the person who can mask it all the best? But then it tends to come out in really strange ways…like pre-emptive wars…

            • kesmarn says:

              😆 Cher, you’re like me. You have a mental rolodex file (do those still exist?) that spins until the right answer/name/word finally comes up!

              And it’s hard to stop the spinning!

            • boomer1949 says:

              Oh you’re a sly one kes. 😆

            • Chernynkaya says:


              {{{{{MUAH!}}}}} I bless you. Now I can stop thinking about it!

            • kesmarn says:

              Melancholia, Cher?

            • Chernynkaya says:

              That’s right, kes, although back in the day, lots of that stuff was undiagnosed. Depression was called, what? Neurasthenia or vapors of something. The term I’m looking for escapes me.

        • kesmarn says:

          I’m with you on the need for de-stigmatizing mental illness, Khirad. Decades after Thomas Eagleton was pushed out of politics for having sought treatment for depression, I wonder if anyone who admitted that he/she had done the same thing could get elected.

          And Randism — or even some of your garden-variety conservatism — doesn’t make a space for the helpless at all. The ultra-capitalist “solution” for dealing with “non-producers” is the same one Hitler tried. And Rush Limbaugh recently has begun to speculate on “how long we can keep on supporting non-producers.”

          As if he produced anything…. Anything non-toxic, that is.

          • Khirad says:

            I don’t have a living memory of the Eagleton affair, but I’ve read about it and it pisses me off.

            Imagine had it been known Lincoln was predisposed to clinical depression?

            How many politicians have been full-blown alcoholics?

            How hypocritical.

            Oh, and there are many problems with Randism and Rushism, but that for me is the most glaring.

            They would have us shoving the “unfit” over a cliff.

            • kesmarn says:


              “Sorry, Mr. Beethoven, that hearing impairment makes you a burden to society. Off you go!”

              “Step on up, Miss Keller…”

              “Mr. Roosevelt, about that wheelchair…”

              And they talk about death panels.

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