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Maybe an answer to the homeless obsession of mine

I still love overheardnyc:


Stormtrooper: Man, I can’t even move in this thing.

I thought about starting an overheardsydney, but I just don’t get out much & maybe the drunken conversations I have with friends are more humourous for me than they are for anyone else.


X (miming answering his phone): I’d like to help you, but I’m eating Cherry Ripes & freaking out!

Also, I wonder why it’s the NYC hobos who make the most hilarious comments. The local homeless people I pass are mostly silent. What’s the difference, I wonder. Are there _more_ homeless people in New York (per capita)? Are the homeless people from a broader cross-section of society (ie. more educated)? Are they less ashamed of their status as homeless people? Is it just that Americans talk too much? ;)

(Apologies to Monty Python for stealing that.)

Why do I keep going on & ON about homeless people?

I was in Vancouver once in that cute, touristy Gaslight section of town, & there was a homeless guy sitting on the ground, holding a piece of cardboard, & there was another homeless guy who had clearly happened to pass by & they were having one of those conversations where everything seems to be slowed. You know how it is when you see people on medication. Their eyes don’t quite connect & their hands seem heavy & their voices loud. People were rushing around them, but these guys were like rocks in a river. They were as still as they needed to be. So, as a tourist & a foreigner in their town, I noticed them & maybe I felt out of place, too, in that city’s rush, since I was there with no job and no real purpose except to be alive & be somewhere. So, then, as I passed them, I leaned into their conversation & I heard the sitting guy say to the standing guy,

“Give me a call on my cell.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll do that.”

I love Canada.

I heard once that most of the homeless people in Australia are there because of mental illness. Unable to sustain a ‘regular’ life (& sometimes I find myself doubting my ability to hold onto regularity, this Thanatos, the death instinct, calling me to tear down the world), they wind up living outside. There was a pile of homeless people living under a building at the former Callan Park mental hospital some years ago. I don’t know if they’re still there.

A friend of mine mentioned this week she’d heard another group of homeless Australians consists of immigrant men whose wives have died or left them & the men, unable to cope on their own, wind up on the streets. It surprised me, but then it made sense. Isolation, I thought. How do you keep going when you’re not going _for_ someone? How do you continue when you don’t matter?

You know what occurred to me the other week? The kid I sat next to in sixth grade, he wound up homeless. Nice, quiet, kinda dazed kid. I saw him once when I was a teenager, & he was in a great-coat & beanie, rushing through a train carriage & looking threatening. ‘My god,’ I thought, ‘that’s W. How’d he end up here, like that?’ I turned away in case he recognised me & hassled me for money. I’m not sure I ever spoke a word to him, not even in sixth grade, not even for the entire year I sat beside him. We were both quiet & out-of-touch with our peers. Me, because I’d just moved there, him for his reasons.

A week after the train incident he was on a current affairs show, being interviewed because he was living in a tent city set up in my home town to draw attention to the plight of homeless people. All that time he’d sat, half-asleep, in class, turns out his homelife was a mess. Finally, he ran away. But in sixth grade, at the age of, what, 12, I suppose, I saw not a hint of this. I didn’t see his trauma. He wasn’t expressing hurt (to my mind) until he ran through that train carriage 6 years later. But I guess it was there, behind his slack face and distant eyes.

Somehow, I feel responsible.

Somehow — it’s strange — I have never felt much connection to where I am. But lately, I have the feeling I am just waking up.


Hobo: Well, since you won’t give me money, one more thing. Has your sister or girlfriend, I don’t know who she is, ever told you that bag does not go with that coat?

–45th & 9th
Overheard by: Paul Schellenberg