Warning: Don’t Laugh At This Man!

29 Jun

Part II of my experiences at the Phi Theta Kappa International Honors Institute at San Francisco State University, June 16-21, 2008…

On my day off in San Francisco, I went with my friends Roxanne and Derek down to Fisherman’s Wharf. We rode the subway train (MUNI) down to Pier 1. It happened to be a free day on the MUNI for everyone in the Bay area so the busses along the wharf were jam-packed. We didn’t want to wait around for an empty bus and it was a nice day so we decided to walk from Pier 1 to Pier 43 1/2. As we were walking along, we saw this street performer standing stock still on the sidewalk. I had seen similar performers on You Tube and thought to myself I would take a picture of this guy to show my teenage son when I got home. I didn’t have a camera with me, but I had picture-taking capabilities on my cell phone.

As soon as I whipped it out, Robot Man pointed his finger at me and strode directly toward me with a mean sneer on his face. He stuck a plastic cup in my face and flicked the rim of it with his finger. Out of nervousness, I laughed underneath my breath. He said in a menacing tone, “What are you laughing at ma’am?” I reddened a bit and put my cell phone back in my bag while my friend Roxanne put a dollar in his cup to appease him.

I don’t think this is the same guy, but here’s a video that demonstrates just how unbelievably rude and aggressive these people are.

The incident rattled my nerves a bit and made me upset for several reasons: 1) The guy didn’t even perform–he just wanted money for the privilege of looking at him or photographing him 2) He was a big bully and that made me even less inclined to want to give him anything.

Another homeless man we saw at Fisherman’s Wharf is known as the Bushman. His trick is scaring people by hiding behind two big branches, growling, and jumping out at clueless tourists. At least he makes people laugh instead of intimidating them! After he surprised us, we spent some time watching him, though I admit I didn’t give him any money either. Later in the day when we passed by him, we heard him yelling. We turned around to see what he was so upset about. Apparently someone’s dog had raised its leg on his bushes as it was going by and he was not too happy about being sprayed!

It’s interesting how this experience just happened to correlate with our 2008-2010 Honors Study Topic–The Paradox of Affluence: Choices, Challenges, and Consequences. I was troubled by my discomfort with homelessness and poverty when I was actually confronted with it. I live in a pretty affluent neighborhood and live a pretty cushy life, so I don’t often encounter people in this situation. I’m of the general opinion that a hand up is always preferable to a hand out, but how should our society address this particular challenge?

The best speaker at our Honors Institute, Dr. Raquel Pinderhughes, had some interesting ideas. As a Professor of Urban Studies at San Francisco State University, she has created a working model that provides “green collar” jobs, or manual labor jobs that improve the environment, for adults with barriers to employment. Pinderhughes’ presentation was upbeat and hopeful with an emphasis on the transformative power of education and the need for scholars to walk their talk by getting actively engaged in civic issues. I was inspired by her message and although I am mostly naive, uninformed, and baffled by the complexity of local, national, and global politics, I like to think that through my involvement with Phi Theta Kappa as the Vice President of Scholarship in my local chapter, I have the opportunity to contribute to social change even if it’s on a very small scale. Certainly it’s a step in the right direction as I struggle to overcome my own barriers of apathy and ignorance.

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3 Responses to “Warning: Don’t Laugh At This Man!”

  1. Tracey June 30, 2008 at 12:14 pm #

    This is a very hard issue for me to sort out! Many times when I see a homeless person standing on the side of the road (like at a stop light) I try not to look at them, thinking if I don’t see them, then they don’t see me! Do I give money? Money that might be used for the wrong things (drugs or alcohol), or is it truly being used to sustain them with food. As I sit and wrestle with this at the light, it turns green and off I go, feeling guilty that I didn’t help! It is uncomfortable to deal with and explain to my children when they see this. I don’t know what the answer is, am I just as naive as other people about this issue, or am I just choosing to ignore it?

  2. sassyquilter July 1, 2008 at 12:46 pm #

    This is easy for me to say because I’m not homeless, but I see this type of “entertainment” as aggressive panhandling, which is illegal, I think. Why does the city of San Francisco allow these people to intimidate tourists? I went to San Francisco when I was 20 and a similar situation happened to me. A guy was just standing on a crate holding a boom box, not moving. When we passed, he shook the crate which made us jump. He made it known that it wasn’t to make us laugh but to see his tip jar. I, of course, was so unnerved that the whole day I was worried about encountering more people like him and I actually hold this memory more than any other I experienced at Fisherman’s Wharf. Why does the city of San Francisco allow this?

    We went to Utah last week and when we stopped in Grand Junction, there were signs posted at popular panhandling sites (at the end of the exit ramp) urging people NOT to give them money, saying that it does not fix any problems for these people. Below this message were the logos of several prominent businesses and organizations, including the City of Grand Junction. At least they are trying to stop people from feeling somehow responsible for giving people their extra change. It may sound naive on my part, but there are many programs that can help these people, but the panhandlers have to take steps to contact the organization, which in itself is a gesture of truly showing commitment to better themselves.

  3. brainymama July 1, 2008 at 1:35 pm #

    Good points, Darch.

    I couldn’t help wondering how much money these guys rake in every day while citizens who contribute to society by working hard just to make ends meet carry the weight of the tax burden.

    Granted, many of these people have mental problems or have probably been incarcerated at some point (which is all the more reason to keep them off the street!) However, like Dr. Pinderhughes, I believe that a majority of these people could benefit society and learn valuable work skills instead of threatening people on the streets if they were willing to do so. Look at all the mentally challenged people who work as baggers at the grocery store. The ones I know seem happy to have a job, take pride in their work, and are grateful for a small measure of independence.

    In order to address the causes of homelessness, we must look at the deeper issues and get inside the heads of these people. There is a certain type of mindset that contributes to this problem and unless these people are willing to change (and unfortunately many of them are not) this issue isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

    It would be interesting to find out if people who choose homelessness as a way of life do so as a way of rejecting the affluence and materialism of our culture. Homelessness has its own culture, its own heirarchy, and its own set of rules. A friend of mine witnessed this behind a 7-11 in San Fran where all the homeless men gathered together bartering and trading their “finds” that day.

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