Thursday, August 11, 2011

Urban Camper

During the late fall and winter when I arrive at my shop it's well before sunrise. I like to get here early as it gives me time to have a cup of coffee and eat my breakfast, then read the local liberal rag. Most of my customers know this about me and normally leave me alone. I'm a bear in the morning.

A few years ago I was here in my back office (the boar's nest) sipping my black brew and reading the paper when my door chime rang. I waited thinking the offending person would read my posted hours and walk rang again.

I fold the paper and sit aside my coffee and walk out into the waiting room, pull aside the door curtain and see an older woman beneath the street lamp. She appeared cold and disoriented. I unlocked and opened my door, asked, "May I help you?"

I had a hard time at a guess of her age. She could have been anywhere from forty to fifty, even older. She held a strong odor, not pleasant. Her clothing consisted of, I think, shorts and a very dirty down to her knees t-shirt. Flip-flops on her feet. Her hair was a crows nest of snarls and stringy and by my nose alone I could tell she hadn't bathed in days.

It didn't take a genius to know she'd slept across the street in the city park. She held an old much used blanket, rolled under one arm, and a brown paper bag in her left hand. It was cold outside, guessing the low forties. She shivered.

She didn't respond, at first. Shifted foot to foot. Would not look directly at my face. I felt sorry for her.

I get this all the time. My business is located (like I've said) across the street from a large city park. It has a baseball/softball field, basketball courts, a combined restroom, a very old railroad caboose for the young ones, and a democrat shower. The democrat shower is a flat basin which contains a fountain activated by sensors. It's used frequently for bathing by the urban campers. Like my early morning visitor.

Again, I asked as she hadn't answered my question, "Is there something I may help you with, 'Mame?"

She caught me by surprise. The lady, all in one motion, dropped her dirty blanket and her brown paper bag, and took the hem of her shirt in both hands and jerked it high over her head, as she said, "You gots a dolla?"

I was exposed to two very saggy, down to her navel, breast. I was so caught by surprise my next action was to darn near fall flat with laughter. I laughed so hard my ribs hurt. It was the sight of this poor woman's flat breast, all fat I'm sure, long eaten away by her obvious alcoholism and extremely poor diet. I soon controlled my fit of laughter.  Then my shame set in and I'll felt like a fool.

She had dropped her shirt back in place and was stooped to retrieve her items when I said, "Please, I'm sorry."

Her, "It's okay, I get it all the time. I'm just hungry." Not sure I believed her. Probably wanted a drink. But who am I to judge, even if I do so on a daily basis. Still doesn't make it right. So I reached into my pocket and gave her a five dollar bill. Said, "Hey, sorry, it was worth the show."

She smiled, took my money and walked away. Haven't seen her since.

There but for the grace of God go I.



  1. I think you just described my next door neighbor. She lives in what I charitably call a plywood shanty. With a dozen cats and a dozen dogs. She keeps 6 horses outside, where she is too scared to try to ride them. She never has gas for her truck (it’s 25 miles to town), and lives off of SS, food stamps, food bank, and bumming/stealing from all of her neighbors within a 5 mile radius of her.

  2. If I do that, can I get a five dollar bill?

  3. You did the right thing, I think, although you're probably right about her using the money for alcohol or drugs. It's gotten so bad here that the city has recently made it a crime to give money to the homeless folks. Strangely enough, the street-corner peddlers have almost disappeared from town.


    The above link is to a pic of the signs that Grand Junction CO put up at most intersections do deal with panhandling. It would be funnier if it wasn't sad.

  5. Mudbug - thanks for the comments and link, I'll check 'em out.

    Joe - Sorry, but I've seen you in your skivvies. Not a pretty sight. (for you others, we were camping)

    Rev. Paul - I feel the same way. Isn't it amazing how pity for someone can make a person do such stupid things as help them with their addiction.

  6. We tend to give a few dollars too even knowing it probably goes to things other than food. We have been so amazingly blessed that it feels like a crime not to share it.

  7. I rarely give to our homeless on the corner. We live in the poorest areas of Colorado, and one of the top 5 or 6 regions in the nation. We have dozens of shelters, halfway houses, and more than enough resources to help the helpless. The usual people at the corner by the Wallyworld are hitchhiking hippies either going to Taos or heading to California. They always act desperate, but their late model car or van is parked nearby (we’ve seen them go to the van to rest), always have name brand, expensive outdoor gear (always dirty), and have a purebred large dog. I won’t help them because they may think they are poor, they are just too lazy to work for food, shelter, or gas money, at least until they reach their commune.
    My wife and I, however, give until it hurts to friends and neighbors that are in need. The dairy goat family near us took in a high schooler whose mom is a druggie. We hire him all the time to do stuff around the house because we know he wants to get a new car for when he goes off to college. We could easily do the work ourselves, but he doesn’t want charity, and we like the help. We loaned our jeep to a friend who has 4 kids on public assistance when she wrecked her car. We donate to the Boys and Girls Club here in the valley, and we are trying to set up a small scholarship at the Community College to help with tuition. I went back to college at 28, and it was hard. We want to help someone who wants to go back after finding out how hard life is without a proper college education.
    We love to help our fellow man down here in ways we feel that our help is most effective. Except for the crazy neighbor. If she steals my hay or firewood again...

  8. Lila, I feel much the same way as you. It always come back two fold. Thanks.

    Mudbug, I bet you're just a big 'ole softy at heart. Poor crazy lady might be eating that hay and using the firewood for her stove to cook it...listen closely at night, hear the low moaning moo...

  9. You're lucky Al Sharpton isn't down there picketing your business and saying you assaulted her, a la Twana Bradley. Sounds like a grim experience to me.

  10. Arsenius, he's more than welcome...yes, kinda grim and sad.