Spring Summer 07

The Core


Living Legacy

Doc of Ages

Tour de Force


Editor's Note

Vox Populi

Ocean's Informants

Transcripts: Leaping from the 18th Century to the 21st

Secret History

Big Shoulders, Helping Hand

C'est Si Bon Bon

Oxford and Upward

Go Ask Alumni

Vox Populi

Homeless in the City

In my hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts, we have one homeless person, Bill. Sometimes he came into the store where I worked, crawling on the floor and picking up invisible pieces of trash. I saw him in the middle of the road sometimes, doing much of the same.

Bill never asked for any money. Apparently, he had a place to sleep and just preferred to spend his days wandering barefoot around town. Seeing Bill was always unsettling. I never lost the feeling I had the first time I saw him. What was a grown man doing like that? I was worried he would get hit by a car, and, also, I was a little afraid of him.

Seeing homeless people in Chicago is much dif- ferent. They’re everywhere, and most, it seems, are just 50 cents short of that bus ride home—unlike Bill. Downtown, five to ten homeless people approach me in an hour. “I’m sorry,” I say. I am sorry, but it’s not the same.

Riding on the No. 6 bus one night, a man lifted his shirt to reveal a long diagonal scar, then talked to me for the entire ride back to Hyde Park. He wanted to sell me a book of his poetry illus- trated with drawings of butterflies and flowers— although he swore it was just to look at—then told me that since I had dimples, I was in my sev- enth life and wouldn’t be coming back. This was a good thing, he said—you don’t want to come back. I half believed him.

I always liked the man who sits outside Hyde Park Produce, drumming a pail in warm weather. “Any kind of change I’d appreciate,” he chants. “Any kind of change I’d appreciate.” Last year, I would give him whatever coins I had, perhaps because his confidence and his drumming made it seem like a business transaction rather than charity. This year, however, seeing him so often, I stopped reaching into my pocket. “Sorry,” I say now, embarrassed.

Seeing homeless people is still unsettling, but not the way it was at home. I’m afraid of my new- found ability to ignore another person. I haven’t turned into Scrooge yet. I still give money now and then, sometimes food. I always acknowledge the person who has asked me. But I’m different from the way I used to be. I feel put out rather than concerned when someone asks. It doesn’t matter whether it’s better or worse to give money to someone who might not spend it as I see fit. What disturbs me is how easy I find it to say “Sorry,” an apology that really means, “No.”

Most Hyde Parkers have seen the man who stands outside the Medici restaurant. One day, like any other, he asked for money as I was on my way in. “I’m sorry,” I said, feeling guilty. “God bless you, beautiful,” he called after me. Of course he was saying it just to make me give. I knew that. But I was still touched. Only someone who earns his living by asking for money all day has such a knack for making a stranger feel good. Halfway through the meal, I snuck out and handed him a five. What’s five dollars, anyway? When I left with my friends, he was gone.