It’s a 2 o’clock world

March 9, 2016

San-Francisco-nightA trumpet plays a mournful tune nine floors below, then I hear a bagpipe. A bagpipe?  Breaking glass tinkles like a discordant piano, then crashes like cymbals. It’s recyclers smashing bottles at the end of the night.  Every so often waves of laughter and conversation float upward as small groups leave bars, then, silence.

Sounds of the city pounding in my brain…. It’s 2 a.m. in San Francisco and this song and lyric are playing in my  head.  But none of this really bothers me. I’m okay just lying in bed listening to the city at night and wondering about its people.

Wandering Union Square earlier in the day I’d spotted an adorable dog, a little larger version of Riley and oh-so-friendly. I walked over to say hello to him and his owner, a woman sitting in a wheelchair panhandling.

“What’s your name?” she asked me.  I told her.

“I’m Linda and this is Justice,” she said, pointing to her cutie-pie of a dog.  “He’s nine and I rescued him in October.”  He put his sweet little paws up on me in greeting. Justice seemed well-loved and well-cared for, a happy dog.

We talked a bit about the dog. She was super friendly, a lovely woman, like someone you might meet in a supermarket or at a party. We chatted. Michael waited a few steps away, looking at his phone.

“So are you managing ok out here?” I asked.

“Oh yeah.” She smiled reassuringly, grasping a plastic cup that held a few coins. “I only come out here because after I pay rent and utilities I only have $150 left to live on.”

I asked if this were her usual location and she said it was. I gave her a few bucks because I’m a sucker for a cute dog and good conversation.  Because I caught some breaks in life and it seemed like she hadn’t. Because she could use them more than I could.

I walked away wondering about her life. We’re in that area fairly often so I might see her again. Now that we’ve met, I might learn her story. Maybe she’s on disability. I know people on disability. It’s not enough to live on.  Maybe her rent is for a shabby room in one of those dismal SROs.  I thought about her the rest of the day and the next. I’m still thinking about her.


Ranting and raving Bible verses–screaming at people. Not what Jesus had in mind.

It bothers me that people are forced to live in poverty, that we have so few effective safety nets. Walk San Francisco a few hours and you’ll see that it is full of homeless people, mentally ill people, people who pee in public doorways, even a woman stretched out and sound asleep on the sidewalk in front of a bus stop. There are ranting “religious” and just odd guys hanging out in the crowds.  I notice it all.

There’s a place for everyone, I’d like to think, but clearly, here in America, there’s not. That fact is the impetus that compels me to buy warm hats, gloves, sweatshirts to donate to homeless charities. And to give money.


There’s a story there. Wish I knew it. He’s got a twin in Boulder, CO, too.

That night we sat at dinner with friends, a nice restaurant, delicious food and fine drink, talking about our lives, which seemed super-privileged against what I’d seen that day. None of us are in the so-called 1%. We’re just normal people who did well and do well. My friend is accomplished in a field where few find success; her husband is climbing the ranks in his field and working hard. All four of us? Hard workers.

I don’t have guilt about having earned money and having the normal things that accompany a bit of financial security. I don’t and I never will. I feel lucky, never guilty. But I do see my responsibility to help people who don’t have my life.

There’s no question that my husband kicked up my life a big notch. But even he hadn’t rounded back to my life, I’d still be ok. I’d still feel lucky and I’d still share. I just get to share more, now.

Here in the U.S. here’s a lot of anger at people who have means and this amorphous desire to “share the wealth, ” whatever that means.   I can understand that as it pertains to CEOs and other execs in this area who make so much money it’s obscene. Yes, some of them do good things with their money. But not all of them. Some of them just spend it on themselves, living obscenely well. Of course, that is their right. They made the money fair and square.

I can say this with assurance: if the angry people had money they wouldn’t be so angry.  And if they’d made it themselves, they wouldn’t be so quick to advocate sharing it. Things would look quite different.

It’s because here in this country we seem to be all about our own self-interest, regardless of our means. The rich want to get richer and usually they work to make themselves richer. The not-so-rich want to get rich and some want to do that by getting hold of some of the money the rich make. This is what used to drive Republicans but now it’s anger at rich people that drives them.  There’s some misguided belief that a rich guy like Trump knows more than others about “making this country great” when in fact, sitting in his solid gold New York luxury apartment he knows much less than a person on the street like Linda.

It’s peculiar to watch all this from where I sit now. It’s not where I always sat. But then again, I always figured I’d make my own way and rely on myself.  And hope that I’d have access to a safety net if something awful befell me.

Safety nets.  That’s what I think this blog post is really about. The need for safety nets so people like Linda and her sweet dog don’t have to sit on the street and ask for handouts.

Linda’s stuck in my head and my heart now.

I hope she’ll spend a little time in yours.



38 comments on “It’s a 2 o’clock world
  1. Risa says:

    I’ve wondered many of the same things about the people in tents, under cardboard, stretched out in doorways. Someone’s baby girl or boy once upon a time. Much to think about here, well said. Excellent post, Carol.

  2. Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says:

    It makes me sad whenever I pass a homeless person on the street. Why can’t we all have basic necessities?

  3. Lawrence says:

    I grew up in New York. It’s the same thing over there. Been homeless too. It’s a shitty feeling. On the one hand, you want to do everything you can for everybody. On the other hand, you want to enjoy the fruits of your labor. I enjoy mine as well. Guilt free. But I look out for the homeless for eight million reasons. I want to. I was there. Somebody took the time to help me get through a really bad time. I want to be able to do the same for someone else. Moral compass. Religious compass. Basic Decency. Being an example for my children. I’m in Virginia now. They have figured out how to house all the homeless veterans.

  4. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, Carol. Having volunteered for an organization that provides temporary room and board to the homeless, I can tell you that they are us — most of us are just a few paychecks or a disaster away from the same plight.

  5. Nancy Hill says:

    I wish we had a leveling stone… some kind of Harry Potter magic so that hard work was rewarded. That is the thing that ticks me off the most, some people work so hard and have so little. So many hearts are hard, but yours is not. Beautifully not. Thank you for this beautiful piece of thoughtful, soul-rich, heartfelt writing.

    • It’s not the way our system works. Working hard means different things. I don’t think anyone would argue that working hard as a Target clerk is way different than working hard as a neurosurgeon. That the investment in time and money for education is vastly different and compensation is different. I don’t think there is a way to level it out that makes any sense. But there needs to be help with housing and food, more than we see now. There needs to be m ental health help–lots of it went away thanks to Reagan. I don’t have the answers but I do ask the questions.

  6. Barbara says:

    My heart aches when I see homeless people on the street. I usually offer to buy them food, rather than give them money. I’m guessing you were meant to meet Linda and Justice. Great piece, Carol.

  7. Anna Palmer says:

    I think about privilege all of the time. Perhaps if my financial comfort had come from hard work like yours I would be able to shed my guilt. No matter how much time or money I give. No matter how much I try to integrate my kids into a diverse public school I always feel guilty. I wrote a freaking post about NAPS today. If that is not privilege I don’t know what is. I have “redistributed” more wealth than anyone I know and still it doesn’t feel like enough. I have no answer.

    • Well, if you look at your life as providing you opportunities to step up and make a difference in some way, there is no need to feel guilt. Perhaps you are inspiring people without even knowing it. And giving people enjoyment is not insignificant as an outgrowth. Nothing is ever served by guilt, IMHO!

  8. I have a dear friend who is a “Linda”. She’s not homeless yet, but she may be in a few years when she runs out of money. She is disabled from a traumatic brain injury, and her disability payments from are not enough to cover her rent. So what little savings she has will pay her rent until there is no more. This has been going on for 6 years, and those of us who love her are looking for solutions every day. I think we will find it through her friends and loved ones, but it is difficult. There is no easy answer. But there are places who have found a much better way than we have.

  9. Food for thought, for sure.

  10. This is a very interesting thoughtful article. You are so brave to talk to her (I am way to chicken). Being aware of your own privilege just makes watching those who don’t have it that much harder.

  11. Candy says:

    My husband and I are comfortable. Not wealthy but comfortable. We give donate and service all the time to those who need help. I do resent some people who think they can take my money so they don’t have to work. We have worked hard for where we are. Doesn’t mean we can’t help.

  12. Janie Emaus says:

    I could feel your empathy as I read this post. I too, give to those in need. And wonder why it has to be this way.

  13. Elizabeth O. says:

    Sometimes we can’t blame people for ending up living the way they live. It could be really bad choices or in other cases, they were tricked and scammed. These people remind you of how lucky you are to be able to eat everyday and have a house you could call your own, and you should never feel guilty about that, especially since you worked hard for it. It’s just that there are some who doesn’t have the chance to get their own safety net.

  14. It saddens me that some people are still living in poverty while the rich eat off their backs. They work so hard and for what? I feel so bad for them x

  15. My heart breaks for people who struggle to make it in the world today. I find it especially hard here in Minnesota in the winters. I do what I can to help but there is so much more that can be done.

  16. Liz Mays says:

    I agree that there are too many people who fall through the cracks and end up in her situation. You have a soft heart to help her, and I hope she and many others find their way back.

  17. Top5life says:

    It is sad to know how people live in these conditions. We must thank God for making us fortunate enough to provide the basic necessities of life. Your empathy is so well portrayed through this post. Thanks for sharing!

  18. michelle says:

    it just breaks my heart that money & options are running out for so many. my Grandpa heard about a friend of a friend whose parents were unwilling to take him in and so he was going to become homeless unless he could find a place for $500. the parents were willing to give the $500 but were unwilling to provide shelter

  19. living in Vancouver I see this a lot. we have a lot of foreign investment from China and people are being pushed out of the city because the housing prices are astronomical. really sad.

  20. Shaylee says:

    Very interesting post. Sometimes we forget to think about people like this and why or how they ended up where they are.

  21. Rena says:

    “There but by the grace of God.” It awful to know that there are so many people like Linda in the world today. So many wonderful people who either worked their whole lives to make this country great (definitely not speaking of Trump) and people who defended us and now what do we give them nothing. It’s pathetic.

  22. Roxy says:

    This is so sweet. Homelessness is such a terrible problem in the US and I feel it’s often ignored. I’m loving the cities that are trying to mitigate the problem. I recall reading about one place that picks homeless people up to allow them to work for the day, they’re paid at the end of the day, and allowed to come whenever they want. I love that this program is helping put money in their pocket so that they can start to turn their lives around.

  23. Emma White says:

    I have never been but would love to but I know its a totally different world to what I am used to

  24. Rosey says:

    I think so many people are one step away from homelessness and we don’t even know it. It’s life changing when it happens, even more so I’m sure if there’s not someone willing/wanting to help.

  25. amer says:

    what an eye opening. we have to admit there’s a lot of work to do, and America is not the good ole american anymore.

  26. Homelessness is a big issue in my small community. It bothers me that the local politicians do nothing about it or worse stand in the way of those of us who are trying to help.

  27. Jonathan Key says:

    Carol, what a thought provoking post. The pictures really draw you in. Every one is someone’s son or daughter. Every human being is worthy of respect and dignity. I think sometimes we do forget that we in America are indeed in the 1% of the world. Even those who make less than the 51,000 a year median income. We live like kings and queens. There should be no reason why anyone should go hungry here. Like you said there’s a place for everyone. Keep up the great work!

  28. Jenny says:

    It’s such a hard problem to solve, and I don’t think any culture has effectively solved it. But that doesn’t me that we can’t do something to help those we encounter throughout the day.

  29. My heart breaks when I see someone like “Linda”. We try to help with food but I would to know how in Virginia figured out how to help them all? Giving food only help them for one night, How we can help them to get out of the situation?

  30. Amber says:

    Wonderful post. There should be some kind of work program for homeless. An outreach program that all employers have to do.

  31. Laurie says:

    It’s horrible to see people stuck living on the streets. Where I live we don’t see it often but the issue is still there.

  32. We are seeing more and more panhandlers on the corners here in Phoenix. It is unfortunate when people are reduced to that!

  33. Carmela Mempin says:

    It’s so sad seeing homeless especially with their babies. My heart breaks.

  34. It’s a common sight here in the Philippines and it really makes you wonder what happened. I don’t belong in the 1% as well but I make do and I can afford to indulge. All we can really do is to not add to to the problem.

  35. I firmly believe that everyone makes their own choices and that leads to them being successful or not successful in every aspect of life. Those who give without being asked will reap rewards in other areas of life.

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