San Francisco has a lot of homeless people. They’re everywhere, screaming on corners, sleeping in doorways, and pooping on sidewalks. They have cavernous faces, and are often in varying stages of being undressed and unhinged. You never know what you’re going to get when you walk past one, or when one approaches you to ask for money. I have lost all sympathy for them over the years, and they can tell. So I don’t get approached anymore.
Or at least I thought. I was waiting for the bus today on an empty sidewalk. A few people walked past here and there, but for the most part it was tranquil. That’s why I noticed the figure out of the corner of my eye, because it was moving straight toward me with no obstacles in the way. I looked over to see a limping, caved-in woman with gargoyle eyes, fixed directly on my face. I clutched my iPhone and put my other hand on my bag.
She stopped right in front of me and pointed at my face. Her own face was grey like crinkled newspaper, and folded in at the mouth. She spoke using her lips as she would use her teeth, if she had any.
“I know you’re a police officer,” she said.
I wondered whether I looked like a police officer, with my sneakers and bright green sweater. “Uh.”
“You’re going to arrest me. But you gotta like the job you do.”
I laughed out loud. “Yeah, well.”
“You gotta,” she said. “Because if you don’t show up for five days, you lose it.”
I’d never heard this pitch before as a request for money, so I didn’t back away. Yet.
“You LOSE IT. Then you go to the unemployment office and you tell them you want to retire. They put you in a psych ward.” She was still pointing at my face.
I nodded. “Okay.” Right, sure.
“That’s how you get free food and free room and board. Forever.” She changed her focus and her finger, pointing toward the intersection closest to us. As she walked off, I actually smiled.
I smiled. And I thought, You know what lady, you have a point.