Thursday, July 24, 2003

Thanks For All The Beer

Last issue (North American Newsbriefs, July 10) we read about Those are the people in Chattanooga, TN, who are collecting donations to pass out beer for the homeless.

We love this idea. We (I mean I myself of course) have been saying for years that homeless people have as much right to decide for themselves whether they should imbibe alcoholic beverages as homeful people do.

What we really delight in is this information from the FAQ page at "… the fact is that less than half of the homeless we visit accept our beer." Bearing in mind that they are only talking about Chattanooga, nevertheless someone has finally succeeded in finding a way to substantiate our long stated observation that most homeless people aren't alcoholics, they're just people who don't have a proper place to live at the moment.

And what a straightforward method of proof it is. "Let's pass the stuff out and see who takes it!" To think that researchers have probably wasted tens of thousands of dollars for years trying to figure this one out with pencils and surveys.

The website also gives me hope by reminding me that there are decent generous people out there who really get it. It makes me want to acknowledge all the great generous folks I have encountered and benefited from over the years.

Yours truly (like most homeless people!) has never panhandled. Partly this is because I always found things to sell when I was broke. For example, there was the day I sold the naming rights to parts of my body. I started the day out with nothing. I charged one dollar for the naming rights to each body part. My first customer was this rag's founder Timothy Harris who paid a dollar to name my liver "Intrepid." Altogether I earned twelve dollars doing that.

But I have also found that if you just go about your life and do nothing unusual money can be pushed into your hands even AGAINST YOUR WILL!

For example, early one morning I was pacing back and forth in between St. James Cathedral and the Rectory. I was pacing because I was early for an appointment and had nowhere else to go, being too broke to go to a café or anywhere else. I wasn't panhandling, I didn't have my hand out, but along came this tall guy in a suit smoking a cigar and wouldn't you know it? He walks right up to my face, whips out a twenty and stuffs it into my shirt pocket, saying, "A friend told me to put this in the poor box, but I'd rather give it to someone who looks like they know what to do with it."

Another time I was in Belltown and on the street, so I visited the Denny Regrade Park at Third and Bell to relax a while. Right after I sat down in the park, two strangers sat down next to me and struck up a friendly conversation. They were openly passing a beer back and forth and generously offered me some.

I know what you're all thinking. You're thinking that, OK, maybe most homeless people aren't alcoholics, but Dr. Wes has a liver named Intrepid and for sure he's a lush and there's no way he would turn down free malt liquor in the park.

But there IS a way! For one thing, I hate the taste of malt liquor. I prefer lager, thank you. For another, I can't enjoy drinking any alcoholic beverages openly in a park with police looking over my shoulder. I told my new friends that they were at risk of being busted. Sure enough, only a minute later two security officers pedaled up and poured out the bottle. So the guys decided to leave the park and I tagged along so we could continue talking.

We were not twenty feet out of the park when an older guy with a torn T-shirt saw us and said, "You guys look like you could use some beer. Here, take this ten and get yourselves a couple of pitchers."

Yes, there is hope for humanity!

Thursday, July 10, 2003

18 for the Third Time

Let's whine about getting old!

Aging stinks. I just found out I've been eligible to join AARP for four years already. Gack.

At least I've had plenty of practice getting accustomed to this situation. It all started back in '84 when I was driving a cab and sleeping in the '69 Rambler. Something about sleeping on the front seat of a Rambler plus malnutrition plus nearly dying of exposure plus being rejected by normal society for months at a time resulted in premature gray hair.

So it was that when I was 35 a little back seat 6-year-old passenger of my cab said to me "You're old, aren't you?" Aren't little brats just adorable? I think so.

Immediately I looked for ways to cope with my new-found old age and I've been coping ever since.

Coping Mechanism Number One: Surrender. Not being able to do anything at the time about the sleeping in the car and the malnutrition etc. I decided to accept my new senior status. My first act of surrender was to go to a movie and announce proudly -- without being asked first -- that I wanted an adult ticket, because I was sure now that I was indeed an adult, finally. (If I was going to be a senior, I figured I had to pass through the intermediate stage.)

My second act of surrender occurred at the Jack in the Box, when the pasty-faced teenager behind the counter offered me the senior citizen discount. I took it. He didn't check my ID; I didn't check his IQ. Happy times.

Coping Mechanism Number Two: Avoid hitting up on 18 year olds. We all have a tendency to react against our old age by trying to curl up with someone who lets us forget it. This, I have learned, is a huge mistake. Besides spending money too fast, the young ones take too long to train and they don't remember anything important. That is why I now happily belong to Anitra "only 8 days younger" Freeman. My problem with her is just that, being 8 days younger, she can't remember the days from July 9 through July 16, 1949. Also, she refers to me as "the old fart." Also, she spends money too fast.

Coping Mechanism Number Three: Denial. A lot of people tell me denial is a bad thing, but I think it's peachy.

So for example, I have not just turned 54. Instead, I have turned 18 for the third time. Another fun form of denial is to skip celebrating birthdays altogether and start celebrating birth minutes each day. Not only does this mean you get cake and ice cream more often (or in my case more beef and bean burritos), but it spreads the pain of aging out thinly. "Oh yes, I'm older, but only by a day."

Of course the drawback to that last technique is that I am now at least 19,723.5 days old as you read this. I'll be twenty thousand in about 9 months. Ouch.

Coping Mechanism Number Four: Schadenfreude. Hey, it could be worse. I could be Strom Thurmond: 100 years and no longer counting. Or even unimaginably worse, I could be Chante Mallard, and be spending at least the next 25 years of my life, if I should live so long, waiting for parole on a fifty year sentence for killing a homeless man by neglecting to get aid for him after hitting him with my car because I chose to drive while being drugged out and stupid and not caring about any other human being except myself. I'd rather be 54 than be her any day.

Coping Mechanism Number Five: Whining.

Why does whining get such a bad rap? It's a victimless crime. (Anitra says this is not true.) It's like self-gratification: we all do it, if we have any sense. It relieves tension almost as well as watching reruns of our favorite TV garbage. Let's show whining the respect it deserves. Our mental health depends on it.