A Crse self-reflection post

Friends, I need to process a little here. An event occurred recently that has caused some inner turmoil. I’ve been feeling a lot of insecurity and self-doubt since it happened and made me ask myself some hard questions about my own character. Im going to relate the situation here and see if I can’t develop some insight as I write.

The incident occurred during an interaction with a homeless gentleman while I was working at the farmer’s market* yesterday. He approached on my co-worker’s side and I didn’t notice him right away as they were engaged in conversation. I did tune in time to hear him ask about getting some coffee. We were set up right next to the free trade coffee table where you could buy a cup or a bag. My table-mate seemed to be struggling to understand that he was asking for a cup. Since I speak “mental disability” fairly fluently, I caught on and led him over to get a cup. He was shaking a bit so in what I hoped looked like hospitality as opposed to condescension, I started to pump a cup from the thermos and when I asked how he took it, he told me I could put cream and sugar in as I saw fit. The coffee ran out before the cup was half full and my friend at the free trade table told us a fresh pot was brewing and went to get it We drifted into other activities. Soon, we reconvened there to observe that the coffee hadn’t come back out. He decided to go with decaf. As soon as his cup was filled, my friend emerged with the fresh pot. I immediately offered to take the decaf so he could have caffeine. We joked about needing caffeine and all seemed fine between until I offered to put the cream and sugar in. He immediately got defensive and said he’d do it himself. Now friends, I am used to irrational hostility. From grown-ups. In near proximity of my person. But for some reason, his defensiveness made me feel really nervous to the point that I emptied a full packet of sugar into the trash pouch. He continued to mutter at me and when I asked him what he said, he stopped muttering and said in an offended way “Ive said all Im going to say.” We went our separate ways but for the rest of the morning I spent time wondering how I offended him while telling myself I was being ridiculous as I know enough about mental illness to not personalize the outburst. I guess he decided to move on with our relationship and give me another chance because he did approach me for a light at the end of the market and didn’t seem too offended when I told him I don’t smoke.

Since the event happened, the guilt over offending him has dissipated but Im still struggling with why I felt so bothered by the thought that I insulted this man. I’m generally completely comfortable with people thinking Im an asshole (unless I really like them, and let’s be honest, the strong urine stench emanating from his person immediately prohibited any real soul connection from developing during our brief time together). Nor do I think Im above being insensitive to other people’s needs (remind me to tell you folks about the time I asked about a co-worker’s culture using the phrase “I understand you sleep with your young.” Nice. And then you eat them?). I even would go so far as to agree with the assertion that homeless people can be assholes sometimes. Generally, I can laugh off these encounters without too much thought, trying to learn from any social blunder Ive made but this guy threw me right off my game and I don’t know why. Ok so that’s the story and I still have no insights. Still Ill post this because who doesn’t appreciate a good “shunned by the homeless guy” story? Right?

* So when I use the phrase “im working at a farmer’s market this summer”, (go ahead take a few moments to laugh that out) I can understand how one could draw certain erroneous conclusions about what is transpiring there so we will take a moment and correct the assumptions folks might make that are clearly incongruent with everything you’ve learned or known about my character. First “work” is more like compulsory volunteering (no it’s not parole…) and does not involve any manual labor. In this context, work means I sit at a table handing out community events literature and chatting with folks for three hours on Saturday morning (or two hours since Ive not managed to get there on time for the first two weeks of the season). Lucy is also part of this gig which makes it even less work-like. Now that Ive defined “work”, you’ve most likely drawn the conclusion that I have nothing to do with anything farmer-y or vegetable-y in the market. You’d be correct. Im explaining all of this as the farmer’s market will most likely play into future posts and I can’t have you people think Im into vegetables or anything like that. I have a reputation to protect.

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14 Responses to A Crse self-reflection post

  1. lucy says:

    I’m a little concerned about my character since I missed nearly all of this exchange. However, I will tell you that the guy you’re talking about said, “Hello, dolly” to me at least five times yesterday, so I you shouldn’t worry so much about it. He clearly was really struggling with his mental faculties, and no doubt wandered over from the halfway house. I will say though that the people from across the street are a little more aggressive than homeless people that I’ve encountered anywhere else (New York, Chicago), and it is weird to be shunned by a homeless person, especially when you’re being magnanimous. It’s a truly strange dynamic. I don’t have any insight other than to say that you are far more friendly to the homeless than anyone I know. You don’t get that nervousness that many of us do. Perhaps it’s that kindness-for-weakness thing we’ve talked about?

  2. Jan says:

    Listen, Darlin’, I have a very long list of jobs I could never do, and yours is right up there at the top. And dealing with homeless people is a close second. I try to treat them with respect, but I just wanna tell them “go get a freaking job.” So I’m thinking you’re beating yourself up needlessly.

  3. Jay says:

    So, your saying that a homeless person found you to be in social skills? Now that’s impressive! LOL 😉

    It could be he was mumbling something nice to you. Maybe he was saying out loud how impressed he was with your friendly nature and thought you had a nice booty?

  4. Jay says:

    Well crap.

    That’s supposed to say “LACKING in social skills” As you can see, not only am I lacking in social skills myself, I really should learn to preview my comments. 😉

  5. Dexter Colt says:

    A homeless man once told me that he hoped I would catch an STD after I told him that I didn’t have any change. Hey, I was going TO the bar- catch me coming FROM the bar. I’m not going to ask a homeless guy to break a 20!

    But wishing me an STD?! That’s not cool.

  6. Canada says:

    I was kinda disappointed that you have nothing to do with vegetables – here I was, picturing you selling tomatoes and zucchini, grown by you, watered by Norm and the Turnip, picked by Gill-Smoke . . . okay, I guess I got a bit carried away there

    I can understand your disquiet with the interchange. If it was me, I would be fretting about whether the gentleman thought I was condescending to him, when it was clear that you weren’t, and you just wanted to make him feel welcome and get a cuppa joe. I am beyond paranoid about stuff like that.

  7. I think the source of your consternation is as follows: You told your fellow worker, “Here, let me handle this, I speak dysfunction.” And then you were inexplicably stymied. That’s all. I’m sure you were brilliant. He was just more fucked up than you is all. But we knew that already.

  8. luckybuzz says:

    See, this is why you need to just tell them you’re busy. 🙂

  9. gill_smoke says:

    Ohh CRSE, If you have the DTs then there is really nothing anybody is going to say to you that is going to be ok really.

    Lucy’s right we make the crazy ones feel not fucked up. Let’s not forget Lloyd or that guy at mountaineer who you couldn’t use the word you in front of. I have a couple others and then there’s those people at the church.

    We can both talk to anybody really. I lecture and you ask the meaningful questions. I wouldn’t sweat it you’ll be seeing hi, next week I’m sure

  10. crseum says:

    Lucy- Based on the disturbing information you provided yesterday, I am guessing you were engaged somewhere else besides the table (shudder) when this happened. The weird thing is, Im USED to be shunned when Im being magnanimous! It’s what I do! It should be on my business card in fact….. we do have quite the range of prima donna homeless here in town dont we?
    Jan- Thank you for the kind words. Trust me when I tell you that there are a ton of jobs I could never do too.
    Jay-I could tell by his tone that it wasn’t about my booty. But I love your framing. Perhaps Im just really seen as boorish in homeless circles in town.
    Dexter- If he really was committed to the panhandling process, he could have gotten a changemaking belt. I have to wonder if this did not occur in your home state. The STD thing is plain harsh. It seems if you can make a curse like that, you can find a damn job.
    Canada- im disappointed that after being my first reader you would even entertain such a vision! You know better! Seriously, at the risk of sounding culturally ignorant, do you have homeless people in Canada? What with the socialized medicine and stuff, it just seems like such a promised land up there!
    Tyler- Hmmm..so you think he “out fucked up” me? Interesting theory….thank you for your kind words. I am going to accept them as such and not as fodder for (as some have suggested) building me up to convince me to start a cage fighting career.
    LB- You know I think about that in every single homeless encounter! And I think that town could rival ours in terms of unpleasantly aggressive homeless people. I love that story (and you).
    GS- But see, that’s just it. He was ok right up until the cream and sugar incident. Maybe it was about the sugar. I agree completely. Whether they are compelling you to follow them into the bathroom and listen to them lecture while they take a shit in front of you or convincing me that there really is a nuclear waste dump behind them controlling their thoughts we seem to have a knack with the “different” don’t we. Thank god we found each other. I would hate to have lloyd as my babydaddy.

  11. Canada says:

    Oooh, baby, lots of homeless people. It’s very sad, really. Esp in the winter. Toronto is quite a bit milder than it is here in Ottawa, and at least there are subway grates which emit warm air (many homeless sleep on the grates for warmth). But here in Ottawa, it is BITTER cold, and many of the homeless do not like the rules at the shelters, or sometimes there isn’t enough room. Between the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter, it isn’t the ideal place to sleep on a park bench.

    Yeah, sorry for my momentary vegetable slip-up. The only veggie-tale in your life is he Turnip!

  12. It’s no secret that a great many of my relationships have begun and ended with inaudible muttering that bears little resemblance to actual human language.

    In my experience the best – or at least the safest – course of action has been to assume that the mumbling was only half of a conversation that I didn’t want to hear. Something along the lines of:

    “No mom! I don’t want to kill this one. Huh? Because I’m not hungry that’s why. Now go back to sleep before I tell Jesus what you did to Dad.”

    I’ve found that, if I start from there, I do fine with random mutterers – homed and homeless alike.

  13. crseum says:

    M. Ebert- There was something in his tone making me think that he would be more in favor of the killing. Still you just made my short list of schizophrenic rant reporting.

  14. Wendylady says:

    Maybe just maybe you were thrown off because things seemed to be going well with this person and you were conecting at least on a semi social level only to have this behavior errupt. I too work with MD/LD individuials and when it’s out of the blue and you feel a little bit fear or uncertainty about the situation it wraps you up for a little while.

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