Sunday, March 16, 2014

Vagrancy At It's Finest

R.a.n.t. of week 03/16/14
Years ago, I used to work in an office close to the down-town area. One of my closest workmates was named Olga. She would always come in complaining about homeless people she met. But she never called them homeless, she always used the word transient. It was an expression I had never heard before. She was always interesting to talk to, even though she swore her name was pronounced 'Elka', a pronunciation I had never heard before either. She passed away while I still worked there, but any time someone mentions the word transient, I think of her.

When I hear the word bum, I think of  Frank Ferguson. He was an actor who appeared on the show 'Leave It To Beaver'. His character was a bum who tricked Beaver into letting him come into the house for a sandwich, then a quick bath and then to helping himself to one of the Beev's fathers suits. Even as a child I realized how dangerous the Beaver's thought process was. Like Olga above, I believe that actor is dead now.

Long before the word tramp meant a trashy women, it was applied more to a happy go-lucky sort of out-of-their luck character. Remember Disney's 'Lady and the Tramp'? The tramp in this film was not a cigarette smoking, tattooed, female dog (innocently whistling). Rather, it was the adorable, scampering mutt.

Passing a rail-road yard, I think of the word hobo - a person travelling the country via boxcar. Some might know who Boxcar Willie is. Personally, I have no idea but in name alone. One day in my youth I was perusing the local Mainstream Record store and bending down I laughed to myself as I read this artists name out-loud, a name I had never heard before. Suddenly from behind, an older lady says, "You found Boxcar Willie?" "Yes," I said as I pointed to where the artist cassette was. I walked away from this quite older couple thinking how ironic it was I found exactly what they were looking for. They are probably dead too now.

The word vagrant has always held a negative connotation for me. I think of someone dark and sinister. In a way, the word reminds me of those clown/vagrant 'art' pictures I used to see all the time in children's waiting rooms at hospitals and clinics as I was growing up. Clowns automatically creep me out, but to be a vagrant variation as well? No thank you! Sometimes, sitting in a room with those works of 'art' made me wish I were dead.  

Now we come to more modern times. In the area I live, there are many, many pan-handlers. People standing on street corners, holding signs and begging for money. Though I would never condone being selfish and unhelpful, I often wonder if these people are just a co-ordinated network and make a living doing this, actually living very well off, perhaps even better than me. I've seen a few reports on news programs which suggest this. So I'm always hesitant to help these people out. It seems if one person is out, I see half a dozen more, each on various streets on my drive home. Even if I did not live on a tight budget already, helping everyone looking for a handout would certainly put me on the street begging for money or food. I've even seen one guy take a few step away from the corner to make a cell-phone call. That always confuses me too. So, as I said, I don't offer help monetarily. Am I being smart and cautious? Or just greedy and selfish? Sometimes I wonder.

So just how these transients come about. What decisions have they made in their life that has led them in this direction? Are they truly the victims of unfortunately circumstance? Or have they been given opportunities to improve themselves over and over again but still find some way to mess things up. Problems with drugs / alcohol or just lazy, selfish and make poor choices over and over again?


  1. It is hard to discern who is a transient and who is an exploiter, who suffers from an illness that renders normalcy impossible and who suffers from the conceit that a sucker is born every minute.
    Yet, I still try. Long ago, though, I stopped offering money. Instead, I will offer a breakfast, a lunch, a referral to an agency (non-governmental) that caters to the needs of the transients...
    I can't just pass by. Unless you are standing on the corner with a cardboard sign.

    1. It's true, you never know. Unfortunately, one can't help everyone. Especially since I see the same people every day. Sometimes I wish I could, sometimes I just wish I could read their mind and know right away if I was helping them or helping an addiction.