jolie laide

jolie laide

I started this when I lived in Brooklyn and struggled for grace in a city that grants moments of beauty and ugliness breathtakingly close to one another. Now I live in a place where things are a different kind of ugly and the beauty is pedestrian. I struggle with that.


In this city of constant hustle and go-go many people don’t stop to pick up lost pennies, nickels, small change that falls to the sidewalk. But I do. The dime that has been kicked to the corner, the penny with its lucky side down, it doesn’t belong to me, it doesn’t belong to anyone. I call it god’s money, it belongs to god. So I pick it up, put it in a special place in my bag, and my rule is, I have to give what belongs to god to the next person who asks me for money.

So this morning I know who I am giving it to right away as she enters my train car, yanking the door open, lurching in. Her sway might be from the movement of the train, might be from chemical substances. The way her face is moving as she asks for a handout, I am guessing she has had a stroke. She is getting a worse reception than I usually see. Perhaps because she is not amusing, perhaps because her story is not compelling. When she gets closer to me I figure out why. She has soiled herself, and the smell is assaultive.

She is so out of it, so lacking the perpetual panhandler 360 degree sense of impending reward, she doesn’t even notice me digging in my bag for god’s money. I walk up to her with it, look her in the face. Her eyes are rolling, unfocused and I make sure that I don’t just drop the change into her hand. I press it into her palm, feel the warmth of her skin, the worn smoothness. I also feel the rot, how her internal piers have rotted away, how little there is to hold her up, how her moorings have thinned and snapped and now she is free sailing inside her own skull, inside her own flesh.

My money, god’s money, will make no difference to her in this day. When she leaves the subway car my pity and my helplessness well up and constrict my chest. I struggle to maintain my commuter face, clench my jaw, but I see my reflection in the black train window, I see my eyes getting wet.


Blogger Pan said...

Well I know what you mean . . . I'm always more minded to give money to beggars when there is something obviously wrong with them - is that a good thing? I don't know . . .

1:52 PM  
Blogger ttractor said...

The agency I work for houses over 350 homeless every night. I know where the money goes, I know what it does, I know the shills, the scams, the shake-downs. So I don't give my own money. I am, in some respects, already giving my life.

Pan, what you wrote made me realize what an amazingly selfish construct god's money is for me, on some levels. I don't have to be pissed or irritated at being asked for money. Either I have some of god's, or I don't. If I am giving away god's money, I don't have to care about what is done with it.

Or the both of us can decide that we give what we can when we can, and it has to be enough. It has to be enough or else we will break under the weight of others' sorrow.

Part of the reason I strugggled for composure is that standing next to her collapse made me think about other people close to me who have gone through something parallel. People who loved me, or were supposed to, people I depended on, or were supposed to, hell, even myself at times.

It's a hell of a way to start a day.

2:29 PM  
Blogger slickaphonic said...


5:38 PM  
Blogger famJAZtique said...

I live in a reasonably affluent college town. A small town really. But we have homeless people and they sit on our sidewalks with signs describing their plight. Some of them make offerings of music and I like that. But no matter how hard I try to reconcile with it, I am never comfortable walking by them. No matter if I give them money, or I don't, I always feel that I've done the wrong thing. It makes me feel angry and sad all at once.

The ones making music though, they're a little easier. If I give them money, it feels good, feels right, because they're offering something. And if I don't give them money (cause I don't have it) that feels alright too. I see their cheerful smiling faces singing away and I know they haven't lost all hope, that joy hasn't slipped away.

(I can't post on my own blog anymore so until it gets fixed, I'll just leave long comments on everyone else's.)

10:47 PM  
Blogger ttractor said...

boo, I'm sorry your blog isn't working. You owe me some stuff, girlfriend!

I have been disturbed for quite some time about middle class kids "going homeless" in some kind of infantile, reactive, misplaced romantic/anarchic heave, and college towns are a great place to do it. sigh.

4:28 PM  

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