Judgemental ?



I was approached by a dirty young man yesterday, seeking a buck.  As he walked away from me, I did the usual internal debate with myself:

– he’s young; it’s not too late for him to change direction.

– he put his starbucks drink down to panhandle.  He’s fine.

– he’s playing at being homeless; so much idealism wasted.

– he only approaching women; he’s still a boy and doing ok.

I had just taken a bunch of funds out of my bank account to pay for my flooring, and there was no way I’d open my wallet in front of a stranger.

So, I went in and picked up my pizza, and segregated $5 out from my wallet so that it was in my hand.  Heading back out, the young guy was still there so I called to him and handed over $5.  Then I asked him some questions.

“Get something to eat.  Are you homeless?  Do you have a place to stay?”

“Oh, I’m ok.  I sleep on the couch of some friends.”  (Clearly, he’s not showering or using their laundry).

“Do you use drugs and alcohol?”

“Yeah, I do a bit of alcohol…”

“Look, you’re still young and cute.  Quit doing that crap and come up with a plan for yourself.  You’re not going to be this age forever, and as your youth and looks fade you’ll find people get less sympathetic and meaner the older you get.”

Young Man Pulling Go-Kart

I turned to walk away from him, having wasted my words on someone who was clearly too romantic to understand that being homeless is only an adventure in retrospect, and not while you’re living it.

But, my moment of being judgemental may have hit a nerve.

“Hey, I have 3 bucks.  I only wanted a buck and you gave me $5.  Take this extra back.”

“Do you have money put aside for breakfast tomorrow?”

“No.” he replied, thrusting the $3 in crumpled bills toward me.

“Keep it.” I said.  “Winter’s coming.”

I can’t adopt this kid.  I can’t make him change his choices.  But, every day I see someone like him, I remember Jay Shine, a lost (and violent) young man who took to the woods when I was a teen, and who died in them 30 years later.

Like a lost dog, he lived on the edges of town life, scrounging where he could and refusing his brother and sister’s entreaties to come indoors.

I’ll never understand the fantasy or romantic inclinations or mental health issues that make anyone feel like living on their nerves and wits alone is the only possible choice for their best quality of life.

I just see such wasted potential.


11 thoughts on “Judgemental ?

  1. I think for some of us (me included) there is a certain cachet and romanticism in the idea of minimalist living. You don’t owe anyone anything, you don’t OWN anything, you’re not responsible for diddly squat. And while you’re young that’s okay. The young are resilient and bounce back. At some point though, you have to realize that a hot shower and a warm bed outweigh any thrill that comes from not owning anything. Not belonging anywhere and not being responsible for anything at all. I’ve always liked to eat, far too much and too well to embrace homelessness fully. But I’ve come close. In my early twenties I was unguided. I did what I wanted always and embraced the ‘be true to yourself first’ school of thought. This cost me a lot. First in time, which we can never regain, second in friends and family upon whom I relied too much — they really didn’t have any more than I did, and could spare it even less than I could, because mostly they were older or old and I was still young. I stole from people and I foundered. I came close to living in my car at one point, no job (well a part time one from which I fled, having stolen a LOT from the people in the building I cleaned for) and no schooling (high school diplomas aren’t worth much) and no integrity nor pride. I wanted better. So one day I got up and started trying to be better, I got arrested and I stopped thieving. I went to trade schools and gained knowledge to obtain a reasonable enough wage so I could then get my first home and build from there. (more on the next comment..this will be long and sorry I’m hijacking your blog again. 😦 )

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  2. I have a cousin who is roughly two or three years older than I, and I have contact with her now in the later stages of life. We lost touch because our mothers (both crazy in a true mental illness type of way) fought all the time and the drama overwhelmed their children. My cousin lives in a rental, a three room squat that smells strongly of cat (dirty litter boxes, urine and feces and that strong odor of animal that comes from a dirty home–my cousin isn’t ‘dirty’ per se..but she is depressed and I dont’ think she does much to clean up), she is working at a ‘seasonal’ job with the IRS and has for most of her life – seasonal means she gets no benefits and the wages are probably just above minimum wage if that. She has a degree in history from a local university. She is attached to a man with bipolar schizophrenia in the twisted way that girls in my family learned to attach themselves to men who would abuse them. She’s never married, and never had any children. This man lives in the apartment adjacent to hers..but they live “together” all the same. He’s alcoholic and he hits her and verbally abuses her. They’ve been threatened with eviction several time from the many cats and the stench and general hoarder like mess that is in the two apartments. She told me she didn’t know what she’d do if that happened, because she has NOTHING.

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  3. She is fifty eight or nine..and she has nothing. Her mother, who is still alive, is a despot who terrorizes her children and has alienated every other relative and person she comes into contact with because of her mental illness. My cousin lives in terror of this old woman. I asked her why and she said “Oh mom has ways of getting you back if you cross her.” My poor cousin has become mentally ill herself simply from associating with these two people in her life that are mentally ill…she is severely depressed and has lost any hope or fight that might have been left in her. I want to help her but I can’t and WILL NOT allow either of the two people nearest her to (ab)use me the way they do my cousin. I been to that rodeo and bought the t-shirt and paid my dues thankyouverymuch. So I have to watch and pray that cousin makes it through another day, another week, another year. Until she realizes that she’s standing in her own way and has to get the hell out of it, she won’t be able to disentangle herself from those two people and she won’t be able to heal nor help herself. And I suspect she’ll die before that happens. So long answer long to your statement: “I’ll never understand the fantasy or romantic inclinations or mental health issues that make anyone feel like living on their nerves and wits alone is the only possible choice for their best quality of life” I don’t think it’s a CHOICE as much as it is the way they’ve learned to live and what they may see as the ONLY way they can survive. They don’t see any potential in themselves and they have no hope. So good for you for giving that young man $5 and some sound advice…it’s more than I’d have done. Sometimes you just have to take care of yourself first.

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  4. I absolutely agree about taking care of yourself first. Cutting Daddy Dearest out of my life at 19, and then moving 3,000 miles away to leave the related drama behind, absolutely helped me to break the cycle of self-loathing and self-abuse that comes from not having the courage to try and fail vs. simply existing in hell.

    In the case of this kid, I don’t think it’s a mental health thing yet. Truly, I see it more as the 60’s idealism showing up again in today’s youth for trying to live for free.

    There’s nothing wrong with bartering to survive. There’s nothing wrong with exchanging a napkin drawing or a song or a story for a meal or whatever. When I watch shows like “The Amazing Race”, I’m always fascinated by those episodes where someone loses evertything and has to beg for help. Some take it as a fun challenge to inspire others to join them in their hopes and dreams, and some get completely derailed and defeated. This young man didn’t hit my radar as anything other than someone having fun (romantic) and choosing to live without means or backup, vs. someone who had been out long enough to steal or begin to acquire mental health baggage.

    I know that’s a judgy perception, too, but I’ve seen too many of the current youth ?Millennials? Doing the whole hippy vibe for living without means and focused on getting vulnerable (an alcoholic haze or marijuana bliss) to reach a higher level of consciousness and so called enlightenment vs. someone seriously addicted or running from their inner demons.

    (Can’t do a better job of describing the difference, but there is one that stands out to me like a red flag. Jay Shine scared me – absolutely mental health issues – as he was incredibly violent and could flip on a dime. The fight or flight instinct for survival was always front and center, adding a tension to the air around him, and his button always landed firmly on “fight”. This kid yesterday was just playing at life, kind of like the old parable of the grasshopper and the ant, and was truly clueless… per my short 5 minutes of exposure to his situation, LOL).

    Like I said, “Judgy?” Oh, heck, yes.


    1. Well you were also kind and compassionate, something he will come to value greatly if he stays out there playing too long. The world is cold and cruel and when we learn that, we start to mature I think. Jay Shine sounds like he had paranoid schizophrenia or some other mental health issue (undiagnosed in the day) that made him act like that. I totally get it too, having my version of social phobia/anxiety, my button is always on ‘flight’. Today I was reminded just how bad it is too, it hasn’t improved all that much despite the past two years of consistent (and expensive) mental health therapy. I’ll blog about that. Anyway, excellent post!! A good perspective on what it is to be ‘judgy’ or as I would call it ‘compassionately critical.” 🙂

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  5. Jay was the product of a very violent home, to the best of my recollection. His sister, Mary, married young and got out. His younger brother, Joe, seemed to just take a passive approach to not provoking attention from anyone in life. Jay? Unfortunately or otherwise, he was strong. He’d spit in your eye vs. giving in, and I think that’s what sent him over the edge and out of doors. After awhile, running gets easier to avoid a beating and the woods were always his refuge, so I’d say he was more a case of PTSD looking back on that mess and his situation being more of the Irish Catholic dysfunction that went on in many households before violence and alcoholism were as freely discussed as they are today.

    He always reminded me of a wounded dog who wouldn’t stray too far from his violent master (in this case, his brother and sister for having their backs), but who couldn’t break the cycle and heal himself. He started outting himself out of doors in the late 60’s / early 70’s, when the hippie lifestyle was somewhat fashionable, and I don’t think he ever figured out how to go home again.

    Jay never talked to himself or heard voices that I can recall from 30+ years of looking back, but he certainly had some idea of himself as invinceable, a Grizzly Adams type, even though he was a scrawney, bantam rooster of an Irishman – maybe 5’3″ and all heart but no mass. If he thought you were disrespecting him, he’d wipe the floor with you. Jay was stuck somewhere in teenage boy hell. All machisimo and bravado, but no one to drive him back into joining a more conventional life.


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