A homeless man keeps a lonely vigil in the city

WILEY A. HALL

February 25, 1993|By WILEY A. HALL

The Homeless Man stood at an intersection just outside the city's beautiful new baseball stadium and only a few blocks away from the glittering, glitzy Inner Harbor. He carried a cardboard sign with the words "Homeless. Will work for food." scrawled upon it in crayon. Occasionally, the Homeless Man stamped his feet against a bitter, biting wind. He wore an expression of grim determination. He didn't smile.

"People like that don't really want to work," said the first spectator, nodding toward the Homeless Man. "I have a friend who once offered one of them a job. Man, you'd have thought he had handed down some sort of terrible insult."

"What kind of job?" I asked.

"I don't know," said the first spectator. "All I know is they don't really want to work. All they want is a free handout."

The Homeless Man wore a heavy woolen jacket, blue jeans and sneakers. His shoelaces were untied. The Homeless Man had a knit cap pulled down low over his head. He wore work gloves with the fingers cut out. His clothes were faded and worn -- all grays and browns -- reminiscent of the urban landscape. Even the passing pigeons seemed more colorful.

The second spectator said, "What I want to know is how come all their signs look the same and say practically the same thing?"

"That's never occurred to me," I said.

"I heard they've been organized by some kind of cult," said the second spectator with grim satisfaction. "Every penny they get goes back to the cult. I heard that it's all a big scam."

The Homeless Man stood on the curb clutching his sign chest high. The bitter wind sliced through the city like a knife. Trash swirled about the Homeless Man's feet. Pigeons swooped low. When the traffic light turned red, the Homeless Man stepped off of the curb. He walked quickly through the line of stopped cars, glancing inside, then passing on. No one offered him anything. Few drivers even met his eyes.

"What is he doing here, that's what I want to know?" complained the third spectator in a voice made shrill by exasperation.

"He's homeless," I said.

"Well, why can't he get a job? I mean, he's out here every single, live-long day. He's out here first thing in the morning and way into the evening. If he can do all that, he ought to be able to work. I mean, I've got to go to work, so why can't he?"

"I've got no sympathy for him," said the fourth spectator.

"I've got no sympathy for him," said the fifth spectator.

"I've got no sympathy for him," said the sixth spectator. "Huh! Like I've got money to spare. Like I don't work hard enough as it is. Like I'm not one paycheck away from the streets my own damned self. Times are tough all over."

A city police cruiser glided by the Homeless Man but the officers did not look his way. Pedestrians, bent low and huddled against the wind, brushed past the Homeless Man in their rush to escape the cold. They did not acknowledge him. He did not acknowledge them.

"Something ought to be done, I suppose," said the last spectator. "It's a shame. Somebody ought to do something."

"What?" I asked.

"I don't know," exclaimed the last spectator. "Good grief! Why ask me? Ask the mayor. Ask the governor. Ask the president of the United States. If these people are crazy, they ought to be in an institution. If they're sick, they ought to be hospitalized. If they're none of those, they ought to be made to work. I'm just saying they shouldn't be standing out here like this. Good grief! Maybe we ought to stick them in some sort of concentration camp if we can't think of anything else."

The Homeless Man stood at an intersection just outside the city's beautiful new baseball stadium and only a few blocks away from the glittering, glitzy Inner Harbor. He carried a cardboard sign with the words, "Homeless. Will work for food." scrawled upon it in crayon. Occasionally, the Homeless Man stamped his feet against the bitter, biting wind. He wore an expression of grim determination.

People passed him by. In cars. On foot. They gave him nothing. Trash swirled about his feet.

The Homeless Man never smiled.

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