Invisible Man

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 11, 2007 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

I spent my lunch hour yesterday walking around Union Square Farmers’ Market looking for a merino wool hat. I passed by all kinds of food stands–organic this, artisanal that–with wholesome unblemished food. I didn’t find what I was looking for so I headed back towards the subway. I turned my head to see an older man with thinning white/grey hair holding out an ID card in his outstetched hand. “People are acting like I’m invisible,” he said. “Here is my veteran’s card. I am someone. I’m hungry, and trying to get money to buy a grilled cheese sandwich.” I stopped, and gave him some money for a sandwich, and stayed a minute to talk with him.

One of the true horrors of New York is witnessed at least once a day by everyone who lives or works here. A person is standing on the sidewalk, or walking through the subway, holding out a paper coffee cup asking for change to eat. People look through them as if that person didn’t exist. Few people look at them, even fewer give them anything, hardly anyone says a word to them. Sometimes, I do that, too, when I don’t have any more spare cash, or if I already gave to one or two other people that day. I pretend they’re not there and keep walking or don’t look up from my New York Times. But usually I give something, and include a kind word or good wish and look the person in the face. They are a fellow human being, and for many reasons, some of them their fault, and some beyond their control, ended up on the street. As an alcoholic, I know I could be in their place.

It is a horror that in this wealthy country of ours there are so many homeless, hungry people in our midst, invisible to the well-fed. Here in New York, the media and financial capital of the United States, where residents pride themselves on their sophistication and grasp of world and human affairs, you can’t walk three blocks without seeing people, many of them elderly or infirm, picking through garbage containers looking for cans and bottles to redeem. They need to reach through plastic bags of dog shit and the phlegm balls people hawked up and spit in the can to find something they can barter for a meal. We are like a third world country, one of my French student interns told me, the way we treat our poor. Not really our poor–just people who have no worth to anyone in this center of civilization called New York.

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