Thursday, August 27, 2009

#20 Street Trickle and Grunge Bums

Compassion is a noble sentiment but much like former Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch it does not respond well to pressure. If you see a craggy-faced, world-worn grey-top shuffling behind a rusted shopping cart, a guy clearly broken in spirit and mind by a life of God knows what, you feel a surge of sympathy. Poor, aged, oppressed man, you think, perhaps I shall hand him a farthing. But you see 20 of these guys, everyday, along with the related pan-handling, obscenity-laced freak-outs, and innumerable urine trails, each one zig-zagging toward the curb, a tiny vignette of chaos' unfolding beauty ruined by the wild-eyed John Nash character standing stupefied over it, and the pity you felt fatigues into contempt. Those disgusting, violent, strung-out old bastards, you think, let's drown 'em in garbage bags.

No surprisingly San Francisco's large homeless population is a source of on-going civic disquiet. However, the SF Board of Supervisors has yet to address one of the unspoken sides of the issue: homeless people, for better or worse, are girl repellant.

There's two reasons for this; first, the obvious: homeless people are, in a basic, superficial but visceral way, gross and a little threatening. Girls may be more compassionate than men but, as research indicates, they also show greater sensitivity to disgust stimuli, which is why a neighborhood full of hobos means hot chicks busting out of there like Count Cristo from his chains at Ch√Ęteau d'If (and also why girls use the word “gross” to describe pretty much everything from corn chips to rain). More generally affecting is the day-to-day psychological impact of the homeless: they are a constant reminder of life's more depressing but pointless truths, such as when you're rich the world is your oyster and when you're a crackhead the world is where you get beaten with a toilet.

The second reason is the grunge bum. Grunge bums are those unwashed, punk rockish, Portland born, twenty-something Caucasian kids who loiter in and around the Haight with their grunge bum pals. They're homeless in the strict sense of not having a home but it doesn't appear that a disabling condition is the cause of this. At least they don't seem psychologically stressed about the state of their lives. They all sleep in the park and bullsh*t in front of dive bars and cultivate the junky, Kurt Kobainey aesthetic that's available in local thrift shops. They are a weird hybrid of street urchin, beatnik poseur and the kind of slacker teenagers who hang out at suburban Quickie Marts. Each probably has some troubling back-story, but there's not much compassion for a well-fed white kid in dreads that keeps his panhandling real. That kid just doesn't really want to work.

But here's the thing: working sucks, and there's a part of every guy with a lame-ass, soul-crushing Office Space job that is jealous of these so-called malingerers, and that part of him, when it witnesses grunge bums strumming their guitars, life's responsibilities gossamer and light as burnt cannabis in the breeze, well, it sort of relates. A guy gets the motivating philosophy. It's how Chris Rock felt about OJ Simpson (allegedly) killing the douchey waiter who (allegedly) drove around OJ's Ferrari and banged his ex-wife: "I'm not saying I'd do it, but I understand."

Girls take the totally opposite philosophical position, for two reasons. First of all, girls are more consistent believers in the social contract - no killing, no thieving, no free-riding. Secondly, girls believe in the corrupting power of peer influence. A girl will size up a guy's friends and acquaintances and make an assessment about the guy. You can’t talk her out of it. It doesn't matter if the guy is a cleric in a religious order and his friends, whether lotharios, drunks, or grunge bums, are nothing like him. "If his friends are doing it," she thinks, "then he's doing it, or at least, he will do it. Ef that, I'm moving to Manhattan."


  1. Those kids or more likely to be Marin born or penninsula born than Portland born. And they also forget that someone who is really down and out and living on the street can't afford those hundreds of dollars worth of tattoos and piercings.

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  2. I'm now wondering if my sad dating life has anything to do with the fact I live in the 'Loin.

  3. What Erik said... also they might be from such tough and run-down communities like Saratoga and Sunnyvale; places with curfews keepin' down. That's why they ran away to the Citaaaayyyy...

  4. The one thing is does do it, is it makes street approaches more difficult because 90% of all SF street/outdoor interaction is someone asking for money or worse. Everyone's defenses are way up.

    But not impossible.

  5. Girls absolutely judge a guy on the friends he keeps. Birds of a feather...

    Sam, have you seen the article "Generation Single?" I can email it to you. Or Google it.

  6. Street Trickle or Grunge Bums would be good names for a band. Maybe a band in Portland.

    BTW, there are more homeless in LA than in NYC and SF COMBINED. Of course the difference is that LA is one of the least dense cities in America.