Damp Like Me

The problem of the homeless in America is a difficult one for us because it raises so many questions:

For many, the most difficult aspect of the homelessness issue is avoiding eye contact when accosted. If you find it difficult to avert your gaze from a homeless person, practice at home by averting your gaze from staplers, working up to cats, and then mailmen. Soon you will be averting like a pro and will be ready to proceed to avoidance, but not too fast as this could cause cramps. If you feel you cannot ignore the homeless, because, for example, one of them is living in your yard, you might try becoming one of them for a few weeks in order to better understand their situation. This is just what P. Hamilton Sherbet did in order to write his book Damp Like Me, excerpts of which follow:


Day 1---My two weeks of vacation from the firm start today. I have prepared for weeks to become one of them: the lost, the transient, the haunted. I am ready to walk in their shoes, after having them thoroughly disinfected, and now here I am: homeless. The discomforts and inconveniences seem small at first, but grow rapidly: no cable TV, no room service, not even magic fingers. It is without doubt the most barren Motel 6 I have ever checked in to. They didn't even leave the light on for me. Tomorrow: The Streets.

Day 2---Today I venture out as one of them. They have many names: bums, hobos, winos, bag ladies, gutter monkeys, speed bumps, the fashion-challenged. I wander the downtown streets aimlessly, ready for the piteous or loathsome stares that greet the homeless, but instead am treated to the occasional smile or "Good day". A few blocks later, however, four young toughs strip me of my three piece worsted suit, savaging my choice of necktie and taunting me with cries of "You call this a lining?" I am forced to cover my nudity with pigeons, which I am able to do only by first rolling myself in a puddle and then bread crumbs. I hide in a drainpipe until darkness, when the crumbs are all eaten and the birds leave me naked and cold.

Day 3---A lucky break! I find a clothing warehouse with an open window. I climb in and grab a garment, but in the darkness and my haste I make a poor selection: an emerald green taffeta gown. Notwithstanding that the gown flatters my Reubenesque proportions, I find it hard now to mingle with the homeless, let alone establish rapport. Disheartened and hungry, I eat my corsage. Later, I have some luck with a group of bag ladies who have assembled around a burn barrel and are exchanging recipes. Caught up as I am in their spirited chatter about dumpster cuisine, I go blank when asked to contribute. All I can think to offer is my mother's recipe for fresh fruit fondue in a delicate Vouvray glaze. Fearing I have again botched my chance to assimilate, I am pleased when they all laugh as if I have made a grand joke, but then they turn and drive me from the alley, menacing me with their shopping carts and making catty remarks about my wing-tips.

Day 6---Having spent the night sitting against a parking meter, I awake to find an overtime citation wedged in my ear. Breakfast is served, I think, when a nearby fast food restaurant fills their dumpster with items not served in time. I am able to retrieve several foam boxes, scoop out their contents, and eat the boxes. The stragglers who have come running too late to the dumpster are left with only the rapidly congealing alleged food.

Day 7---I approach a trio of older gentleman passing around a bottle of fortified wine. Fortified wines are wines to which additional alcohol has been added because the yeasts in the fermentation tank gave up at a mere 24 proof, knowing that producing any more alcohol would doom them to a trip through a wino. These wines have names like Thunderbird and Le Beucoup DTs, and are found on the bottom shelf in stores because most purchasers are on their hands and knees. When they passed the bottle to me, I sniffed the screw cap and decided to chance it. At first I thought I was drinking M/D 20-20, but the label said "M/D 10-40. The first multi-viscosity wine, M/D 10-40 goes down smooth on those cold winter nights, but thickens in the heat of your body to coat and protect your internal parts."

Day 10---In an attempt to learn how these people came to be sans abode, I ask the dirty, odoriferous creature sharing my wine to tell his story. "Woof!", he unequivocally states, for he is apparently a terrier, proving that the tragedy of homelessness is not limited to bipeds. Subsequent interviews reveal that the causes of homelessness are as numerous as the stains on my gown. One poor fellow put his life savings into Oprah Winfrey Diet Centers. Another was fired in disgrace when he was caught embezzling anchovies from a Pizza Hut. But I think the saddest case was the woman who trained to become a sound effects expert, but could never find work. "I didn't know they had machines doin' it" she said, as she made the sound of breaking glass and a crying baby, followed by a perfect 747 taking off.

Then there was the one they all called The Artist Formerly Known as Edna. She was a semi-successful middle manager in a Fortune 500 company when she decided to sleep her way to the top. Tragically, she did not realize this was a euphemism for having sex with one's boss and was fired in short order.

Next is the bankruptcy of Elroy, who sunk the family fortune into a venture to make baked goods only from grains harvested from alien crop circles periodically found in farmer's fields. "The UFO crowd shoulda loved it", Elroy lamented. "We had Martian Muffins, Croissant Encounters, pies shaped like flyin' saucers--stuff like that. And the main plant was in Roswell, New Mexico. It was perfect, but my partner an' me never did see eye-to-eye. It came to a head when we couldn't agree on a slogan. I wanted 'For a taste that's outta this world'. He wanted 'Alien-licious'. It was downhill from there. Plus it turned out them crop circles was just kids walkin' 'round with boards on they feet." The tale of Myles's ruin is typical, for it shows how events sometimes conspire to sabotage a genuinely stupid idea, despite one's sincere intentions to profit from the gullibility of others.

Day 12---Enough. Tomorrow I return to the world of the kempt.