No, I do not have a dollar, 50 cents or a sticky dime in the bottom of the cup holder in my Al Bundy Wagon for you to have. Really, Mr. Panhandler, did you see the chipping paint on the back bumper of that rolling wagon of shit whose engine light only turns off in the event of a dead battery or abandonment and think, “Yeah, this bitch is loaded, I can totally get a quarter out of her. All I gotta do is wait for her to leave the gas station.” No, I do not have a cigarette or lighter to bum or loan to you, and I am not chipping in on your bus ticket or Greyhound ticket to get you wherever you’re going to. It’s cool, I dig, and I can’t fault you for trying, but for the love of the Almighty, if I gave every one of you a dime out of my cup holder covered in cigarette dust and soda water slime, I wouldn’t have a dime left to my name.
To the guy on the bicycle who I did give my change to because you were persistent but didn’t know what the word persistent meant when I used it to compliment you, you have a long road ahead of you in life, and I wish you the best.
To the scrawny fellow and his companion standing like a shadow behind him, trying to sell me an obviously stolen handheld steam cleaner in the parking lot of Thornton’s on Second and Broadway: No, I don’t want to buy it. This guy pleaded with his eyes that I buy this machine, it’s snow white cleaning pad stained grey and puddle of water in the tank.
I’m cosmically certain that there was a housekeeper at the Hotel Louisville having themselves a moment the exact same moment I was assaulted with this scrawny fellow’s sales pitch because she had just noticed her cleaning cart had been ransacked but wasn’t sure what was missing yet. Both of these fellows were determined to hustle this stolen steam cleaner off on me, their expressions of folks who haven’t slept in a month but not in a tweek fest sorta way. The first fellow finished his pitch with a flourish, like a carnival barker the circus fired, shook the puddle of water in the bottom of the tank and said “I swear, it works!”
No. Really, just no. But here’s the thing.
I can already hear the argument someone is making about the homeless, though, and it’s the argument that usually ends with “ … and they ought to get a job.” It’s usually from Karen, whose employment was awarded solely on the basis that she’s Officer McDouche’s wife back when they were first married in 1990. She laments about the good old days on occasion when her position wasn’t even advertised, and how now they have to post it so the general public can apply. Her favorite activity at work is leaving apartment numbers off of applications because everyone who applies at her office is just a mooch, she thinks sometimes as she unlocks her company vehicle, so that applicants never receive their response required mail.
She’s also the type to screech “It’s mc-doo-Shay!” at the bartender when returning her card at whatever trendy watering hole she, Becky, Bekah and Brenda went to last week as an excuse not to tip. She’s the type to leave a Bible verse for a tip at Sunday brunch, too, even though she hasn’t been to St. Flaming Christ of Taxation Is Theft in several years because they expected a tithe. Karen left the collection plate a dollar and helped herself to a stack of the hundred dollar bill tip pamphlets on the way out of the door.
Karen is the type to say, “Well, good for you for not giving those filthy homeless a penny!” between sips of White Claw. “They would have just bought,” she says, clutching her pearls, “drugs with it anyway!”
Why in the actual fuck do I care if they buy drugs with their hard-earned money by panhandling, Karen? I’d want a frosty, cold brew after a hard day in the sun off an exit of Interstate 65, too, after standing in temperatures that are consistent to wherever Nixon found himself in the afterlife. The only difference between the Klonopin in Karen’s purse and the White Claw in her hand and the Klonopin in a panhandler’s pocket and the Bud Ice in their hand at the end of the day is Karen’s pills have her name on the bottle because she has good insurance, and she bought her drinks at a nice liquor store in St. Matthews.
The question isn’t why are these people panhandling or homeless or whether they should find “real” employment. The question here is why in the actual fuck are there all these desperate people living on the streets, and why isn’t the city of Louisville doing something about it?
What’s “real” employment in America, anyway? If it’s more profitable and dignified to stand on the street corner and panhandle than it is to be treated as a human slave in the employment that is available to them, then can you blame the kid on the bicycle bumming change in the Thornton’s parking lot for bumming change instead?
So, Homeless Folks and Panhandlers of Louisville, just because I’m not giving you my pocket change doesn’t mean that I don’t see you and salute you as human beings. This is just a city whose Derby is good for only the people who cannot pronounce (loo-a-vul) properly, and that there are so many of you is so the rich can have their hats and horses and bourbon, but you all are left to fend for yourself.
When Karen is sitting at a light and uncomfortably looking away from a panhandler or the camp that was underneath the bridge by Norton’s, in reality she’s looking away from the housing crisis, wage stagnation and mental health crisis that is America and thinking that turning a blind eye and blaming those in need is a solution to the problem.
Finally — whoever hollered in the comments section wanting to see Crazy Uncle Joe on the billboard bridge on Interstate 64 West, here’s my suggestion: Get a bucket of paint, a roller and the balls to do it yourself. And… a shout out to whoever painted the Black Jewel miner and Climate Strike Day messages on the overpass, already painted over by the highway department. •
Huntress Thompson is a poet & philosopher living in Louisville. She also would like to give Trent a shout out this week for no particular reason at all.