As I entered the drug store this afternoon, a man, obviously homeless, with long dirty disheveled hair and carrying a dirty blanket the way Charlie Brown from Peanuts would have, dragging it behind him, was just ahead of me. We weren’t even all the way inside when a man carrying his purchases–I couldn’t help notice a 6-pack of beer–stepped forward and shooed the man away telling him he was the manager and he was not allowed in. Without a word or even a moment’s hesitation, the homeless man turned around and left. I took a look at the man. Until then I hadn’t had a chance to notice that he was a customer just like me, and not at all the manager. So I spoke up telling him the homeless man had as much right to be there as he or I. He answered in a loud voice filled with anger that he “smelled 3 feet away” and that if I wanted to do something for him I should “give him $20 to go to a hotel to get cleaned up or else buy him what he needs”. I repeated that the homeless man had the same right to be there and walked on. The man ranted on to whomever was near him getting the ear of the cashier telling her that people like that should not be allowed in. I ought to have told him that I was closer to the homeless man than he and he did not smell, that his attitude was far more offensive than the sight of this man. But I realized it would have been as useful as punching holes in water. Instead I looked for the manager to tell him that I was not offended by the presence of that homeless man. He gave me a smile I would call one of relief. The cashier who had already listened to me, nodded and said, “oh yes we tend to everyone, whoever is here,” added referring to the customer, “we can only pray for him.” By the time I went out to look for the homeless man with the intent to escort him in, he was gone, I couldn’t find him.
Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, met a homeless man on Skid Row. He turned out to be a Julliard music student and Lopez wrote a book about him. Soloist is now a best seller already sold to the movies. Maybe soon our revulsion for the homeless will turn into curiosity for who really lies behind their off-putting appearance.