Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"It's a war on the homeless."

Longtime readers know that I've made friends with a guy named Chuck who mans a shopping cart out on our street. Chuck is a completely harmless guy with some missing teeth who is a Vietnam vet. Every morning, like clockwork, he mans his route with his tricked-out shopping cart, scavenging for cans and other items he can turn in for cash. He's been homeless at various times, but he has a residence of sorts these days, though he doesn't have a stove.

I caught him the other morning and gave him a treasure trove of our saved-up cans. (His eyes turn to saucers when I have a lot of them). But Chuck wasn't in a good mood that morning.

"I got ticketed," he announced.

"Really?"

"Yeah, I gotta go to court. And it's gonna cost me five hundred dollars."

"FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS??"

"EXACTLY!" He said, laughing and spitting at the same time. "How am I supposed to come up with that?"

"Well, how did it happen?" I asked.

"They trapped me. And I was stupid. I shoulda seen it. See, it's illegal to take cans from the city trash cans."

"Yeah, I remember you told me that."

"They set up a dumpster and then put a bunch of cans and bottles on top of it. Then, they wait for you to pass by, see the cans, grab one. And pow! They ticketed me for stealing from the city, pushing a shopping cart..."

"It's illegal to push a shopping cart?"

"See," he explained. "Most of the cops around here. They know me. I know all the guys that drive the garbage trucks. They know I don't cause trouble. I take showers. I always try to have clean clothes, even though the clothes get greasy from the edge of the bins..."

And it's true. Chuck never smells. He never bothers people. I remember it took me a few times of saying hello, passing him by as I was jogging, for him to even acknowledge me. He's very respectful and tries to stay as invisible as a person pushing a shopping cart full of cans and bottles can be.

"So this city council woman. She hires a guys full time to do nothing but harass homeless people. They've been shipping them in from all over the city to the shelter up north of Vanowen."

"Well, what are you gonna do?"

He got a gleeful look in his eye. "I'll go to court but I'll make sure the cop has to be there. And I'll make sure the city council woman has to be there. I can't pay this."

I felt woefully inadequate standing there giving him my soda cans.

"I am so PISSED at myself! I knew it was a set-up. I just wasn't paying attention. The bin wasn't in the right spot. I know all the bins around here. I got reckless."

"So, wait a minute. You're telling me that they've hired someone to do nothing but set up phony trash bins. Then they bait the bins with bottles and cans sitting on top, waiting for homeless people to grab the bottles so they can give you a ticket for stealing from the city?"

He looked at me and smiled knowingly. "You got it. I'm so pissed at myself. It's a war on the homeless and they got me."
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