I’m addicted to thinking about homeless people. What they do during the day. Where they go. How they smell. Where they use the bathroom. How they deal with boredom. How they think and feel and what it’s like to realize you’re one of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I ignore homeless people just as much as you do. I’m really good at ignoring them despite how much I think about them. I just pretend they’re trees or other inanimate objects. When I walk around I say, “Oh my, that lamppost looks very sad and hungry and tired” to myself quite often. I do this so I don’t have to make eye contact; lampposts and trees don’t have eyes with which to make eye contact.
Everyone has a homeless guy story. I’m no exception. Mine happened while I was at my university’s library. The college’s library was a few months away from major renovations, so at the time, the building was truly showing its age. The front area was a computer lab. Most of the ground was covered with relatively new desktops. This part of the lab was dedicated to students; you had to have a student identification number to even login to one.
Closer to the exit of the building was a group of computers open to the public. These were much older, egg-shell colored behemoths that did not require any kind of password. Since it was open to the public, an occasional homeless person would wander in to check his email or whatever homeless people do when they get onto a computer (another thing I’m quite curious about).
I was with a student I had been paired up with for a class project. It was a boring task, forcing us to present some literary theory or theorist or something I don’t remember because who cares through the tragically mundane medium of PowerPoint. We were sharing notes when we were both suddenly distracted by one of the open-to-the-public computers nearby us.
At first, all I could think was that trashcan was really enjoying whatever it was watching on the monitor. Then I remembered that trashcans can’t use computers, so I squinted my eyes a bit to see what was really going on. A homeless guy, at least a guy who was wearing a homeless guy’s uniform (weathered, torn jacket; greasy, shaggy hair; massively grey and huge beard; mumbling), was paying very close attention to a video that was playing on the computer he was using. It was difficult to tell initially, but upon a double-take, I was absolutely certain the trashcan—er, uh homeless guy—was watching some pretty hardcore pornography and really getting into it.
The person I was with scoffed upon the sight, making an “eww” sound and commenting, “That is so gross.” In the moment, I just laughed and agreed with my classmate in an attempt to get us back on track to our project. I was ashamed of my reaction, though. I just nodded my head, not saying what I really thought about it.
The handrail—I mean homeless guy—who was on the computer, watching some porn in public, probably deserved to be there. If anyone else was doing that, watching porn, perhaps even rubbing one out in a crowded public place of strangers, I would be disgusted. “Go to your home,” I would righteously say. “That’s one of the luxuries of having a home: a perfectly private place to masturbate.”
That guy didn’t have such a luxury. Whenever he felt that urge, he couldn’t get on his laptop, enjoy a few minutes alone, and then erase his internet history—all on his own time and dime. He doesn’t have any dimes. He does, however, have a lot of time, but it’s not private time. That homeless guy’s life was completely public. He had to use public restrooms, public computers, public benches, public parks, public everything. He was on a public computer in a public school, watching public porn when he decided to create a public display of a usually private nature.
He had to. And there was no reason not to. The only consequence was a couple of college kids saw a grungy dude touch himself in public—hardly the most traumatic experience someone could experience. He probably got thrown out. I bet someone even called the cops. They probably put him into a squad car and took him downtown and told him he couldn’t just pleasure himself in front of a bunch of strangers in public. Then they probably turned him loose and he probably wandered around, looking for another place to relieve all of the gross fluids that build up in the human body.