Land of the Self-Absorbed?

This isn’t Mayberry. Of course, what city is these days? It’s difficult to find a town in America where you can walk down the street and feel comfortable speaking to a total stranger. There are degrees. I would say in some places you can still give the knowing nod of the head and get a smile in return.

L.A. will be having none of that. Things move too fast. Everyone is in their own world, enveloped in their own issues, consumed by their problems. Considering the long distances people traverse across the Southland to conduct their business or pursue recreation, there’s no time for the trivial. Let’s face it. We are all self-absorbed. That, of course, doesn’t excuse the person who fails to return a pleasantry for a pleasantry.

One day Mary came home from a long walk with Bella in an exasperated mood.

“That was just weird,” she said. “A woman walking four dogs came toward me, and I said ‘Looks like you’ve got your hands full,’ and she said “It’s best if we don’t socialize” and walked on.

Kind of a curious retort.

I can understand that, yes, this woman did have her hands full, but why dismiss someone like that? I admire my wife for so many reasons. One is her forgiveness. When confronted by someone behaving like a jackwagon or tool, she reminds herself of “the baby in the back seat” analogy. Let’s not be hasty to criticize someone because we don’t know, can’t know, what troubles they may be dealing with, like the mother or father who’s driving erratically because there’s a baby choking in the back seat.

I try to keep this in mind when walking the streets of any city. Let people be, unless you see an obvious opening – like when another dog sniffs the arse of your dog, eliciting a chuckle from its owner, which leads to a brief conversation about how friendly and innocent dogs can be. However, let’s refrain from taking a page from our four-legged friends. Let’s not sniff the arses of others we encounter on the sidewalk.

Now, what if the tables are turned? What if someone is quick to speak to me? What if that person is homeless, asking for money? The homeless population of Los Angeles is considerable, owing to the state of the local economy, the unemployment rate and the hospitable climate. This is a vexing problem, a conundrum, something better left to the social scientists. I’m never sure what to do. If it’s an isolated incident – if I were to encounter one homeless person every other week or so – I would probably dig in my pocket, peel my only bill from my money clip and hand it over. In L.A. the homeless are so prevalent that it’s not uncommon to encounter five or six on the short walk to 7-11. I would run out of money after the first or second appeal, so I choose to treat the homeless equally: they’re getting nothing from me. I keep walking. I find it convenient to wear earphones and listen to my music while walking to the gym. Yes, I may still be accosted even if I look absorbed, but I can make the excuse that I can’t hear. This isn’t uncharitable; it’s a mode of survival. I have compassion for the homeless, but I don’t think the homeless problem is going to be solved by modest handouts.

My friend went to high school at St. Monica’s in Santa Monica, part of a large, well-endowed parish. The rich and famous attend this church and fill its coffers. Yet, she says, it’s a curious irony that just across the street sits Christine Emerson Reed Park, which is frequented by homeless.

“Here you have this incredible wealth on one side and abject poverty on the other,” she remarked. “You wish somehow the church could make an impact.”

No doubt St. Monica’s has significant outreach programs and has been doing good in the community for generations. It’s just one of the many curious juxtapositions you see in southern California.

What would Sheriff Taylor have done about the homeless? To my knowledge, the closest thing Mayberry had to a homeless person was Otis Campbell, the town drunk. Andy occasionally let Otis bed down in the jail. That won’t work in L.A.