If New York has the smartest homeless people in the country, then Miami has the friendliest. It makes sense: After all, bums in Miami have had the good fortune of being homeless in a tropical paradise. Just the other day when Brooke and I were at the beach, a homeless guy came walking down the shoreline, trudged onto the sand, plopped his house-bag down and just laid there in the sun. EXACTLY LIKE ME AND BROOKE. I mean, that’s what people come to Miami to do – lay on the beach. And when Brooke and I had to go home to do some work? The homeless guy got to stay! Because he had nothing else to do.
The only problem with this laid-back homeless mentality is that it’s not the best attitude for begging for money. In New York, homeless people will sing, tell you a story, make pretend to be crippled, put a cat in a baby stroller – anything to garner a sympathetic buck. They’re always thinking of entrepreneurial ways to get by, like collecting cans for recycling or robbing other bums while they sleep.
In Miami? Not so much. I was walking down the street the other day and passed a homeless guy in a wheelchair. As I approached, he made eye contact with me and said hello. I prepared my stock “I’m sorry, I don’t have any change” line, except that was all he did – just said hello. Didn’t ask for change, or say he was a WWII veteran or that he lost all his money to diabetes. Just hello. Now I’m not sure if he just forgot to beg, or if he was just a very poorly dressed economically stable elderly man, but either way it was both refreshing and a bit disconcerting – mostly for the New York homeless people. It seems like they’re working so hard to get by, and here in Miami it’s like a homeless vacation resort. And sure, all the New York homeless could just walk down here (what else have they got to do?), but then it would turn into a homeless convention, and everyone knows that once the bums get organized, they’ll take over the world.
And the whole reason that I’m writing this is because, as I type, there is a homeless woman sitting next to me at a table outside Starbucks. I was just sitting here, sipping my iced coffee and typing away, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman approaching. “Are you using this chair?” she asked, and without really looking up I replied, “No, it’s all yours.” But instead of taking it away to another table, she just sat down next to me. Not even across from me. Next to me. The thing is, she wasn’t obviously homeless. She was deceptively homeless. And the reality of the situation didn’t hit me until she offered me a potato chip with some onion dip out of a jar, and I looked up to say no thanks and got a good look at her: dirty hair, cropped men’s pants, two crazy eyes with one slightly crazier than the other. Then it hit me: the smell.
Homeless people have a distinct odor. I imagine it is the same smell that actors make pretend to be smelling when they walk into a grizzly crime scene on TV. And here it was, sitting next to me in the warm sun, offering me a potato chip.
So I finished typing this just to not be rude, and now I am going to leave, my nose quivering with stink. But let it be noted: Although she offended most every one of my five senses, she never asked for anything from me. That’s homeless . . . Miami-style.