Hopelessly homeless

The other night, at about 4 am there was a bit of a ruckus outside my bedroom window that woke me up.

I live in an alley with a popular bar on the corner and it was Friday night, so I didn’t think much of it at first. People often leave their bikes in my alley and sometimes have trouble finding it again after a couple of beers and I guess that’s fine. I also understand that you want to evaluate everything you saw with your friends and have a good giggle about it after a good night out.

oscarThis particular occasion was different though, as I started smelling a foul smell at some point and heard some more stumbling and crashing that had me sitting up in my bed for the second time that night. I knew it must be one of my neighborhood bums fighting his demons. It’s happened before and usually, when I step out, they apologize and promise they’ll keep it down.

This particular homeless person, let’s call him Oscar, was new to me and there was no apology when he saw my sleepy face peaking at him. I know most of them by appearance, as the shelter is quite close to my house and they often hang around a bit before they’re allowed in. I know enough about alcoholics to recognize in a split second when someone is beyond reasoning, and that was definitely the case with Oscar on this particular night.

Oscar had rolled someone’s garbage container into my alley and had tipped it over. He was emptying its contents onto the street while cursing to himself about the system and how he had been wronged by this person and that. I asked him what he was doing and he barely looked up. I saw that this was not the right time (or outfit) to be taking on Oscar, so I closed my door, lighted up some incense in my bedroom and plugged my ears with some soothing music and tried to go back to sleep.

Shortly after I crawled back to bed, I heard a car pull into my alley and I knew it was the police… I felt bad for Oscar, because I had decided not to call the police on this guy because I thought he had enough to deal with already. Apparently not all my neighbors could be so forgiving at these hours. I couldn’t resist, so I put my bath robe back on and went to my door. The police asked him the same thing I had asked, and this time he answered:

I’m putting up my tent here, can’t you see?! I wanted to go to the shelter, but they wouldn’t let me in! I don’t understand why not, don’t I have a right to stay somewhere? This is my country too! They treated me like an animal, so I took their bin and now I’m trying to clean it out so I can sleep.

angerHe was so angry. So troubled. The police told him to put the trash back in the bin and he reacted with more anger. It’s all he had to give them at that point.

Why should I listen to you? So you can take me down to the station? Check my name, I have no debts, no criminal record, I just want a place to sleep!

I wanted to say something to him, but I didn’t know how or what. One of the policemen saw me at the door and ordered me to go back inside. Oscar glared at me and I know he thought I was the one that had called them.

I wanted to tell him it wasn’t me. I wanted him to know that I would have let him sleep in my alley, even beside my door if he had only kept it down… I wanted him to know that I didn’t judge him for his current state, nor for the fact he had no home to go to. I knew he was only here because the shelter didn’t have room for him, or because he wasn’t able to collect the couple of euros needed to pay to stay there. I wanted him to feel I saw him as a full fledged person, not an animal or any lesser being.

When the dust had settled (all though the smell lingered for a bit) and silence took over in my alley once again, it took me a while to fall back asleep. I wondered if the one that called the police was actually the only one that had done him a favor as he now probably had a place to spend the night…

Doubters alert

The Daily Post suggested an interesting topic to write about last week, titled: “Doubters Alert.”

It took me a couple of days, but I have decided to turn it into a list (again).

All though the items are numbered, the order is actually completely arbitrary. The numbering only helped me keep track of how far along I was and I guess I just like how it makes it look more listy. So, I hereby present you with my top ten denials of common accepted truths.

1. Men and women are equal
They’re not. Do I believe men and women should be given equal chances? Hell yes! I also agree that this isn’t always the case and I’m sure there are women with big ambitions who are held back because of their gender. The fact that more women choose a career as nurses and more men become firefighters however, is not because the opposite sex is being discriminated against. These career choices make biological sense. Don’t make me explain, I know you get it.

2. Disciplining your child is wrong
You’re right, I don’t have kids of my own but I don’t think it makes me any less credible. Even more, my observations are less likely to be tainted by emotions, instinctual protection hormones and unconditional love. I actually see that your kid is sneaky and that you are being played like a fool. I also see that not all kids are like that and that your parenting is to blame.
Loving your child and setting boundaries are not contradictory actions. I believe kids need to be shown right from wrong. I also believe they can cope with hard truths of life at quite an early age and that consequences of bad behavior must be in place. These consequences need to be clear, fair and unnegotiable. They also need to be unpleasant in order to be taken serious by the grown-up-in-training.

3. Praying helps
prayer-purposeI do not believe in prayer, unless it’s just to meditate and self reflect. If there is such a thing as a god I can’t imagine he (let’s just refer to this god-figure as a he from here on , for practicality, but you can read it as she if you prefer) needs people telling him how almighty he is. I also simply can not accept the idea that he would be such a fool that he would grant some ass wipe who prays daily access to his super cool heaven club and deny it to someone who is clearly an awesome person, but doesn’t mumble some words several times a day.

4. Self prescribed diets
I believe in moderation. Too much of anything can become a bad thing and it may differ from person what “too much” is. I’m going to sound like an old sock now, but in this day and age I think a lot of people are blaming nutrition for physical complaints that are actually caused by stress. I believe some types of foods are easier to digest than others but I don’t believe this means we are not supposed to eat the stuff that makes our intestines work hard. I believe it keeps them vital and yes, this means that sometimes you will fart more and the color and smell of your poo may vary.

If you’re on a diet on doctor’s orders: different story all together, obviously…

5. Giving money to the homeless is a bad idea
homeless handThere are many reasons why a person could end up living on the streets, all though mental illness and drug dependency will often play a roll. I know there is a big chance the money I put in the hand of that smelly figure in rags will go into sustaining a drug habit. Call me an enabler. I don’t believe that denying that person the couple of coins I have in my pocket will encourage them to get clean. You have to be truly desperate to walk over to a complete stranger and ask them for money, knowing what they must think of you.

My policy is as follows:

  • Never ignore someone who asks you something in the streets. Even if my answer is no, they deserve to be acknowledged at the least. This also applies to people trying to sell you something.
  • Be genuine in your response. I once said I didn’t have change on me, even though I did, and I felt crappy straight away. There is nothing wrong with saying: “Sorry, not today” or “I’m tight for cash myself at the moment”, rather than lying about it.
  • If I have an unopened bottle of soda or water on me, I will give them this rather than money.
  • If I have some spare change on me I hand it to them
  • In a rare case I could walk over to a nearby shop and buy them something.
  • When I do grocery shopping I sometimes buy something extra like a sandwich or a bottle of juice, with the homeless person I just saw in the back of my mind.
  • Wish them good luck.
  • Don’t let others change my mind about this.

6. Taking selfies is normal and OK

Again, old sock talking here, but this self absorbed modern day habit is so incredibly stupid, I don’t even know where to start. The eternal posing, the duckface, the angelic girlie look, the nonchalant glance out of the window, the looking up into the camera so they can look down into your cleavage, the confused frown, pointing at food, pointing at a friend, posing with a celebrity in the background trying to mind his own business, sticking out tongue, the peace sign… It all just makes me want to roll my eyes.

7. Plastic surgery is a healthy way to deal with low self esteem (and then lying about it)
My nose is crooked and relatively large, I have the typically protruding chin that runs through my family and have been mocked for my pointy knees. Sure, I have my insecurities. The fact that we can fix some (all?) of these features is admirable. I’m sure there are situations in which a visit to a plastic surgeon can be a great idea and improve lives in a major way. I also understand the growing old isn’t fun. I do. I don’t blame you for trying to fight it, but what’s up with all the denial?? And why take it to such an extreme that you stop looking like a human being all together ?

8. “The one”
love isForget the Matrix, there is no such thing as the One. The idea of there being one single person on the planet that matches with you for the full 100% is bull crap. First of all, everybody has their flaws and  in every relationship there are bound to be struggles. Besides charming your prince in shining armor will also have some ugly traits, as do you. This doesn’t mean you’re not good for each other. And if your individual traits clash more often than anticipated, there’s nothing wrong with calling it quits. Don’t worry, it’s not a sin or whatever you want to call it. There are billions of us on the planet. There are people in all shapes and sizes. There are bound to be several that fit your mold and chances are the person you end up loving the most, ticks none of the boxes you once fantasized your soulmate would have.

BTW, Tim Minchin wrote quite a cute song about this.

9. It is normal for love to fade
Despite the fact that I do not believe in “the one”, I do believe in true love. That this true love can be felt for different people throughout your life is beside the point here. What I want to debunk is the idea that it is OK to settle for a mediocre relationship and justify this to yourself by saying that every relationship loses its spark after a while. I disagree! Love changes, I’ll give you that. The passion might not be there with the same physical intensity it started out with, but it must still be in there somewhere. Staying with someone out of habit or pity or fear of change is a waste of your time. If you are not happy with the relationship you’re in, time to get up and leave!

no mediocre love 2

10. If you don’t have anything nice to say, better to say nothing at all.
Speaking your mind is never a bad idea!

Next stop: piano music

Classical music is something I never totally learned to appreciate. I can’t put the right composer with the right tune and know very little about instruments. Besides the fact that it just wasn’t really included in my upbringing, it requires a certain amount of patience that I just don’t seem to have.

Every now and then when I’m making a long journey by car I may switch past a classical music station and linger for a couple of minutes, especially if it’s a hectic part of the route and the tune is chilled out. Even though I do enjoy these moments, in the end I always switch back to more mainstream channels.

image

A phenomenon that has slowly been creeping into public spaces in Holland (and I’m sure elsewhere as well) are pianos. They are popping up on trainstations and I must admit I absolutely love it!

It’s really interesting to sit and watch what happens around these pianos. Not just for the musical moments that spontaneously erupt but it’s also really fascinating from a behavioral / anthropological / psychological point of view.

People stop and sit down within hearing distance, but without getting too close. Are they avoiding contact or are they merely choosing a careful approach, to not startle the musician? I can imagine the person playing must feel very self-conscious anyhow, displaying their skills in such a public space. And then after the first person has given it a try, and has played some small melody, more people often follow. It’s really all very interesting to watch. These areas become bubbles of peace in rush hour chaos.

In the Hague it is often an extra treat as the players sometimes turn out to be very talented musicians, as the academy of music is situated nearby. I made a couple of videos of dudes playing pianos there in the last couple of weeks but to my own frustration the format of the videos on my phone are not  being accepted by wordpress…. I hope to convert them later on, but luckily I did find a video of the exact piano on the Hague Central I walk past every day with a perfect illustration of what I mean:

As you see, they are all sorts of people and it just really changes the mood of the place. Isn’t it wonderful?

And somewhat related is this youtube video I’d like to share, that stole my heart a couple of years back:

And then there is the homeless guy that went viral a while back with his rendition of “Come sail away”  by Styx.

So I guess, even a classical music knucklehead as myself can learn to appreciate the genre this way. I applaud the talent of those brave enough to change the mood of such a hectic space. I thank them for this and realize now that I should show them my appreciation next time they stop me in my tracks with their nutritional music.

And I guess I owe some governmental organization a big thank you as well, for making this possible and providing our public spaces with these pianos. Bedankt!