In Response

(I initially started this as a comment in reply to some of the other comments on the post below, comments which I felt the urge to respond to, even though I never intended this website to become a place of dissent or a place in which I felt I needed to defend myself. But, um, the comment grew. And if you have no opinion on the post below, then absolutely feel free to skip this. I’m sure we’ll get back to talking about nice, fun, uncontroversial things sometime within the week, because that’s the kind of conflict-free, lipgloss-heavy website this was always meant to be. In the meantime, I’ve just written three Word document pages in order to try and get my thoughts in order about being called the sorts of things I never thought I---a well-traveled, well-educated, I’m-OK-You’re-OK sort of person---would have reason to be called. I'm not looking to rock the fragile boat that's sailing through the blogosphere, but I'm not going to be criticized without having a chance to respond either. I wasn't on the debate team for nothing.)

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Wow. Dissenters. I must have arrived!

Now listen, I’m all for discussion and free speech; you’re entitled to your opinion on whether I should or should not call someone a crack whore, and you’re entitled to post it in the comments section of my website. (I do, of course, wonder whether you would have said these same things to my face if we were in a room at a party together, or whether the relative anonymity of the Internet---and the fact that you can just leave your comment and walk away, without entering into any sort of two-sided conversation that would allow me to address your points---emboldens people to say fairly accusatory things to people they don’t actually know.)

So yes, please. Have your say. Tell me your opinion. That’s what the “leave a comment” button is there for. Where I draw the line, however, is you purporting to know something more than I do about a situation that only I was in.

Let’s get one thing straight: I don’t go around calling all homeless people “cracked out.” You should believe me on that. As of the last official government count in 2007, there were an estimated 6,377 homeless people in the city of San Francisco, and just in walking to and from my office every day, I pass at least twenty of them. Some of them I give my change to. Some of them I buy a Street Sheet from. Many of them I give my spare apple or leftover sandwich to, and most of them I smile at, because being smiled at is better than being ignored, and, a lot of times, what else can you do? I have volunteered at community projects in the Tenderloin. I have given money to homeless charities. The city spends $200 million a year trying to get homeless people off the streets. Yet many of them just refuse help.

So listen, I understand that homelessness is an awful, horrible thing, that most people don’t just choose it, that shelters fill up, that homeless people aren’t bad people, that it could happen to any of us, that homelessness doesn’t automatically and unequivocally equal drug addiction. Please don’t do me the disservice of assuming I don’t know any of these things.

Because really, I know these things. But listen: I also live on a street where the same bearded man regularly crouches down behind the wheel of a parked car and lights his glass crack pipe underneath my bedroom window. I have seen him. You have not seen him. I can take a picture of him next time, if you like. I live on a street where, during the course of a year, my (visibly empty) car has been broken into four times---two forcibly, with the window smashed---by people looking for something to take. I have looked out of that aforementioned bedroom window on a Saturday afternoon in broad daylight to see another barefoot toothless woman in the passenger seat of my car, rifling through my glove box and center console. One night, a police car was parked outside our house for an hour, blue light flashing, while cops interrogated a prostitute---and I’m sorry, but she was actually a prostitute, you can’t dispute that, I heard the conversation---who had just grabbed the purse of a woman who lives in the building next door to us. I regularly leave for work and come home to find people in various states of mental agitation sitting on the front steps of my building. There is a drug problem in this city. There is a homeless problem in this city. The two are intertwined.

And yes, I feel sorry for the people who suffer from either or both, it’s a terrible thing. But I also want to feel safe in my own home. I pay $1600 a month in rent---and that’s low for San Francisco---to feel safe in my own home. My building has an intercom system so I can feel safe in my own home. I don’t know where you live, those of you who took offense with my handling of the situation, but I doubt very much that you’d be particularly happy to find someone who didn’t live in your home trying to get into your home---whether that home is an apartment building in a city or a three-bedroom in the suburbs. And you’d be even less happy if the situation was happening in the context of everything I’ve told you happens around this neighborhood---and again, I have to stress, as I did in an earlier comment: we don’t live in Pleasantville, sure, but we sure don’t live smack dab in the middle of the Tenderloin or Civic Center either. We live in a city. Cities can be dangerous. I have a right to keep my wits about me. I have a responsibility to insist that barefoot people who are not supposed to be in the building---the building inhabited by other people, let’s not forget---are not in the building. Sure, maybe this woman wasn’t dangerous, maybe she wasn’t going to try her luck at coming across an unlocked apartment to rifle through, in the same way that other people---and I have firsthand knowledge of this, remember---have tried their luck at coming across an unlocked car. Maybe she wasn't.

The point is: why should I risk that? And why should I put the other residents of my building at risk, those residents who trust that the intercom system and locked front door is keeping them safe, that no-one is just letting people into the building behind them, regardless of whether or not they look like they should be there? (Because trust me, if this woman had been wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase, I still would have questioned where she was going. When you live in a building that has a locked front door with keys given only to people who live there, you don’t just let people into that building. I'm sorry, but you don't. I can show you the copy of my lease and renter’s agreement that specifies that.)

Or was it not the handling of the situation that you took offense to, but the handling of the story, as told on my website? (Let me repeat that: my website.) Because I feel sure that if you’ve read this site before, you’ll know that one of its main components is humor. Specifically, dry humor, and maybe that’s a type of humor you don’t particularly find funny. But I’m not going to censor myself---censor the way I write and think and feel---on my website. The way I tell a story is the way I tell a story. You don’t like the way I tell a story? Then don’t read what I write! You’d think that I’d be entitled to a certain artistic license on my own blog.

Here’s the thing, you see, People Who Think I'm Ignorant: neither you nor I know this woman, and maybe I shouldn’t have called her a crack whore---I never actually asked her if she was selling her body for drugs; I kind of had my hands full, perhaps that discussion can wait til another time---but when it comes down to it, I was the one who was there. I was the one who saw her. I think I sort of have the edge on you when it comes to describing what she looked like. When someone’s eyes are wild and bloodshot and darting around, when someone is stammering and stuttering, when someone doesn’t appear in control of themselves, isn’t wearing any shoes and is lying about what they’re doing, when someone has deliberately forced themselves into a secured building on a street where cars are scoured for loose change and someone ritually lights a crack pipe in broad daylight, I think it might be just about alright for me---on my own blog, in my own opinion---to make a pretty fair guess they’re either on some sort of drug or looking to be. I mean, honestly: I didn’t realize “cracked out” was such an “insensitive” description of someone who looks, well, like a crack addict.

And yes, let’s talk about insensitivity. I am sensitive to the plight of the homeless. I honestly am. But at what point am I allowed to let that sensitivity turn into a concern for safety---my own and that of others? I deal with the crackpipe-lighting underneath my window. I step over the huddled bodies on my doorstep. I get my window repaired when my car is broken into. But a red flag goes up when a person who is obviously not in their right mind---not a sweet and cuddly naïf who just wants to “use [the] laundry facilities and catch a break where she can,” because, by the way, our laundry facilities aren’t free, they cost exactly the same as the Laundromat on the corner---breaks the law by wrongfully gaining entrance to a building she doesn’t inhabit. At that point, it’s not a sensitivity issue, it’s a safety issue. It’s not “classism,” it’s common sense. It’s not “superior and pretentious,” it’s “my own opinion on a matter that effects me, in a forum that’s mine, about a situation I was in.”

I wasn’t initially going to defend my point of view, because I figured enough people knew enough about me from reading this site to realize that I’m not some mud-slinging homeless-hater who thinks everyone with matted hair is out to get her. But then I realized that you don’t actually know that much about someone just from reading their blog, and it’s a mistake to assume that you do.

And this is where I have a problem with the point being made by the commenters who think that I was wrong to describe the barefoot, toothless, definitely-not-in-her-right-mind woman who tried to get into my apartment building as a “crack whore” and “cracked out.” You’re right, I don’t know her, I wasn’t able to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with her about what had happened in her life to lead her to think that illegally trying to get into someone else’s home (and lying about it) was an okay thing to do. So yes, I reluctantly see what you're saying, that perhaps I shouldn’t have---even light-heartedly, even in the spirit of the relatively flippant way I was retelling the story of an actually rather frightening thing that happened to me in a place where I'm supposed to feel safe---referred to her as a crack whore (though please realize that, in the context of where I live and what I’ve seen, it really wasn’t such a stretch.)

But in that exact same vein, you don’t know me, so please don’t call me “ignorant,” "classist," or "pretentious." Because assumptions are assumptions, you know. You just can’t accuse people of making them if you’re making them yourself.