You and Your Crack Pipe

People begging for money at stoplights isn't an unusual occurence here in Los Angeles. The light turns red, you stop your car, someone jumps off the curb with their cup. They approach your window, mumbling for money. They point to their signs, dingy cardboard rectangles asking for spare change for food. At least, they usually ask for food. On Sunday, my car was approached by a man with a sign that was pretty direct about wanting a few other things:

Why lie
I want
skunk weed
a beer.

Oh. Ok. That's a pretty straightforward sign, don't you think?

My son asked, "Mommy, is that man homeless?" I replied that I wasn't sure. Although I could guess that he was, it did cross my mind to wonder if he was on some hidden camera docu-drama to see if people actually give him more or less money than if he has a sign asking for money for food.

Why would I think this? Well, I remember when I was in undergrad at Northwestern, some student dressed up as a homeless guy and paid his way into the cafeteria at my dorm, Willard Hall. He talked to himself as he ate. Everyone gave him a wide berth, pointing and whispering, "Some homeless dude is over there talking to himself." What no one knew was that he was recording his observations about how people were looking at him and treating him into a hand held tape recorder.

But maybe this guy just really wanted some skunk weed (what exactly is skunk weed?) and the ciggs and a beer and he was being really honest.

Speaking of honesty...

A woman approached me yesterday in a parking lot outside a Starbucks with her crack pipe in her left hand and her lighter in her right. She kept flicking the lighter on and off, on and off. On and off. Crack crust covered her mouth and her nostrils. Her eyes were blank pools of blackness as they darted to and fro. I didn't know what she was up to, approaching me like that, and I could feel myself physically tense up. Then she spoke.

"Do you have any money? I need a hit." The lighter went on and off, on and off.

"No, I don't." I kept walking.

She followed behind me as I walked toward the Starbucks. "Five dollars. Ten dollars. I need a hit bad."

I didn't respond as I opened the door to the Starbucks and made a beeline for the bathroom. I needed to wash my hands. I felt dirty and I hadn't even done anything.

As she walked into the Starbucks, the guy behind the counter immediately said, "Oh no. You're gonna have to get up outta here with that. Go on, now. Go on." His tone was the same he'd probably use if he was shooing a dog away.

Ten minutes later, she still stood, crack pipe in one hand, lighter in the other, asking folks coming into the Starbucks for some money. Finally, someone from the Subway restaurant next door came out, opened up his wallet and gave her some money. She scurried away, holding her crack pipe and lighter in the air in some sort of sick and twisted victory dance.

I guess honesty paid off.


Odat said…
We have that guy here too with the same sign....I thought it was funny...i mean about the honesty..but hey...everyone needs a gimmick, even the homeless...bless them and hope they find a way up or out.
Anonymous said…
i'm not much of a drug user... but i do distinctly remember in high school a classmate opening a bag of weed and the whole room smelling like skunk.

Liz Dwyer said…
Yes, let's hope they find a way out of the suffering of homelessness. I can't believe some else has the same sign. My guy out here in Atwater Village should sue for copyright infringement.

Ah-ha! Got it. Thanks for shedding light on this skunk terminology! I was so confused.
I first saw that sign on the boardwalk in San Diego, where I lived before moving to SF.

It said, "Why lie. Need a beer."

The guy seemed good-natured and we usually gave him something. The crack pipe woman would creep me out, though.

One day, I gave money to a very young girl sitting on the sidewalk with a small baby. Immediately, 8 or 9 other derelicts latched onto me, demanding THEIR share. One of them followed me several blocks, screaming that I was "a snob" because I didn't give him anything. It got quite ugly. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

I am less inclined to give money to addicts now.
velvet said…
Ooh, that crack lady sounded creepy! Shudder!

I give money to people if they're at least making an effort to entertain. There was a man where I used to live in Ohio who used to make up nice verses about the people who walked by and he was pretty clever... I gave him money every time. Everyone around knew his signature line, too.... "Help is on the way!" We didn't know what it referred to, exactly, but it somehow made people smile.

Jon said…
It is just crazy. I bet niether one of them would have cared a bit to have you buy them a sandwich. I wish there was an "easy" button for social problems.
Anonymous said…
As a social service guru I'll say that food is an afterthought for most urban homeless people because they can always get something to eat from somewhere (they tend to know all the soup kitchens, drop in shelters, and food pantries very well). On the other hand they can't always get beer and crack and cheap, low quality weed (a.k.a. "skunk"). BTW: I'm going to have nightmares about Crack Lady. Thanks.

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