A Cup of Coffee

When I became poor, I learned that there are big jars of sugar and entire pitchers of milk available free to anyone who buys a cup of coffee. You can add enough sugar (carbohydrate) and milk (protein and fat) to relieve your hunger for a couple of hours.

The cup of coffee was a way to rent a table at which to sit while I waited. And beyond these reasons, coffee assumes a special importance when you are as poor as I.

by Howard Tharsing (Dasman)

 

Yesterday afternoon I sat at a table on the sidewalk in front of the Maxwell’s House of Caffeine on Dolores Street at 17th in San Francisco. I had spent my last two dollars on a cup of coffee and sat with my two bags, one of which holds three days worth of clean clothes, while the other holds my papers, the books I am reading, stationery, stamps, notebooks, tools (tiny LED flashlight, screwdriver, etc.) and toiletries.

I had spent my last two dollars on coffee for a couple of reasons. For one, I was tired and yet not ready to rest (that is, I had no place to rest, no place to go except the street). For another, I wanted to stay within a few blocks of where I was while waiting for a return call from a friend who lives around the corner.

The cup of coffee was a way to rent a table at which to sit while I waited. And beyond these reasons, coffee assumes a special importance when you are as poor as I.

I grew up drinking coffee black. I even believed in the moral superiority of those who drink coffee black. I looked down on those who polluted the brew with cream and sugar as weaklings who could not take the real thing.

But when I became poor, I quickly learned that there are big jars of sugar and entire pitchers of milk available free to anyone who buys a cup of coffee. If you can get the barista to leave enough room in the cup, you can add enough sugar (carbohydrate) and milk (protein and fat) to relieve your hunger for a couple of hours.

So there I sat, sipping my meal and reading the novel I had checked out from the library.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an African-American man pulling himself along the sidewalk sideways. He approached me deferentially.

“ ‘Scuse me, sir,” he said. “I’m not tryin’ to rob you or nothin’.”

“Oh,” I said, “I know that.”

“Do you have a dollar or a quarter you can spare?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t,” I said.

He had not paused for my reply but continued his probably oft-repeated appeal.

“ ‘Cause I just got released —”

I cut off his pitch.

“Yeah, I got released two days ago,” I said.

His tone of voice changed completely, no longer pleading but simply direct and familiar. “From where?” he asked.

“Bruno,” I said, dropping the “San” from the name of San Francisco County Jail 5, which is in the city of San Bruno, and thereby establishing my bona fides as a former inmate.

“And now I’m homeless,” I went on, “and this cup of coffee is my dinner.”

He looked at me kindly as he slid past me, continuing to sidle down the sidewalk on his way. As he passed me he leaned in close, tapped me gently on the shoulder with a closed fist, and spoke softly, close to my ear.

“Take it easy,” he said.

“You too, brother,” I heard myself reply as he walked away.

It was the first time in my life that I had ever called a black man “brother,” and I had done so instinctively, without thinking.

As much as I might have wanted to use that term in the past, I had always felt self-conscious and afraid of giving offense. The shame of privilege had restrained me. That shame had kept me from expressing a common humanity into which my incarceration had now set me free.

_______________________

 

Hurrying Past a Brother or Sister

by Michael L. Palmer

On the way to work I saw a homeless man flatten a piece of cardboard he had retrieved from a recycling bin. With intense concentration he wrote on it his plea for survival.

I walked by another homeless man who was securing things to his bicycle. I think they were all of his worldly possessions. He complained, talking to the air surrounding him, about being harassed every morning by another man who stood in an alley across the street.

I watched people hurry along the sidewalk. I saw some of them descend below the street to the BART station where they will board a train that will take them to their place of work.

Hurrying to the train out of fear of becoming one of those who hold up a cardboard sign on the sidewalk, gazing into the eyes of those who pass by, hoping for salvation. Hurrying out of fear of becoming one of those they avoid, one of those they wished did not exist.

Society’s Failure to Care Is the Root of Homelessness

In one of the richest places in the world, people become so wrapped up in their own comfort and status that they don’t care about the human beings they are stepping over.

Visionary Art of Leon Kennedy

In Leon Kennedy’s painting, his living friends are portrayed next to long-gone elders and assassinated civil rights leaders. Even death does not shatter the bonds of love and community.

Welcome to Homelessness

The worst thing about homelessness, I sensed, would have nothing to do with bad weather, hunger or sleep deprivation. It would be the way I soon would be cast out like a leper, as though one would contract a deadly disease just from being in my presence.

Big Money Spends a Fortune to Fight Rent Control

Wealthy landlords, realtors and developers have teamed up and are spending a fortune to fight the efforts of renters to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, the law that severely limits the rent control options of California cities. Tenants have also launched rent control campaigns in 10 California cities.

Vicious and Cruel Assault on the Poorest of the Poor

Elected leaders of the national tenants union denounced the housing bill proposed by HUD Secretary Ben Carson as a vicious and cruel assault on the poorest of the poor. “Millions will be displaced if these deeply cruel proposals see the light of day. Congress should reject them out of hand.”

The DBA’s Assault on Free Speech in Berkeley

The DBA launched a new poster destruction policy, despite being warned it was unconstitutional by the City Attorney. Tearing down fliers is a textbook example of a free speech violation. No one has the right to make content-based distinctions about what is allowed to be posted or said in legal, public places.