I found a parking space in a downtown alley which often comes across for me. It smells like fresh piss, but I can hold my breath for a long time and the price is right. Parking garages in San Francisco operate on the rob-me-with-a-gun system, and are so vast that it's easy to lose your car, which is never where you left it when you return. I'm convinced that they move things while I'm busy elsewhere. This alley is presided over by persons of the homeless persuasion who appear out of nowhere and offer to watch my car "to make sure it isn't broken into." Of course they expect remuneration for performing the difficult service of sleeping it off in proximity to my car. It's like going through Customs.
One of them has now set up a Coleman tent on the sidewalk in the alley. Every man's home is his castle. It is no mean trick to be a homeowner with real estate in this city of obscenely inflated housing prices. I can't manage it myself.
Attracted by the sound of my engine, he lifted the canvas flap of his castle and scuttled over. I had no money, having just engaged in a cash transaction with some Girl Scouts in my neighborhood. Girl Scouts do not take credit cards for cookies. I told him that I would take care of him when I returned. After I had completed my errands, I went to an ATM to get bum money. Then I had to spend some to get change because I was damned if I would give him the whole $20. If I am going to spend $20 on liquor, Flip is going to drink it.
I went to the Godiva store and bought myself a diabetic coma. When I returned to my car, a different person of the homeless persuasion approached me for a payoff. I figured he was the other guy's lawyer. As I attempted to get money out of the tiny pocket of my jeans without tweezers, the first watchman slithered out of his tent and reminded me that he was the one guarding my car. I knew that. Contrary to what he may think, all persons of the homeless persuasion do not look alike to me. I inched a few bills out of my pocket and handed them over. Yes, it's graft. He is probably a politician who works for the state. A public servant. But his prices are not as high as the parking garage. However, all was not well in Bumland. He chastised me for not giving his friend money, too. I told him it was all I had. (I had eaten a lot of chocolate. Dark chocolate over candied orange peel. And some truffles. And something else they gave me for buying three truffles.) I like chocolate.
Flip suggested that we buy a case of vodka and take it to the tent dweller.
"Are you expecting a dinner invitation?" I asked. He assured me that he wasn't. He just thought it would be a nice thing to do. Flip would give away the clothes on his back if allowed. He has always been so generous that it makes me feel stingy by comparison. I stopped storing quarter rolls in the car after watching him scoop out handfuls at red lights for people who were too drunk to stand up. I feel bad for those less fortunate. I do. But if we run out of quarters, we cannot park our car at meters and there is almost no unmetered parking in the city. Parking tickets are ubiquitous and obscenely expensive.
I would gladly buy a meal for someone who needs one, and have done so many times. But I cannot bring myself to donate money for booze or drugs. Flip assured me that he wouldn't buy the most expensive vodka. Which was not exactly the point. I told him we were making assumptions. They probably are all drunks, but with so many vices to choose from, we don't know for sure which particular one did them in. I may not choose to give them all our money, but I don't want to hurt their feelings either. If I were a crackhead, for instance, and someone offered me liquor, I would be offended. And vice versa. I think you need to know what people really like if you are going to bring them a hostess gift.