Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
This man appeared at our door, a kind of shabby-looking man with a homeless man’s beard and a hard but humble look in his eyes. He had his hands clasped in front of him in supplication, and I was like, “For me?”
He nodded out toward the street almost imperceptibly, where an old, run-down Winnebago was parked under our sycamore tree. Got a little bit of an emergency, he said, and I wonder if I could leave it here for a while. Couple days tops. I could tell this man had been through the wringer lately and he was tired of getting chased from one parking spot to another while he dealt with whatever was going wrong for him. I said it’d be fine if he left the RV there for a couple of days. My wife agreed, though she added, I hope he’s not planning to sleep in it.
A little later in the afternoon, a woman popped out of the RV with two small kids, maybe three and five years old. They too looked shabby and near-homeless, with dirty clothes and a tired-as-hell air about them. We were walking our dog, and the woman looked at us wearily as we passed. We said hi. The man stuck his head out the door of the RV and said, Thanks again, folks.
When we got back the kids were playing on the grass next to the sidewalk. My wife went inside and got them each a Popsicle, and they were amazed that somebody would be that nice to them. They were used to getting chased away. The woman came out and thanked us, saying she was grateful we were letting them all stay there for a while. It’s been hard, she said. He’s out looking for a place for us right now.
It wasn’t clear whether the man and woman were a couple or whether he was just trying to help her. We later found out it was that — he knew her from somewhere and was trying to get her set up in an apartment or something. As for him, he told me himself the next day that he’d been in prison and was doing his best to get back on his feet. Not easy. He was a biker so had kind of a support system if he really needed it, but this lady, she was in some deep shit and there weren’t a lot of options. Didn’t help that nobody wanted this old RV parked outside their house.
Just about first thing the next morning, a neighbor lady showed up at our door and asked what the hell was going on with that eyesore out there? She didn’t even live in this part of the block, so the RV was out of her view. I said the guy needed a little help, what’s the big deal? Kevin, she said, don’t you care what your neighbors think of you?
Other neighbors came by and made gags about our new RV. Funny. Classing up the place, Kev. Way to go. How long’s that thing gonna be there anyway?
It was clear the whole neighborhood was talking behind our backs about the RV and the homeless family apparently living in it. Another neighbor basically issued an ultimatum. That thing better be gone tomorrow or we’re reporting it to the city. I told her I had assured the man of a couple of days, and by the way it’s not illegal to park an RV on the street as long as it doesn’t stay there over a certain length of time. I had looked it up. She already knew exactly how many hours that limit was.
The man came and went, along with the woman and kids, but sure enough the RV was still there on the third day and into the third evening. I knew I had to go out there and tell him it was probably time to move on, so I did it — I went out when I saw him checking his oil. Smelled of gasoline in the air. I gave him the bad news and said I wished the neighbors were a little more understanding. His face went hard in a way that I would think a guy who’d spent time in prison could feel a lot of the time, and he looked up and down the block as if expecting to see the neighbor in question monitoring things from her porch. He was probably used to people peeking from behind curtains and blinds and then ducking away when he caught their eye.
It’s cool, he said. You’ve been great. ‘Preciate it.
And though the Winnebago was still there in the morning, it wasn’t long before it pulled out. They’d be scoping for another block where there might be an understanding soul, or maybe they’d try another town altogether.
I thought, as long as the guy isn’t doing any harm, why not cut him a little slack? I’m an atheist, but my neighbors, Christians all, couldn’t find it in their hearts to offer some compassion to the man and his hard-luck lady friend. Not even the kids made a difference to them.
This has been another parable of American hypocrisy. We got a million of ‘em.