Using the improvisational style of seeking a suggestion, I asked my roommate Marcos what I should write about today. He responded, “funny or serious?” I said, “we’ll see.” He paused, considered his options. Or he thought about something else entirely. Either way, he offered, “you could write about New York’s homeless population.” I immediately went toward “no,” saying it was beyond my understanding. But then, perhaps thanks to improv training, I realized I had to say “yes” and consider my possible role in the problem. Even though I’ve only been in this city for a month, I can’t pretend like I’m not guilty. Of what though?
Yes, I have spare change. Yes, I could help you. In this moment, you’re in front of me, and I could care about you and listen to your request instead of preemptively rejecting it. But I’m sorry, I’m an asshole.
So actually, I’m not sorry. But it’s my customary way of dismissing any responsibility I might have to you, a fellow human being.
Fellow human being. Hm. That’s if I’m being generous; if I’m feeling any measure of compassion when I hear yet another tired voice from a tired body that I refuse to really look at because it scares the shit out of me to see it, prompting as it does all sorts of self-centered hypotheticals; e.g. lazy concern like “what if that were me?” or just plain old condescending pity before doing what I always do when confronted by someone in need: move the fuck on.
Because I don’t want you to be there – alive, in my way, so desperate and sad and insistent – and because I don’t want to acknowledge my own shitty self, I pretend.
I pretend you’re not there. Not really.
I pretend you’re not a necessary accusation against me and my lifestyle. When I’m sitting there eating another affordable $10 meal in front of you, and you ask for spare change, I pretend like I don’t have any money to give you. (I pretend like you’d spend it on terrible things anyway, and I pretend like all my purchases are essential and wise.)
I pretend like I can’t feel my wallet in my pocket, like I don’t hear coins in my backpack.
I pretend like I need to look at my phone, or at the ground, or at the sky, or at anything that stands in the way of contact between me and you.
I pretend like I don’t want to slap your hand out of my way when you extend it. I pretend like I’m better than that.
I pretend like I could never change my habits and maybe – just maybe – convert egocentric currency into compassionate currency.
I pretend like you’re an abhorrent bother, an unacceptable nuisance. How dare you tread into my world and expect me to help you? I owe you nothing. I’ve worked hard for my privilege to ignore you.
I pretend like it’s a privilege – maybe even a duty – to ignore you. I pretend like I’ve been taught this well, like I’m not the one choosing to behave this way.
I pretend like maybe it’s your fault that you’re in this situation, even as the better part of me knows that’s the dumbest, most unfair way of reducing your complex history and simultaneously forgiving a system that was designed to have you around. But fuck the better part of me. He might become you. (I pretend like he’s not already you.)
I pretend like this post will absolve me somehow. Because look at good old me: I’m acknowledging that I choose hiding over helping, ignoring over listening, pretending over engaging. Isn’t that something? Aren’t I a good person?
But when I don’t have these words on a page engraved in my heart and lived in my actions, I know that I’ll do what I do best: pretend. Isn’t it a pleasant fiction?