The Hunchback of St. Anthony’s

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Welcome to the Tenderloin.

 

I lived on the streets of San Francisco for a year back in 1976, age 19. And I spent a lot of time in the Tenderloin district. Which was an eye-opening experience for someone like me, having come from a fairly sheltered background.

Just about every afternoon I would eat lunch at St Anthony’s Dining Hall, the charity food joint, in the heart of the Tenderloin. And there would always be a long line of street people outside, waiting on line for their grub.

And the one guy I really remember was this guy I called the Hunchback. Because he was so hunchbacked his head was practically coming out of his belly. And he looked ANCIENT, like he was 100 years old or something. And he usually wore 4 or 5 ratty old overcoats. Classic streetperson.

The Hunchback slept, and lived, in this abandoned doorway about a half block up the street from St Anthony’s. So every afternoon he’d pick himself up from his doorway, and trudge down to St. Anthony’s for his lunch. He was so old you could practically hear his bones creaking as he inched down the sidewalk, pushing his shopping cart of possessions. Then when he ate his lunch, he would put his mouth a couple inches from his tray and shovel the food in.

Then he would trudge back to his doorway. Where he’d stay for the rest of the day and night. Until the next afternoon when he would repeat the whole process.

I don’t know how long the Hunchback had been living there in that doorway. But you got the feeling he had been there for a LONG time. And you got the feeling he would be there for as long as he had the strength to trudge down that half-block walk from his doorway to St Anthony’s. And after that? Who knows. He was near the end of the line.

At the time, it had never occurred to me that human beings actually lived and died like that. In city doorways. So I was learning many lessons they hadn’t taught me in my high school textbooks.

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A tale of two street people: Hate Man

 

Hate Man never ceases to amaze me.  I’ve seen so many people hit the streets, young and strong, and they just sort of disintegrate right in front of you.  But Hate Man is 79-years-old , and he’s been living on the streets for decades.   And yet he’s still a pretty virile and vital guy.  Still has a twinkle in his eye and a skip in his step.

Even more amazing, Hate Man smokes two packs of Virginia Slims a day, and drinks gallons of coffee with 30 packets of sugar in every cup.

So he’s not exactly a health freak. I sometimes wonder how Hate Man stays so healthy.  Some of it is good genes, of course.  But I think a lot of it is that he really gets off on being alive, gets a charge out of being the Hate Man, and wants to keep being the Hate Man for as long as he can.  That’s probably the secret.  The ole’ life force.

Of course, like everybody, Hate Man has had his health issues.  About 10 years ago Hate got deathly sick one day.  I could tell by his gray, ashen complexion that it was serious.  For some reason he couldn’t piss.  So they rushed him off to the hospital and they put a tube up his dick (I apologize for not knowing the correct medical term) and he’s been fine ever since.

And then a couple years ago he suddenly had a heart attack and fell down and passed out on the sidewalk.  Again they packed him off to the hospital and put a pacemaker in his chest. And within a week or two, he was back at his spot in People’s Park, smokin’ and drinkin’ and pushin’ just like usual.

Last night Hate Man said to me, with a trace of alarm:  “I’ve been pissing up blood.”  But he decided to tough it out.  Made it through the rainstorm last night, sleeping on the sidewalk under his special set-up of plastic tarps.

But this morning he decided to get his ass to the hospital.  “The doctor told me I have a yeast infection,” he said.  “Which is weird.  I thought only women got that.  But they gave me some pills and I’m already feeling better.”

I can count the number of 80-year-old homeless people I’ve known over the years on zero fingers.  But Hate Man will probably be the first.

Knock.  Knock.

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