The Hunchback of St. Anthony’s

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.