I know tourists are just trying to be affable. I know they’re not trying to offend. But sometimes the things they say really chap my ass.
Several times while working at the parking lot, people have made the “joke” that I probably don’t actually work for a company authorized by the Forest Service to collect parking fees. They “joke” that I’m probably just a homeless person who’s standing out there, scamming drivers out of $5. Of course, I’m standing there in brown polyester-blend pants and both a shirt and a hat with the company logo on them. I’m handing out glossy, color trail guides and cardboard day passes printed with a number and the instructions Hang on Rear View Mirror This Side Out. If I were scamming people, I’d have had to make a large initial investment in props.
I find the you’re just a homeless person “joke” offensive for several reasons.
First of all, it assumes homeless people are dishonest. The “joke” isn’t that I’m a homeless person working for a company. The “joke” is that I’m a homeless person unauthorized to collect a $5 parking fee, a homeless person scamming the driver and pocketing the money. The “joke” is never about me being a recently laid off person or a single mother trying to make ends meet. The “joke” always includes the part about being homeless and perpetuating a scam.
Secondly, the “joke” implies homeless people are lazy. The “joke” is “funny” because everybody know homeless people don’t actually work. These tourists don’t really think I”m homeless because they “know” that if I were homeless, I wouldn’t have a job, I’d just be sitting at an off-ramp flying a sign.
(Note: I’ve stood at off-ramps flying signs. I personally am not negatively judging anyone who flies a sign. I see flying a sign as less harmful than a lot of other things people do to make money and get by in this world.)
I guess the main reason I find the “joke” so offensive is because I essentially am homeless. I live in my van. I don’t have a house somewhere. I’m not living in my van on a lark. I’m not working a summer job for fun or to supplement my pension or trust fund. I’m working my job because I need to eat, and I’m trying to take care of my teeth, and I like to have gas in the tank, and maybe I want to give Christmas presents to my friends and family.
For all intents and purposes (and some other time I can write about the ways living in my van is my choice), I am a homeless person. I am a homeless person with a job. I am a homeless person who was hired by a company to stand in a parking lot in a National Forest and collect $5 for each car that’s parked there. I’m a homeless person who puts on her uniform every morning and gets to work on time. I am a homeless person who is not scamming the hardworking good citizens of the United States and the world. (Although I’ll admit one of the reasons I took this job is because I’m too lazy to work in an office or a factory.)
Of course, the first ten times I heard this “joke,” I didn’t know what to say. I tried to joke back about my uniform or polyester blend pants. (Who’d wear these clothes just to make some money? I said, until I realized, oh, yeah, I am wearing these clothes just to make money. I sure wouldn’t wear these clothes if my paycheck didn’t require it.)
The day I heard the you’re just a homeless person “joke” twice in one afternoon, I decided the next time someone said that to me, I was going to say, I am homeless. I got tired of hearing people yell “Get a job!” while I was flying a sign, so now I’m pulling myself up by my bootstraps!”
Is that too long for a comeback?
(No one’s made the “joke” since I decided on my comeback.)
Oh, people…what a bunch of bastards.
People are certainly clueless much of the time. And I wasn’t even able to escape them while trying to hide in the forest. Next step, hermithood!
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I think when people say that, they are actually projecting. They are saying, “Hey, I could just stop at this parking lot and put on a hat and lie to get money!” But since they believe that to be unethical, and yet they know it was their own idea, they then create a little parable where they blame it on someone else, someone they perceive as being completely different from them, i.e. someone homeless. Fifty years ago, you would have heard them saying the n-word in this little parable they’ve created, instead of the h-word. The point being that they are trying to let the world know that only someone of what they believe is a lower class than themselves would be the kind of person who would do this horrible, horrible thing that they themselves thought up and secretly wanted to do.
Megan, this is an interesting theory. I think you are on to something.
Another thing I thought of: People who make this joke make it to me thinking I am more like them than I am like a homeless person. They think I will think the joke is funny because I am like them. They don’t realize I have been homeless and I’m close to being so still.
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