A Day at the Park.
by Jennifer Sey
I took the kids to Panhandle Park this morning. A usual occurrence. We go when the sun is out to throw the baseball around. Virgil pitches, I hit and Wyatt mans the outfield. Today we had a few extra players. My brother Chris and his two little guys joined us, creating more chaos, and fun, than normal. Anyway, all of this is to say, it was a beautiful day and we were having a pleasant time of it.
You get used to the fact that there are always vagrants lingering with 40 ouncers of malt liquor, matted hair and mangy dogs. They're generally fairly benign. I guess it's a San Francisco thing. I've lived near that panhandle, which shoots east off of Golden Gate Park, for almost 20 years. They gather in groups, near the park benches. They drink their forties, talk smack to each other and generally leave the joggers, kids and vast array of health seeking exercisers alone.
Today a bigger group had gathered. They were each of them identical in layers of sooty clothing, dreadlocked hair, smudged faces and a Pigpen like cloud hovering. We settled in not too far to begin our games. I didn't think twice about being close. I suppose a suburbanite might have balked. But like I said, they are fixtures of panhandle life and I barely pay them any mind. Like dogs, dog poop and bicyclists who would just assume mow you down if you cross the dotted white line on the bike path as key your SUV. (I don't have an SUV. They're not well regarded in these parts, which isn't why I don't have one. I don't have one because I don't regard them highly. But wouldn't key one. Some of the SF-ers are more aggressive in their eco-stance. But I digress...)
Wyatt and my brother are playing catch. Virgil is teaching his nephews how to hold the bat. I'm going back and forth between the two sects. When I hear: "You did this. We didn't do this man! You did this to yourself!!" I turn and two of the homeless men have a third on the ground and they are stomping on his head. I'm floored. I'm not scared. But don't really want my kids witnessing this not that they are even paying any attention to it. I've never seen any kind of outbreak, the group turning against a member, in all my time living here. At no point do I fear for our safety. Oddly no one really pays it the whole thing any mind. We are trained to tune these people out. They are everywhere. There's a general notion that some of them have chosen this life, that if they were offered something different they would not accept. They are not like the homeless people you encounter downtown. They don’t ask for money. They don’t get in your face and demand to be seen.
I don't know if I buy into this "they chose it" stance. I suspect many are runaways, many are mentally ill. I don't hold it against them that they drink. I'd drink if I lived in the park and slept in a tunnel. They don't ask for money. It's a strange dynamic. They don't want to be seen, it seems.