The Joe Chronicles: “Harry Has AIDS”

This entry was posted on Feb 02 2011

January 27, 2011

Harry was an unshaven man stumbling through my subway car that morning. Harry has had the “AIDS virus” for over twenty years now. Harry was NOT a drug addict. He made that part very clear. Like most people that beg for change on the subway, Harry had his story rehearsed and down to a science (not the kind of science that cures AIDS). The story was peppered with just enough pity that you generally wanted to spare some change, but not too much pity where you question the point of giving him anything. If the story is too miserable, most people will think, “well, my dollar isn’t going to save him, he’ll be dead by 86th street”. Most New Yorkers pass a decent amount of homeless people or beggars throughout the week. We can’t afford to give ALL these guys a dollar! We made our money by hoarding it. The reason we’re not all on the street with these people is because we have a system as to who deserves the (maybe) one dollar we’ll spare per week. If you are asking people for money in New York City, your story better be great. New Yorkers know that 95% of these stories are bullshit. We’re not stupid. That’s why we’re not on the streets. No, we’re well aware that we are paying for the performance. We’ll spare a dollar here and there if, and only if, we hear an original and clever story with just the right amount of believable sorrow.

This is what I'm talking about! My homeless people need to have gimmicks and I'm terrible with HTML!

When Harry, riddled with AIDS, announced himself to the subway car I immediately did what I always do. I looked straight at the ground and bobbed my head a little so that it looks like I’m too invested in my music to have heard his announcement. Now, half the time after I look down, because it’s too awkward to face this person, I turn the volume up on my iPod so I can’t hear what this person is saying. That morning however, I decided to look down, bob my head, but turn the volume off so I could hear everything Harry was saying without his knowledge. Then he’d understand that I had just missed the speech listening to Kelly Clarkson rather than ignoring him.

Harry was not dressed like someone who needed money. His clothes were by no means fancy, but he was wearing jeans, a regular shitty jacket, and shitty sneakers. He also did not look like he had twenty years of AIDS beating him down. I would expect a twenty year AIDS victim to be withering away to a certain extent. Harry made it extremely clear he wasn’t a drug addict, but had just gotten out of some free clinic for pneumonia. His story wasn’t adding up to me, but he also wasn’t asking for the world. “I’d just like to get a bagel, maybe some coffee”, Harry explained. Reasonable enough for a 50/50 believable story and just the right amount of despondency. Harry won a few people over. The kind of, sort of cute looking girl across from me dug some change out from the bottom of her purse. The man sitting to the left of me gave up a dollar. I tried to think if I even had any money on me. For whatever reason there was at least two dollars in there, but this story wasn’t nearly extravagant enough for me to consider splurging on Harry McAids. Then again, I recall a man missing half his face begging for change and as he walked by me I brought my legs in as close as possible so he wouldn’t brush past me and give me his surely terminal disease. He was too extravagant. I’m not sure if Harry received anymore change because he wandered out of my peripheral vision, but the most shocking thing came when he wandering back into my eyeline…

There is a certain degree of subway car etiquette. When you make a scene, ANY scene, you leave when you are done. Usually your performance should last one stop. It should begin when the doors close and the train pulls away, and ends when we arrive at the next stop, which at that point you leave the subway. I don’t where these people go or whether that’s their stop, but I don’t care. Get out of here, man. This applies to homeless people, drug addicts, preachers of some bizarre faith, and those little Mexican quartets that show up whenever you’re trying to read. With homeless people and other beggars of this nature, there are occasions where the performance and collection end before the next stop. In this situation the accepted protocol is that the man or woman exit that subway car for the next car. Harry just stood in the corner for the remainder of the ride! No one could help but to look at him standing there out of the corner of their eye! Just chilling, as if nothing had just happened! As if he hadn’t just declared himself chock full of AIDS and hungry for bagels! It was extremely awkward. Half the train looked miserable because no one wants to stare at despair for too long. Society wants to take a quick look out their car window at the terrible accident along the side of the road. Society wants to climb over the fence and briefly look at the drowning puppies in the pool next door. But no one wants to look at these things for an extended period of time! We’re all trying to have a great day, dammit! Now I’m going to be thinking of AIDS all day! Terrific!

They never honor my "Margaritaville" requests...

Hey, do I think that the homeless have caught some tough breaks and deserve our sympathy because that should be the way you treat a fellow human being and hope that’s the way you’d be treated if the roles were reversed? Fuck no. The ONLY reason Bloomberg hasn’t finished off the homeless genocide (Giuliani started the process) is because he knows how important they are in making successful people feel even better about themselves. Even people who are just doing alright see these people sleeping in gutters and soiling themselves and think, “damn, it feels good to be a gangster”. I know everytime I pass a man pushing a shopping cart full of cans, I suddenly have a certain swagger in my walk. My head is held high and I take a deep breath of wealth. The homeless scourge keeps us young and thinking emphatically.

Harry, the bum soaking with AIDS, should be praised. Not to his face of course, but in our minds, silently, for making us feel better about ourselves. He shouldn’t be given too much credit because he can’t afford a bagel, but he definitely serves a purpose on this planet. The purpose though has been outlined extensively throughout this article and by standing in the subway he broke the code. We know he broke the code. He knows he broke the code. God knows he broke the code. Which is why he will be inevitably terminated. Annihilated, probably sometime in the next week for all his transgressions. If he does have AIDS, then his immune system will surely crumble in the next few days as the brutal winter we are experiencing wreaks havoc on his body. If he doesn’t have AIDS, well, he’s got ‘em now. Either way the story ends with Harry, bagel-less, laying under a newspaper blanket shivering to death, coughing up blood, while stray dogs bang him. Don’t worry everyone, for Harry will not be going to Hell, nor Heaven. He will simply cease to exist since he’s never actually mattered. Luckily for New York, we have a terrible (or blessed?) homeless epidemic. We can’t privately execute them fast enough for they continue to breed in dumpsters behind diners. Harry made be dead, but we all have way better things to think about.

- Jobalak

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