Today, for the first time since I was maybe fourteen, someone referred to me as “fat.” Far removed from the insecure taunts of fellow teenage girls, this little insult came from a man old enough to be my grandfather. To set the scene, a coworker and I were standing on the corner outside our office building downtown waiting to cross the street. People asking for money are not an unusual sight in this part of town. However, I’ve never seen this particular person before — an older man with a cane, having a slight bit of difficulty walking.
My coworker and I declined his solicitation, which precipitated a string of insults continuing as we crossed the street and until we were out of earshot. “Fat,” is the only one I could repeat in polite company. I can’t say I’ve ever been treated to such a…serenade. I was insulted by his crass language, the fourteen year old in me was briefly hurt by his raising a point I had thought I was entirely over, and I was just plain outraged at being harassed like that. I wanted to slap him, I wanted to curse him out, but my coworker and I simply looked the other way, crossed the street in shock, and reported the incident to our building’s security guard.
After google-chatting up a storm about those aforementioned feelings, another feeling began to take over. Here is a man who is obviously suffering. He’s older, appears not to be in the best of health physically, is obviously dealing with some mental health issues to put on a display like that…and he’s begging for his next meal, in weather so cold it’s snowing, on a street corner. How terrible that such a thing happens as the world shuffles along around it — around him.
Admittedly, I know next to nothing about the public services available for people who find themselves in such dire straits in this city, so I can’t turn this into a rallying cry for reform of this or increased funding of that. I can only speak of what I personally witnessed, which began to feel less like a superficial slap in the face to me personally and more like a collective slap in the face to a structure where a person like him fell through the cracks and found himself in such circumstances.