There is a large homeless population in the city of San Francisco; the climate is temperate here and people can live on the streets without freezing to death.

I have always had mixed feelings about the homeless. My heart goes out to them; it is my belief that no-one in this country should be without a roof over their head or a meal in their belly.

Yet, I am unwilling to give them money when they beg for it, especially when they are aggressive.

They tend to be forward in San Francisco, on Market Street in particular. This street is amazingly diverse, containing everything from upscale shopping malls (Westfield, between 4th & 5th Sts.) to titty bars and Smoke shops selling drug paraphernalia only a few blocks away.

The sidewalks are full of homeless, usually propped up against the buildings, often with blankets over their heads like tents. When they hear someone approaching, their heads pop out like turtles from their shells.

“Spare CHANGE?!” they whisper or bark or in loud, accusatory tones.

The more aggressive people block your way on the sidewalk to ask for money. Mostly they step aside readily when they are ignored or refused. But some follow you down the street for a few steps.

After being refused, they often end their spiel with “God Bless You!” or “Have a nice day!”, but somehow the angry tone of their voices belie the kind sentiments.

Being confronted with the homeless issue constantly on the streets of San Francisco is difficult for me; it brings up all sorts of feelings — guilt, compassion, anger, annoyance. I am ashamed to say that I do not want to deal with this issue.

I had a particularly intense encounter with a homeless man on Saturday night, at the Civic Center BART station.

It was after work and I was writing in my journal, as usual. I like to recount the day’s happenings; how the show went that night and any notable interactions with musician colleagues I had.

I sat in my customary spot on the round concrete bench towards the far end of the station, situated in the area between the inbound and outbound tracks.

In the back of my consciousness I heard a commotion to my immediate left. At first I paid no attention to it, having become somewhat inured to the crazy eruptions from the more “out there” citizenry of this City.

But then the babbling became louder, and I looked up from my journal page to see a man sitting on the ground, leaning against a pillar next to the concrete bench. He appeared to be somewhere between his late 40s and death.

His ranting and raving suddenly escalated in both intensity and vitriol. The people crammed around the concrete bench left abruptly, leaving me more space.

I turned back to my writing and shut out the man’s self-dialogue. Then suddenly there was a movement out of the corner of my eye; the man had gotten off the ground and was approaching me.

“Excuse me, sir……sir……SIR!” He stood over me, swaying. I looked up into his faded, unfocused blue eyes, the whites streaked with red — lost-soul eyes, a burned-out, hopeless life flickering from their depths. A crazy, tortured look.

“I hate to disturb your writing, but I need eight dollars and forty cents!” the man screamed at me.

“I don’t carry cash, sorry”, I replied.

“Yeah right….” he said sarcastically, and stumbled away, mumbling, “fuckfuckfuckfuck you….” and then he approached an elderly couple standing next to the bench.

They were very well-dressed, he in suit and she in furs, obviously just having seen “Wicked” at the nearby Orpheum Theatre, programs clutched in their gnarled hands which trembled slightly upon the man’s approach.

The man mumbled something and the lady practically screamed, “What do you WANT?!” The crazy man said, “I’d like thirty dollars but you’re not going to give that to me, are ya?” He stumbled towards the woman, who shrank back against her husband, who brandished his cane at the man.

He suddenly veered off in another direction as though he had been struck by The Force, a scene out of Star Wars. He vanished.

I turned my attention back to my journal. The elderly couple continued to stand in front of me, whispering now. “What is he writing?” the woman murmured. “Probably about what just happened”, her husband ventured.