Survival Guide to Homelessness

No matter where you go, there you are.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Play Against Type

Showering in my own apartment I looked down at my hands. I have cuts and nicks scattered across their fingers, calluses, worked in dirt that won't wash away, and a burn from an errant bit of molten metal on my right index finger. When I look in the mirror I see I am sunburned across my forehead, cheeks, and the back of my neck. I'm wearing a beard and mustache. I look homeless.

That's okay. It's okay because I have a union job and a place to lay down at night. When I was actually homeless, I would never look like this. I'd be manicured. I wouldn't have a sunburn because I would have made careful use of sunscreen and I would have kept out of the sun. I would be clean shaven.

The Hollywood set calls this playing against type, and it is an essential skill. Imagine yourself a fugitive from the law, which you actually are if you are homeless. The last thing a fugitive wants is notice. I don't care how rich he is, Grizzly Adams gets noticed when he walks into town. For the same reason that you must be comfortable lying, you must maintain a look that is cleaner than the rest of society. Don't wear torn clothing. Don't get tattoos or visible piercings. Don't participate in fashion counter-cultures. Look normal, only better.

Don't get me wrong. I am not morally, politically, or personally against any kind of fashion statement. I am not only accepting, I'm eager to see. This is survival advice. Fashion statements are for those who don't need to blend in. Fashion is for the rich.

I have the great luxury to look homeless because I am not, and everyone knows I'm not. They see me in my work clothes and work truck and they know I'm a union man. The homeless look is a look of prestige if it belongs to a union man. It's stupid, but it is what it is. Mind games, subtle psychological nudges like manicured hands and a close hair cut, are important tools for getting what you need done each day. Play against type. Look good.