The Sweater Off His Back

Dahlia of the Week: Department store shopping with Papa.
Dahlia of the Week: Department store shopping with Papa.

Very early this morning Hubby, Baby, and I headed to Downtown L.A. It’s Hubby’s deceased father’s birthday and to celebrate he wanted to bring Baby to the cemetery for the first time. On our way, he also wanted to stop in the flower district to pick up some flowers for his father’s grave, so we left the house extra early to do this all before Baby’s morning nap.

Upon arriving downtown I was surprised to see how many stores had not yet opened. It was THAT early. There were very few cars and very few people aside from the store employees of the shops that were open. There were also quite a few homeless people.

We parked on a corner and walked down the street through a group of three or four men, all bundled up in ragged, dirty clothes, all of whom were watching a similarly dressed woman paused on the sidewalk. She wasn’t bundled up, but her pants and dirty blonde, pixie-cut hair were filthy. She was taking her shirt off and laying it on the floor. She then got on her knees beside it to inspect it.

She was naked from the waist up, kneeling beside her shirt as we walked past, Baby in Hubby’s arms and me walking beside them. One of the men behind us was screaming, “Put on your shirt! Put on your shirt!”


First, when homeless people start screaming (and I mean screaming, not speaking loudly) I instantly question their mental health. That’s been my experience, at least, so call it conditioning. Call it my prejudice. Call it my ignorance. I know. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more to judge me about in this story so let’s move on.

Second, it was early and it was cold (cold by L.A. standards) so I’m thinking, “No woman in her right mind is going to take off her shirt and stand on the sidewalk in this cold.” Of course, make her mentally ill, too, why don’t I? That’ll make me feel better! Lovely.

And, I’ll admit, the whole thing made me super uncomfortable. I was sad for her. And worried about her. I was also confused. I was getting angry at the men yelling at her. I was frustrated by the current state of humanity. But we just kept walking and bought the flowers for my father-in-law’s grave.

On our way back, the woman was still standing on the sidewalk, this time with her arms crossed over her chest and her hands covering her bare breasts, eyes wide, staring into the street. More men were yelling at her now. One was walking towards her screaming, “Put on your shirt, bitch!” over and over. It all made my heart hurt. It also made me wanna’ punch the guy yelling “bitch” in the face. Not the most appropriate response, I know.

Just as we were walking past her another man screamed, “Why won’t you put on your shirt!?!?”

“There’s spiders on it,” she replied, in a small, quite sane, almost sad voice.

In my head, I thought, “This is not okay. Someone needs to help her. Maybe we -”

Before I could finish my thought, Hubby had already turned around, walked over to her, and and removed his sweater (while still carrying Baby in his arms). He was handing it to her when I caught up with them.


When people are in need there are two simple responses, two types of people. There are people who do something and people who do nothing. I’m ashamed to say that, in this instance, I fell into the latter. I’m humbled to have witnessed Hubby prove to be the former.

And when Baby grows up, if she responds like I did (by doing nothing) hopefully she’ll feel less ashamed and more willing to try less judgment and more generosity next time around. If she responds like Hubby did, hopefully she’ll feel totally normal about it and not give it a second thought, not even speak about it afterwards because it was as normal as walking down the street.

Either way, she now knows both responses exist. Someday she’ll understand both responses are utterly human.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

2 thoughts on “The Sweater Off His Back

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