Troll is a slang term for a person who's homeless. Some say it's just because sometimes a person will seek shelter under a bridge, like the imaginary monster in the fairytales. Or maybe it's because sometimes an urban overpass provides the shelter, and maybe the upright respectable citizens start to worry that their bloated real estate values and retail profits might suddenly vanish like the unwary little billy goat.

Volunteers trying to help the homeless don't like to use this term very much, partly to avoid disrespect of the homeless, and partly because it messes up their image of themselves as nice people.

After actually being homeless for awhile, it gets easier to give up illusions about people being nice, and it gets easier to call yourself a troll, too.

But here's a true story to think about:

Picture a respectable family, just getting back from some kind of wholesome family activity somewhere. Two parents heading from their little car into their little house, and two little boys chasing a terrified little cat across the street while their father laughs. They claim to own the cat, but they don't seem to do much for it, beyond leaving a little food on their porch, and letting their sons chase it around sometimes.

The cat's eyes are an almost golden color, as is the fur, still beautiful despite obvious neglect. Under the luxurious fur, it's a gaunt little body with a festering wound on one side of its neck. Seems the respectable people can't be bothered to take it to a veterinarian. Over time, its condition is deteriorating as the infection in the wound grows worse. The expression in the eyes has always been weary, and almost always afraid, but now it's often blank and distant, as if the cat somehow knows the end is coming.

Gradually things begin to change. The infection starts to slowly decline. The cat's eyes have a little more focus. And one day, the fur around the wound has been trimmed short, the wound stitched up by a real veterinarian. What happened? Did the respectable people locate a conscience somewhere? No, they had nothing to do with it.

There's a human being who's even more invisible than the half-stray cat. He passes through the neighborhood looking for discarded empty bottles and cans, because he survives partly on the nickel each he can get for returning them. For months he has set aside part of this money, using some of it to buy antibiotics for the infection, and finally saved up enough to pay a veterinarian to properly treat the cat's wound. This man lacks a home, but he is capable of compassion, determination, and a truer nobility of spirit than many respectably wealthy people.

Maybe the respectable people in the nice little house honestly believe they don't have enough money to care for the cat. Their neglect is still a failure to fulfill the moral responsibility of claiming to own any other living being.

Of course this kind of story doesn't prove anything about the great economic questions and social problems that lead to homelessness. But maybe it's enough to make you wonder, sometimes, who the monsters really are.

The man who helped the cat was not me. Just someone I happened to meet once.