“Please, just five bucks. I’m hungry. And cold.”
She had the look…tattered clothing. Barely adequate coat. Thin.
I noted these things automatically, but didn’t act on them. I don’t judge anymore, one way or the other. I can’t. This is what the city teaches you.
There is always more to the story…and there’s a million of them every day.
There was a time I continually spent 20% of my income on charity. I came from a long way down, and simply because of who and what I was, never got any kind of a hand up. This is society’s legacy of determining help is for certain groups instead of individuals…but that’s another story. No resentment really…unless folks start telling me how privileged I am. Even that, as they say, is another story.
As I “came up” in the world, I had the means to help. So I did. Simple as that.
Inflation, the destruction of the middle class, taxes (no charity but government, yes?) and medical insurance have markedly reduced that 20%, but I still give.
Thing is…I’m damn picky about it. I give to friends and family that need help…and organizations I know do the best they can with the resources.
But as I said, I’m picky about it. I really should take care of me and mine first. I’ve got needed home and car repairs, possible medical expenses, and retirement is coming up…and I work in tech so I doubt I’ll make it that far, so, what I do give I *really* want to make an impact.
It’s mine to give…so it’s mine to choose.
I’ve long stopped handing things to people on the street. That’s just chucking my last bottle of water at a forest fire.
“I can’t help you.” I said, not unkindly, but moved on without hesitation.
“Fuck you.” she says to my back.
The city teaches. I learn.
I still hate myself for it.
How can I not help a cold, hungry woman?
Because of that lesson…there’s always more to the story.
Ten minutes prior, I’d seen this woman pay for her meal at the small diner I was eating at. She paid, then when the cashier’s back was turned, took all the mints, two large handfuls, from the dish by the register. A small thing, but not honest. Hungry? No. She’d just eaten. Or maybe. I don’t know. I can’t judge. I don’t judge. I just simply can’t help everybody that asks…especially the ones that *don’t* need it.
…and the lesson teaches…if you care to learn at all, that most that actually need the help will never encounter me. They’re outnumbered by the scams, and the story tellers, and the cons.
Lost in the noise.
That lesson. Hell, she wasn’t my first for the day.
O-stupid-thirty…otherwise known this day as 4:45 am, I slide my car into a space and grab my bag as I pop the door. I’m headed for the club. The one that makes you sweat. Walk hard and fast all uphill. Move heavy stuff. That sort of thing.
I do this five days a week. Yes, apparently I AM a masochist.
I make it perhaps 4 steps toward the front of the building when an enormously fat black man, driving a newish Nissan Pathfinder, cuts between me and the building entrance and stops.
“Hey. I’m not trying to start any trouble but me and my wife and kids we’ve lost our home and we’re in the hotel down the street and I need $30 or they’re going to kick us out today and it’s cold and the kids are sick and…” and so on and so on…the story…in the fast-paced, practiced pitch of a telemarketer, intended to give me no chance to interrupt.
I almost laughed at the guy. Not in derision but rather because pitching for charity to folks at the exercise club is NOT going to be productive. Heck, I’m not even carrying any cash. I have a car key and my driver’s license. In my bag is a towel and my weight gloves. Working out in thin Adidas shorts tends to encourage one to travel light. It also encourages one to make for the club doors at high speed when it’s 17 degrees out.
The polite person, that’s never learned the lesson, would wait for the spiel to die down (probably a good ten minutes and might include actual tears), before either giving something or moving on.
But it’s cold. And I’m on a mission. And I can’t help him in any meaningful way. I just shook my head “no” at him, stepped around the back of the truck and entered the building.
Did he need help? Or is he scamming? I don’t know. I can’t judge.
“Asshole!” he says as he guns it and drives away.
Predawn…and I’ve been awake maybe 30 minutes…and somebody’s already calling me names.
“Ah,” I say to myself, “One of THOSE days.”
Less than two hours later as I exit the building and head for my car, there’s a man standing beside a Ford pickup with the hood open.
The lesson teaches. But sometimes we don’t learn. So, figuring he needs a jump (this I can do), I turn when he says, “Hey!”
Then the spiel, “Have you got $30? It’s the fuel pump and I’ve gotta pick up my kids they’re locked out in the cold because their mom got evicted and I can fix it but the pump costs $30 and….”
I don’t judge. Or try not to. Details though. I know a lot about cars. This one…yeah, no fuel pump under the hood. It’s in the tank. It costs a lot more than $30. And he ain’t gonna diagnose OR fix it with the pair of pliers he’s holding in a fitness club parking-lot.
But I’d like to make sure. I’m ignoring the lesson still. You’d think I’d know better by now.
I stop and say, “I’ve got a buddy that runs an auto parts store a couple miles from here. He’s usually there before they open and owes me a BUNCH of favors so let me give him a call and get the part run over here real quick. What year and what engine?”
The part about my friend in the auto parts store is true. Calling him though…that would be a neat trick. I don’t have my phone. I already figured that it didn’t matter…and if it turned out it did, well, I’d figure it out.
Ford dude stares at me a minute, slams the hood, gets in the truck, starts it right up, and drives away.
At least he didn’t call me any names. He even waved. Of course, he only used one finger.
Near two hours later…I dump my machine in the parking garage in downtown Dallas and start the 1/2 block trek to work.
I make it perhaps ten steps out of the building that’s attached to the parking garage.
“Got some money? I need eight dollars. I just want some coffee, yanno?”
I just keep walking. Heh…a coffee probably does cost that much just over there at the Statler. But, not to judge, if you really need to beg for coffee money, probably better to get the cheap stuff at that 7-11 over there.
Another guy says, “Blow job? Thirty bucks!” and as I keep walking, “Twenty?” I’m not sure if he’s buying or selling. I’m not interested either way.
If I had a thousand bucks in small bills…I could walk this neighborhood and give it all away in minutes…and do absolutely no good for anybody.
If I did that very often, I’d end up on the street myself.
So, yeah. Not receptive to the guy or gal on the street. It pains me…and it’s something to hate about the city I love.
In the darkest moments I try to feel a little better just knowing that not two blocks from where I’m standing…is an outreach that gets a chunk of my charity every month.
The cold. The hungry. The cons. Which are which?
I sometimes wish I knew…but then I’d have to judge.
I’ve got some coats that are too big for me though. So does the wife. I expect I’ll drop them off at the outreach tomorrow.
Maybe I’ll even feel better…even if I am an asshole.
I’ll see you on the road.