What Can The Homeless Do For Me? I Mean, Really!

Posted: January 30, 2011 in Slice - 2
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New Yorkers are used to seeing homeless people on the streets and sidewalks – almost every street and sidewalk – sometimes more than one begging on a single block. You get jaded. You can’t help it. I mean, what am I, a social worker? Am I supposed to give to these people who may be junkies, alcoholics, meth heads, or wackos? I’ve been attacked, pushed, shoved and spit on by these, these … people.

Hmmm. They are actually people. They are actually my fellow human beings. I don’t know for sure what led them to beg, plead and sometimes literally cry, tears running down their dirty faces, for a dollar, a quarter, a mere penny. Some may have gotten themselves into this fix due to their lifestyle; some may be crazy; or they might have been sane when they first were forced to live on the streets and the became crazy.

As a science fiction fan (stay with me, folks, I swear this is related), I think about the apocalyptic movies and TV shows I’m seen where a lone human, shell-shocked and desperate to find another survivor, searches through rubble and walks down eerily empty city streets hoping to see another human. The lone human, usually the hero, is often grubby, streaked with dirt and debris and, presumably, if he or she has been searching for a while, doesn’t smell very appealing.

See where am I going with this?

If said hero comes upon another human, the hero is elated, relieved that another of his kind survived. They might even embrace, forgiving of any body odor or ragged clothing. These fellow humans wouldn’t care if one had been a banker, lawyer or a street person in their past lives.

So, with those kinds of thought and images deep in my brain, but still a jaded New Yorker, I sighed when I saw a man begging outside the supermarket on a bitterly cold winter afternoon. Great, I thought. Now I have to avoid this guy twice, both going into and exiting the supermarket. Rather clever positioning on the guy’s part, actually.

I don’t often go to that particular market, but they have a few items the health food stores don’t carry. I couldn’t find the frozen veggie dinner I was looking for, but I did find a gorgeous plant, a new flavor of Belgian beer, and a yummy-sounding raspberry chocolate bar. I bought ’em all.

The exit is a double-door situation, giving me time to put my gloves back on. The homeless man was still smack-dab in the middle of the entrance and exit of the supermarket. And as I set my bag down to button back up my warm new winter coat I got for Christmas, I heard the beer bottles clink and saw the plant tip. I grabbed the bag to protect my groceries: the beer, the chocolate bar and the beautiful plant. Not a single nutritious necessary-for-sustaining-life item among ’em.

Alexa, I chided myself, are you really going to give the poor guy outside the cold shoulder a second time? I mean, my shoulders are toasty and warm. His jacket has holes in it and looks more appropriate for summer than 19 degrees with a bitter wind chill, and his bare hands are almost as red as my stylish leather gloves.

I took off my gloves, still standing inside the double-door exit area. I looked for small bills. Maybe a couple of singles ,,, screw it! I removed a bill, put back on my gloves, picked up my “groceries” and exited the store.

I walked up to the man – gosh, he was old enough to be my grandfather. This homeless man should be enjoying a warm Florida afternoon in a rocking chair on his porch.

I handed him a five dollar bill and said, “Take care.” Lame! Shouldn’t I say something more profound?

He looked me in the eyes – many homeless won’t even raise their heads to look at who gives them money – and his face crinkled into a huge grin, revealing many missing teeth. “Thank you, ma’am. Bless you, bless you. I wish you a joyous year,” he said. He looked at the $5 for a long moment.

“Bless you, too. I hope things get better for you.” Also, kind of lame, but I didn’t know what else to say. A tear rolled down my face. I smiled back at him. And hurried away from my fellow human, embarrassed by overwhelming emotion. (I hate to cry in front of anyone. Makes me seem less the tough New Yorker.)

No one – NO ONE! Should be that grateful for a $5 bill.

The tears were really flowing now, and I didn’t want them to freeze on my face. I stopped to wipe them away, and take a deep breath to calm myself. I wasn’t crying just out of pity, but at the thought that I had helped one human being have a slightly better day. I felt grateful and more than a bit guilty that I could afford to buy frivolous thing like those in my grocery bag.

No, I’m not a social worker. And I can’t give $5 or even $1 to every homeless person I pass. But I could help one old man have a meal tonight, and if he spent part of my gift on a bottle of booze as well, that was his business. He was entitled to a little drink of joy, too. After all, I lifted his spirits and he lifted mine.

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Comments
  1. Ray says:

    This is the Alexa I know and love. May the Year of the Hare bring you much of the same goodwill you showed this sidewalk beggar.

  2. Good for you! I had a similar epiphany on Thanksgiving Day. I was going to the grocery to get some final supplies and passed a middle-aged woman dressed in multiple ragged layers going through the trash looking for recyclable bottles. I thought, “Damn! No one should be making their living that way, especially on Thanksgiving.” I went back and gave her a ten, hoping she could get out of the cold and maybe feed herself and/or her family that day. She thanked me profusely in some language I didn’t understand, but her tone and expression were perfectly clear. If more people…maybe, maybe not.

  3. alexadem says:

    Thanks for sharing that Faith. I complain all the time (as you know) about not having enough money. But I can afford nonessentials – so I will shut up and feel grateful.

  4. ChristineZ says:

    May the generosity swing right back at you. Just moved out to NYC, from Berkeley, where homeless abound. It’s hard to walk by and do nothing. Oftentimes, if I’ve got food, or am on my way to food, I’ll offer to buy ’em some food.

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