The One Where Thumper Gets Up On the Soapbox...Part 538
Because it's so expensive here (at least I think that's a large part of the reason) we have a large, visible, and growing population of homeless people. I drive around and see the same people sitting on corners, holding cardboard signs that say "HOMELESS, HUNGRY, PLEASE HELP" and a dozen other variations on the theme. There's one guy who frequents a corner near Walmart who has a sign that says simply, "NOT HOMELESS, JUST JOBLESS & HUNGRY." He's in is 60s (or looks it), gets around in a scooter, and is obviously known to workers at the Walmart McD's; I've been behind him in line while I wait impatiently for my 89 cent endless quantity of Diet Coke, and more often than not he orders a hamburger, small fries, and a Coke, and they only charge him a dollar. I've given him a buck or to here and there, mostly because I think I have a feel for his condition. He's a disabled senior citizen trying to scratch by; he's not claiming to be sleeping in the streets, he's just trying to put food in his stomach and he's not too proud to accept the discount.
Then there's the guy who's out about once a week, holding a sign proclaiming him to be out of gas and far from home; he's been out of gas for about a year now, and probably should find someplace else to play on peoples' sympathies, because I'm sure I'm not the only one buying it.
There's the guy who sometimes stakes claim to the same corner; I gave him a few bucks once, but never again. I'm sorry, but the $1300 Trek Bike he keeps half stashed in the bushes bothers me. He may be legitimately homeless, he may need every penny he can get, but something doesn't feel right about it, and I go with my gut.
Same thing with the very well groomed mother/daughter couple who panhandle across the street. I don't know their story and they may be legit, but the well-placed makeup, the hair cut just so, the manicures...it doesn't feel right.
And there's this couple; they sometimes haunt the same corner as the older guy with the scooter and the the guy with the expensive Trek bike. They have a dog with them, he's a least part pit bull, and he seems to be a well trained and well behaved pet. I've given them a dollar or two here and there, and they've always been gracious about it. I've seen the car they drive, and wonder how it's even held together, if they had to use duct tape and twine, and if there's any real metal in it that hasn't rusted out. They both look tired and beaten down, and while they both appear to be in their late 50s, they could easily be my age, just clobbered by the harsh realities of life on the street.
When it's seriously cold out, I think about them, and hope they scratched enough together for a warm place to sleep. My gut tells me they really are homeless, and really do need a hand.
My gut tells me a lot, sometimes it's right, sometimes not, but I tend to listen to it.
A few weeks ago--I've chewed on it this long--I was in Walmart getting cat food; they were in the next aisle, and I could hear them talking. They were counting out change, trying to figure out how big a can of dog food they could get, and still have enough left to split a box of chcken nuggets. They wanted to get the big can of the cheap dog food; the dog came first, but they were happy to realize they could get that, get chicken nuggets and a drink.
Folks, I buy a burger, fries, and a drink there more often than I should, and I don't have to think about it. I'm grateful that I don't have to think about it. I may bitch and moan because taxes seem overwhelming, and I'm damned tired of getting a little bit ahead and then something coming up to wipe that out, but I don't have to stand there and count out change to see if I'll be eating on any given day.
I hoped they had seen me around enough to not be offended, and I did what my gut said to; I went into the next aisle and I gave them cash. Because, dammit, I could not have lived with myself, thinking of these people wanting to share a freaking box of six chicken nuggets. I can't support them and feed them every day, but it wouldn't hurt me one bit to buy them food for the day. I didn't do it for a pat on the back or anything else. I did it because deep down I am afraid of being in that position. There but for the Grace of God and the Spouse Thingy's education. *I* do not want to lie there at night thinking about what I could have done but didn't. I didn't want to feel the guilt, and when it comes right down to it, it's all about me.
Me. Me. Me.
They thanked me, grabbed 2 or 3 cans of dog food, and left to pay for it.
And then another lady who was also in the aisle seethed, "They're just going to buy drugs or alcohol."
Apparently, because some people who panhandle do indeed use their take for the day to buy drugs or booze or hookers and weed, no one should ever give anyone else a little cash. Because God forbid we feed someone else's addiction.
Ya know what? So what? So freaking what? Maybe the old guy with the scooter has a million bucks in the bank. Maybe the couple with the dog have a nice house and a steady paycheck, but they know how to play the part. Maybe I'll win the lottery.
So the woman in the dog food aisle doubted they'd buy food. She's what I've been chewing on, off and on, for the past few weeks. Her doubt, and my anger at her doubt. Because it really is all about me...I felt judged. I felt painted in her doubt, as if I had done something wrong.
The flipside of doubt is faith; I prefer to err on the side of good faith when I can.
No, I don't know that they bought a big lunch that day. All I do know is that when I left they were standing outside their car, feeding their dog. I do know I'll see them again, probably at the same corner, holding that same sign. And I do know there are hundreds of others just like them in this little city, and hundreds more who are just a paycheck away from the realities of not having a place to live. And all the others who pay rent but need help putting cheap boxes of generic macaroni and cheese on the table.
And I do know that my gut is wrong sometimes, and I may give a few bucks to someone who will snort it up their nose later on.
I can live with that.
I can't do much else, I can't feed the world, I can't give money to every person with a sign, I can't know every detail about every person I encounter, but I can live with knowing that once in a while I might give a buck or two to the wrong person. Or that I might not give a buck or two to someone who probably needs it but doesn't look like they do. I can live with knowing I might get played for a few dollars once in a while.
I dunno...it sucks that in a country where there is plenty of food to go around, so many people can't afford it. It really bites that in this state, everything costs so much that a single person needs to earn more than $20/hr just to get by with the basics. And it's disheartening to think that doing what should be the right thing is tainted by "they'll just buy drugs or alcohol."
I see the hypocrisy in my own assumptions about those to whom I do not give money. I get that, I really do.
But Jesus, when you hear someone contemplating splitting a 6 piece McNugget and you're pretty sure it's because they can't afford anything more...
Off the soapbox now.
And oddly, now I want some McNuggets...