In which the author interacts with the down and out, usually making things worse.
Recently while in a 7-11 in West Babylon I noticed the line being slowed by a disheveled and grizzly looking man who was arguing with the clerk, trying to buy beer at 7:55 am on a Sunday. Never being capable of minding my own business I attempted sympathy by saying to him “I think you have to wait till noon on Sunday to buy beer.”
“Wow” he said, “You’re really showing your age, it hasn’t been noon for years, its 8 am now.” I was fuming, not so much at the age crack (we were around the same age) but because I was trying to be supportive. Insulting him would have posed no challenge nor provided any reward so I did not pursue it and tried not to feel morally superior. At least I wasn’t the one jonesing for a Bud before breakfast!
Another time a perfectly normal looking fellow was panhandling while sitting on the sidewalk at Burger King in Amityville. Dude, put some effort into your game! He asked me about my profession as I was in my visiting nurse outfit. He wanted to know how much schooling I needed for my degree and so forth. I saw no reason not to answer his nosy questions; maybe he would be inspired to enter a more lucrative field of employment but my fine example. “Well” he said, “I can see you are very successful by that car you drive.” He waved his hand dismissively in the direction of my 12 year old Honda. (Runs great! Minimal rust!) Still, I was the one that ended up being inspired and got a new used car after being insulted by this panhandler.
The most annoying panhandler was a fellow in my local 7-11. He was toothless, cross-eyed, missing a few fingers and was, by anyone’s estimation, completely and thoroughly unemployable. So naturally I had to make him my little project. I bought him new gloves and gave him an old coat I had found in my closet. I always made sure I had an extra dollar in my wallet for him when I went in to get the paper and a scratch-off ticket, the tickets being an integral component of my long-range retirement and financial planning strategy. He knew he could count on me.
One day he proudly showed me his new teeth. Unfortunately, he took them out of his mouth to do so. After awhile he started to expect more money and yes, I blame myself. I would give him a dollar and he would look to see if I had given him a five or ten dollar bill. Sometimes he would bang on my car window and try to get more money. I started to go to other 7-11s to avoid him. Management changed and one of the ladies working there was known for loudly shooing him away. I rarely see him anymore.
Looking back at these different interactions I can see how I was wrong, by butting in, attempting to be a shining star of upward mobility, or fostering dependent behavior, so it is surprising that I eventually did something right one time.
Again, it was my local 7-11 where I saw a young woman soliciting funds dressed in a rather slovenly way with her hair a mess and not presenting well at all. Behind this, however, I saw sanity and intelligence. She was clearly on a bender of some sort. “What are you doing out here like this?” I asked her in a deliberately bossy tone. She said pretty much what I expected, that she was having an epic, terrible weekend and just wanted to go home. I gave her enough money for a cab and told her to go to her mother’s house. She backed away when I said that so I quickly said “or your grandma’s” and she eased up. “This isn’t you, you are not like this, and I don’t expect to ever see you out like this anymore.” She said it not to worry; she would never do this to herself again.
I believed her fervent declaration and it was the last time I ever saw her. All I had done was remind her of who she really was, and kept myself out of it.