The other day, a clearly homeless man
asked me if I had any change
so that he could make a phone call
; and I guess I was tired
or in a rush
to get home
or whatever, because I gave my canned response
learned in my New York City
days, "Sorry, bud, I'm all credit cards now-adays
." I mentally kicked myself
afterwards, because one of the pleasures of not being in NYC
is not having the oceans of homeless folks
ask you for money, thus hardening
you to their requests.
Some people think this is insane, wanting to give money to homeless people, tramps, bums, scammers, whatever. One person who I used to work with, a rich white chick who had spent more money on her boob job than some people make in six months, was always annoyed that I regularly gave money to the same old bum in the front of the courthouse. "He's just going to spend it on booze," she would always say. One day I just kind of snapped and snarled back at her, "well, if you lived like he does, wouldn't you want to get drunk?"
So I was feeling fairly bad that I had dissed the gentleman of the road who asked me for change while I was on the way to my car, and I had promised myself that I would make up for it. Today, when I sat down to lunch at Ice Cream Etcetera, a lovely Savannah establishment with good cheap sandwiches and outdoor seating, a gentleman who obviously hadn't bathed in several days asked me to sign a petition so that people with AIDS could get medicine.
The petition was clearly bogus; it was on a rumpled, dirty sheet of paper, and the New York part of me was screaming, "he'll distract you, and someone will run off with your laptop, or kill you, or worse -- just ignore him!" But because of my diss the other day, I forced myself to treat him politely, if warily, and said, "Certainly, sir. I'd be happy to sign your petition," knowing that there was some sort of scam in the make.
Sure enough, he turned it over, and on the other side were people's names, as expected. But there was also a column for "contribution." So I sighed and forked over a buck that I keep in my pocket (one should always have tzedakah money handy), signed, and handed it back.
That's it. He left, satisfied. No death or dismemberment or theft involved. But there was a part of me (perhaps the part that wants to get expensive self-defacing surgery) that was screaming, "you didn't just give money to a beggar; you've just been scammed, you idiot!"
But let's face it. I've never been homeless and have a much better life than this dude does. I make my living doing something very satisfying and not at all distasteful, most of the time, namely, writing and working with technology. Sure this guy was a scammer (but aren't all the vendors who sell me stuff predicated on lies, lies, lies also scammers?).
All the reasonable part of me could reply to the unreasonable part was, "Thank god I don't have to make my living passing out bogus petitions."