Going to lunch today was like playing dodge the homeless. As I got off the elevator in my office building, I noticed that my favorite homeless guy from my neighborhood (not from where I work) was standing in the lobby. It was kind of weird. I see this guy near my house everyday. I talk to him. I give him all the change in my pockets. I listen to his jokes. He hugs me and tells Scoresby that he likes me because I’m so jolly. Then he asks me to pray for him and I say I will even though I don’t believe in prayer. I don’t know his name, but I know his face and his voice and his smile. So, here I am running into him in my office building as if I am running into a neighbor or a co-worker. He puts out a hand to shake mine and says hello with such kindness. It is like picking up a family member at the airport, this greeting. He doesn’t ask for money so I don’t give him any. In fact, I don't think he has ever asked me for money. He is not a beggar to me. I wonder if this warmth between us is worth more than money. I think that perhaps to me it is, and hope to him it is too. Perhaps that is naive. For a moment, I even wonder if he is with-it enough to know that he knows me. He seems a little drunk or crazy, so I guess I’ll never know.
I step into the cold but sunny street, feeling bewildered by this exchange. For a moment I wonder if he was even really there or if I imagined it all. "I am not that crazy," I whisper. I get only half a block away when I see another homeless guy, this one is begging. He is a white guy, kind of fat, kind of mean looking and I mistake him for the homeless guy who last summer called a friend and I "fat dykes" because we wouldn’t give him money. I remember my friend calling back to him, “She’s not gay!” which was very funny because, well, my friend is gay, but not fat. I thought she would argue the fat part with him for herself, but instead she argued the gay part for me. I decide that I will not be abused by this guy today, so I smile at him. This gets his attention and he looks up from his seat on the cold pavement and I realize it is not the same guy. He asks if I have anything to spare, so I reach into my Badtz Maru wallet and give him all the cash I have. It comes to about 95 cents. He thanks me and tells me I should take him to dinner sometime. I smile and continue down the street.
In the block between there and the Quizno’s I encounter no fewer than 3 other homeless people aggressively asking for money. One is an old Latino woman who is on crutches and is nearly crying. Another is a tall black man holding an American flag. I feel terrible that I gave all of my cash to the first guy. I am not usually like this. I have been working in this city for 10 years and I have become very good at ignoring the homeless. You almost have to be to get anywhere. Today is the worst I’ve ever seen, though, and it is really getting to me. It makes me think about my own debts, about how I spent all day yesterday looking at my credit report and calculating how much I owe people. See, I am trying to get out debt. I have been working really hard at it for two years and I currently owe $12,558 in credit card debt. That sounds like a lot, but I am two people really, so it isn’t as bad as it sounds. We want to have a baby soon, so I am trying to get rid of the debt as fast as I can. Seeing all these people asking me for money made me think about cyber-begging. I run the numbers in my head. If 12,558 people all sent me $1 each in the mail, I would be out of debt and they wouldn’t even notice that they were missing a dollar. Or if 2511 people sent me a 5-dollar bill in the mail, it would be even easier. I wonder how many other people gave that guy a dollar today. How much will he make today? And could I do the same over the internet? I have such a strong need to get rid of this debt that I think I’d almost be willing to do it. Maybe there should be a website where people put up their list of debts and their address and we can all start sending our extra dollars to each other. Maybe we could solve some of our financial problems that way? Maybe we could all use our extra dollars to free others from the horror of credit cards. I watched my parents go bankrupt twice when I lived with them, so I should have learned from their mistakes, but we all have to make our own mistakes before we can learn. I know this now. It is funny because while I will give homeless people money, I found the most recent cyber-beggar in the news (savekaryn.com) to be absolutely insipid. I guess that is how others would see me if I became a cyber-beggar.
On my way back to work, I offered the homeless guy, who I had given my 95 cents to, a bag of potato chips. He said no, but he wouldn’t mind my sandwich. Maybe that is why we don’t help others as much as we should. Because people get greedy when you start giving them things. It kind of made me mad that he asked for the sandwich when I didn’t even have to offer him the chips in the first place. But that is human nature, I guess.