This is a story of moral curiosity. Read accordingly.
I had just completed my homework goal for the evening after getting home from work. I indulged in a much needed shower, and decided to make a quick trip to the nearby Walmart to pick up a bottle of wine to accompany some late night writing – a rare luxury given my class requirements.
I swung into the same tiny neighborhood market that I do nearly every night… dubstep blasting from my used Lexus speakers of course, and barely noticed, as I turned the parking lot corner, an assembly of grocery bags piled along the side of the street in front of the parking lot. In the split second I had to glance at this odd sight, I thought it just a line of trash… until I saw some feet and knees move.
I parked my car in the same spot I always do. A city police SUV happened to be idling two spaces over, and I made a mental note to stop the officer inside and ask if he was aware of the huddled figure draped in a bath towel sitting streetside just outside his squad car.
While it was nice of me to have such considerations, I never did encounter a police officer that night.
Summer was definitely turning to fall, and though not quite freezing, a chilling cold was in the air, which made the figure on the curb all the more deserving of attention. Deserving, that is, to my mind at least.
I scanned the isles for the absent officer, scanned the same isles again for a blanket, then found the wine isle (rather easily) and went to check out. This Walmart didn’t carry blankets, I was told at the register, but I got $20 cash-back just in case.
Generally speaking, a homeless person needs both shelter AND resources, so even if I couldn’t help with both, I could at least add a drop in the bucket towards one necessity.
Unfortunately, the shady-looking gas station across the street didn’t have blankets for sale either. They mostly just had gasoline. Gasoline, and cars blasting ghetto noise outside. I wove around motionless (yet hip-hop blasting) 90’s sedans sporting cheap paint jobs, tinted windows and lift-kits, and re-parked my car with the $20 bill still in my pocket.
I didn’t have my “piece” with me, so, like a normal person, I just got out, locked my doors, and avoided eye contact while making my way towards my gutter-bound beneficiary.
My personal poverty and debt facts aside, I had every intention of handing over my………………
My gracious gift of two fast food meals? My contribution of three small bottles of bottom-shelf vodka? Four packs of cheap cigarettes? One Uber ride? One day’s worth of pot-granted peace? A cheap blanket? A quarter of a rancid motel room?
What is a $20 bill to a person surviving on the edge of society?
I’ll tell you. It’s a “thank you”. It’s a “god bless”. It’s nothing to sneeze at – because it’s nothing at all.
It’s a fucking sandwich and a can of beer – and that’s all I was intending to hand this crumpled figure anyway. Why? Because I can’t afford health insurance or to shop at Kroger, but my pathetic feelings hurt for a faceless human who was shivering alone on a cold October night.
So then why did I drive home without giving them the $20 bill?
I still have it – the $20 bill. It’s in the pull-out divider mesh drawer thingy that sits next to my Canon printer. It’s folded along-side my souvenir Bavaria lighter, my mini-stapler and my scotch tape.
If I didn’t need it…then why didn’t I just give it away to someone who did?
I was 30 steps away.
Because you don’t huddle unless you’re freezing. (And it wasn’t freezing outside.)
You don’t sleep on the side of the street if you intend to sleep at all. (The cops won’t let you.)
You don’t own more than you can carry if you are homeless. (That’s what defines a homeless person.)
You don’t wait outside unless you’ve been kicked out of an inside for some reason.
To be honest, I didn’t need to think about it too deeply. Everything was suspicious. The red flags were waving. I had no idea whose head was bowed under that dirty towel on the sidewalk. No idea for what reason they were sitting… what or who they were waiting for…why they hid their face…and why – or if, they were cold in the first place.
I’ve seen enough in my sad life to know that even a desperate form can be both a cry for help…and a crime in waiting.
So I left.
I drove away without helping.
I got home, tossed the $20 bill next to the printer, cracked open the bottle of rosé , made some dinner and wrote down this story mere minutes after it happened.
Because this story isn’t about a person in need. Nor is it about me.
It’s about you.
It’s about what you think about all this.
So, what do you think?
You’re welcome to share a comment on Facebook or send me an email directly if you really want to, but that’s not the point of this either.
This story isn’t over yet.
The best stories never are.