I wait all day and into the evening and don’t receive a call to come into work the following day, which isn’t great financially speaking. Having not been called in the day of I listed things for sale; things of minor value that I don’t care about like a skateboard and a baritone ukulele. It’s past ten, the cutoff for calls, and I head out to a liquor store.
Earlier in the day I thought of all the times I’ve been out in city streets, drunk and young, feeling like violent crime was some Hollywood hype. It seemed hardly less than legendary, and I watched out for it like comic book fiction. I’d been in fights, they were all white privilege, weekend fist fights. I’ve never had a weapon pulled on me and I had never been attacked for money. I’m surprised, considering all of the stupid situations I’ve put myself into.
Now I’m imagining the reality of real violence. It might just be another thing that comes with traveling the path of age and getting a closer view of your mortality. I pull into an empty parking lot, and I vaguely see a guy with a spray bottle sitting on the side of a curb. I don’t feel alarmed at all, but I get an odd sensation of my present scenario and think how this must be the token “other” character present for the situation. The cue for us to speak is going to happen when I come back to my car.
There is no reason to feel threatened by this character, and I don’t know how I know these things, but I know. Still, I sense his thoughts directed toward me, even with his head turned away. I consciously sink into a leisurely rhythm as I turn and shut my car door, if only to draw my attention back to myself.
I go inside and buy a pack of three tall rather than a twelve pack to avoid breaking a twenty. Spending singles feels less like spending money and more along the lines of getting rid of the coins on the floor of your car. I even cash in a two dollar scratcher: one that I have and don’t know where it came from.
I step outside and I hear a gravelly voice call out to me, “hey man”. I look in the direction and it’s the guy with the spray bottle. He has piercing blue and almost bulging desperate eyes “Look I’m not homeless,” he pleads in his approach, “I’m a disabled veteran, my name is…” and I forget his name. He puts out his hand to shake mine and I look down and see so much discoloration that I don’t know what colors are his skin and what colors are the shit his skin touched. I’ve shared a beer with a homeless bum six years before, but I was drunk at the time. Though still, the man just wants to shake my hand, and so, on the surface, I don’t skip a beat. I reach out and shake his hand and feel that it’s dry. He goes on with what might be a schpeel.
“My wife and I have an apartment we’re waiting to get into and I got a job, but my wife just had her appendix removed and we’re trying to get into a motel tonight,” He looks like he’s emotionally pained to say all of this. “Look man, I hate being out here, but can I please wash your windows for you or something?”
“Aww, you don’t have to wash my windows. I’m on a budget myself,” I say as I open my door and set my beers on the seat, “but I can give you a dollar.”
“Ah, man. You rock,” he rejoices. I feel sick with the amount of joy that flooded his voice as I agreed to give him a dollar. I’m upset with myself that I’m not willing to give him more and that he’s so satisfied with what is just a token of generosity. While a dollar might be worth shit, the memory of the paper one dollar bill being a worthwhile monetary milestone still sort of lingers on. I certainly wasn’t trying to appear generous, but I was trying to trick myself into thinking I hadn’t turned my back on him. Maybe he subconsciously knew that it was all an exchange of tokens, and that the dollar really only represented the fact that I didn’t want to say no to him.
In times like this I imagine people I know, even family members, and think of what they might say this guy really needed the money for. I also start to wonder where my cynicism goes when I’m confronted by someone like this. I think of how plausible it is that this guy has a totally different situation than the one he pitched to me, but the vibe I picked up from him detailed the sincerity of his claims. I kind of think that, maybe he was lying to me on the surface, but that the desperation of whatever he needed was along the lines of that sort of urgency, and that I’d only understand if he could speak in universal textures.
His story sort of goes like this. He has a wife that he’s trying to help, so he isn’t selfish and someone cares about him. He doesn’t have a place to sleep, but it’s temporary, so he can’t be identified with a homeless lifestyle that would isolate him from humanity. I guess that’s the extent of my cynicism when I try to think of how the guy might be a liar. The guy might be living the life of hardship and pain that he explained to me or he went to great lengths to bridge the gap to another one. Either way, all I gave him was a dollar.
“You don’t know what this means man,” he expresses, “I mean, when it rains it pours.”
“I know man. I really hope things start going better for you, seriously.”
I meant it when I wished him well, though I don’t know what it’s like to have it rain and pour like him. I think it’s weird that everyone wants to equate their pain to “The pain”. It just isn’t true. Some people never feel pain like others, and you’ll never know in the instance of having the pain inflicted on you, you’ll only know in the measure of frequency you have to leave the pain behind with a steady state of mind.
I drive back the short mile back to my house and think about this guy and how I’m going to write about him, and I think about whether or not I’m treating life with sincerity. I think about the two dollar scratcher bestowed upon me and the one dollar whim I gave to the man, and what that says about me. I think about the beers I’m about to drink, and the warm made bed I get to sleep in when I get home. When I get home, and see my healthy wife that I love so much.
I look about my house and I see an aircraft leaving the nearby airport. It’s lights are yellow and green, and they twist in a way that defies the direction that the aircraft is moving. I think about life on other planets, and I believe that it exists, but because I’ll never get there, it seems like nothing more than a very good tale.