by G. Jack Urso
I just got back from grocery shopping.
I was sitting at the traffic light waiting for it to turn green so I can enter the shopping plaza. There's a car in the opposite direction facing my way. Someone is begging for change at the medium facing the car.
There are two people in the car, including the driver with an almost stereotypical blond Karen haircut.
I kid you not, but sometimes comedy and tragedy is painted in broad strokes.
The person begging for money is a middle-aged man in his 40s. He is unshaven and about 20 pounds underweight. I taught in rehabs. I can spot an alcoholic a mile away, and I was a lot closer than that.
The people in the car speak to him. The passenger calls him over. The person begging is so skinny his pants begin falling down as he walks through traffic to the other side. He struggles to pull them up. Whatever they had for him, they didn't care enough to pass it to him through Karen the driver's window.
When he got to the passenger's window, they hand him a half-empty, wrinkled McDonald's bag. There is no McDonalds in the shopping plaza. The closest one is a block away in the other direction. This is their leftovers. They probably were going to throw it away.
The middle-aged man takes the bag and looks at it with quizzical look. You can tell he was thinking, “What am I going to do with this?”
I'm not so far away that I can't hear the conversation. They're not going to give him any money because he might drink it, but they'll give him food. Cold leftovers they were probably just going to throw away.
Giving garbage to someone they regarded as garbage.
Taking the food is a bad idea. It's not packaged, and some people will taint food to make the beggars sick and drive them away. The middle-aged man looks at the crumpled up half-empty bag of someone's leftovers and hands it back to them. He doesn't say anything and walks back to the medium hitching his too-big pants up as he goes along.
The light changes, but only in my direction, so I pull up to the middle-aged man and Karen's car. Karen and her passenger are having words with the middle-aged man for not accepting their charity. The middle-aged man is meek and takes their crap.
I stop my car right there. Damn the traffic. I give Karen a hard look as I shout "Hey, brother" to the middle-aged man. He ignores me. I shout out louder, "HEY, BROTHER!" He realizes I'm talking to him and turns to me. I almost never carry any cash anymore but had a couple bucks and slipped them into his hand, continuing to give Karen a hard look.
The middle-aged man doesn't look in his hand and quickly puts it in his pocket. "Thank you. Thank you." He repeats. He gives me an eye. He knows why I did it.
Karen also gives me an eye. She knows why I did it too.
About 30 minutes later when my shopping is done, I leave the plaza the same way I went in. The middle-aged man is gone, but the poor, in spirit or in wealth, will always be with us.
And there but for the grace of God go I.
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