Friday, May 1, 2009

On the spot on the street

I don't like giving to panhandlers on the street and have gone out of my way to avoid it since my days as a student in the Bronx, when begging was a front for muggers determining if you were worth mugging.

But the other day, I passed a tall, polite man under a store awning in the rain who said "I'm a Vietnam veteran, ma'am, can you help me out?" and held out his VA card as proof. As is my habit in these situations, I just kept walking. But it didn't sit well with me. I've often thought that if my mom and dad had split up in the last 15 years of my dad's life, that's what he would have become. Thank goodness it was raining because I got a bit teary thinking about my dad.

My dad had a huge heart but empty pockets, and a big brain but no practicality. He would give away money he didn't really have. I turned around and walked back three blocks to give that semi-toothless man $2.

I used to give regularly to a tall-but-stooped elderly black man who often worked my corner. He had terrible blood pressure and at one point his head was shaved for medical reasons, and he turned 70 in February. Well, I remember when he turned 69 the previous year, but he hasn't been around at all for about 6 months...probably no longer among us. So if that polite old vet begs on that other corner regularly, I think that's where I'll be shifting my street patronage to. And honestly, I don't care if he spends it on cigarettes or beer or any other vice - whatever gets him through the day is fine with me, no judgments.

1 comment:

BB said...

You're wonderful Kate! I had an old man, I interacted with him for a few years; every morning he was waiting for me at the same place, always with a smile on his face. I started to consider him part of my family, my guy. One day he was gone. I haven't seen him since, and nobody I ask knows where he went. I can't go past the spot without hoping he'll be back...