Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, the indigent crowd the sidewalks and the cardboard signs are out: Will Work for Food.
There was a time that I was susceptible to these signs. How could I not be? For a bright gal, I can be shockingly gullible. Raised by hard-working, self-sufficient types for whom asking for help is a last resort, I had little experience in how to answer the question, “Ma’am? Do you have any spare change?”
But of course, my good man! How else can I help you? You hungry? You got somewhere to stay?
It wasn’t long, however, before I noticed that, contrary to feeling good about helping someone out, I usually felt “had”. As a matter of fact, there were times when I felt downright grumpy about it.
And then came the day where I gave someone “bus fare, ma’am. If you could just give me bus fare so I could get home to my fambly…” Hey! Who doesn’t want to go home? Especially to fambly? I gave him the $2.50, wished him luck – and watched in mute, Midwestern horror as he hit up four more women for that same bus fare, watched as he climbed onto the same bus I did only to de-bus at The Moose, where there was a special on tap beers and dollar tacos…
Initially, I felt I had gotten nothing out of that exchange, but it wasn’t true.
I got wise.
This is not to say that I’ve stopped giving away my money.
I still pay my taxes, after all.
And I’ve been known to give money to the guitar player with the long hair and the incredible voice. And I give a dollar to the little accordion player and his South American polkas. And if that trumpet player that used to stand in front of the IDS shows up again, I’m going to give him money, too.
But it’s not always about money.
It wasn’t long ago that I was coming home from Mary’s, exiting from 94. I was sitting at the lights, just blocks away from a paint-peelingly seedy little strip joint. Humorously, its sign, aside from the titillating “Topless Topless Topless”, also asserts that it’s been “Voted Best Pizza in Twin Cities”.
One can only shake one’s head. Voted by whom?
On this particular day, and in this lovely part of town, where free-range litter roams unencumbered by constraint and the sunlight hits the broken glass just so, there is a young woman – 20? 21? – standing at the lights and holding a sign.
Hitchhiking to California. Need Socks and Tampons.
I roll my window down.
She faces me.
“Really? Socks and tampons?”
She smiles. I can’t get over how young she looks. “Really.”
I dig frantically through my purse. The light will change soon…
“Here!” I yell.
She runs over to the car, and I hand her everything I can find.
“Oh, man! Thanks so much!”
“I’d give you my socks, but I’m not wearing any.”
“Yeah, but you’re giving what you have.” She smiles, all clear skinned and bright-eyed.
The light changes.
“Have a good day!” she says, backing away.
“Say “hey” to California for me!” I yell.
Sometimes you give, and it's a burden you add to other burdens.
But sometimes you give, and the load becomes lighter...