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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

But She Had a Letter from a Church!; or Who Do I Make the Check Out to?

We were sitting in the backyard, Willie, Jon, Mary and I.

And we were pretty happy.

Happy laughing, happy talking, happy drunk.  And why not?  It was summer, after all, the summer of 2005.

There had been people in the backyard all day, one of those spontaneous, joyous days when coupons are suddenly worth double, the car stops making that annoying “tick-tick-tick” sound, and friends drop by unannounced.

Mary is describing the time that Jon used a front-end loader to ensure that his neighbor had enough snow in his front yard – an escapade that filled said yard to the top of the fence – when a woman opens the gate and walks into the backyard.

“Excuse me? Ma’am?”

I turn to see a small woman rapidly approaching.  Perhaps five feet two, her hair has seen too many sloppily applied box dyes, her skin too many days in the sun. The word “wizened” comes to mind.

“Ma’am?” she says.  “Are you a Christian woman?”

Mary leans forward, grins at her.  “She sure is!  Have a seat, why don’t ya!”

If the woman had been wearing a hat, she’d be clutching it now, perhaps in a wringing motion at the chest.  “Oh, no, ma’am.  I couldn’t intrude.”

The thought that she both could and has intruded enters my brain. 

I crack open another beer and we stare at each other.  I give in rather quickly.  “What is it that you want?”

“Well, you see, ma’am…” and here she pulls an envelope from her back pocket and hands it to me.  I pull a letter from the envelope.  It has been folded and refolded many times, the creases worn shallow and weak.  “To Whom It May Concern”…

I look up.  “What is this?”  I say.

“Just read it, please, ma’am.”

It is a letter on the letterhead of one of the churches just a block away.  It endorses the bearer as having cancer, as requiring medications that neither she nor her seven children can afford.  It declares that she is a good citizen of Minneapolis, that she has skills as a tile and bricklayer.

And that she needs $42.45.

“Forty-two forty-five,” I say thoughtfully.  “That’s pretty specific.”

“Yes, ma’am.  I’m not a beggar, ma’am.  I’ve worked all my life, and when I’m in good health, I do a really fine job of laying tile.  But I’ve got cancer, and I’ve got seven children, and it’s all I can do to keep a roof over our heads let alone afford my medicine.  The $42.45 is what I need a week to keep up with my meds.  ”

Mary looks at me. 

“Without my medication,” the woman goes on, “I’ll die, and who will look after my children?”

I look back at Mary.  I jerk my head toward the alley.

“Excuse us for a moment,” I say, and Mary and I take a walk behind the garage.

“What do you think?”

“I think it could be a scam.”

“A pretty specific scam.”


“And she has a letter from the church.”


I look back toward the house.  “And she certainly looks sick.”

“Also true.”

“So what do you think?”

Mary shrugs.  “I think I’m flat-busted and that you’re not and that no one wants to see seven mother-less kids.”

I walk back to the umbrella-ed table, to my friends and my beer and my checkbook.   I write a check to “CASH” (“I no longer have a bank account, ma’am”).

“Thank you, ma’am”, she says, walking backwards.  “Thank you so much!”

She disappears around the front of the house.

Whereupon we go back to our beers.

And over the course of the next couple weeks, that check begins to weigh on me.  I was scammed, wasn’t I?  Was I?  Did a person really come into my backyard for the purposes of taking my money?

I call the church on the letterhead. 

“Oh, no,” says a gentle, slightly amused voice on the other end of the line.  “Those in need are always welcome to come to us and we’ll help where we can, but we would never hand someone a letter that was basically a license to beg.”

Think of it as a tax on the drunk and gullible.  I have.  


joeh said...

I have paid that tax several times, but never for more then $10.

That was a very good performance though.

Shelly said...

What goes around comes around. Your goodness back to you, her deceit back to her.

Launna said...

I agree that what you give out comes back to you... I could never imagine lying about my health for money... karma's too real...

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Karma will get you every time...

Nessa Locke said...

aw man. i was hoping it was the real deal...because it never is for me. :(

Dawn@Lighten Up! said...

You know what, Pearl? What you did? It was still the right thing to do.

vanilla said...

Catch 'em between the fifth and sixth beer, I always say.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari OM
Thanks for this repost; first because it demonstrates the inventiveness of the needy; second because it shows that humanity will prevail; third because we need constant reminders of these things. Let's not over-work the underbelly part... YAM xx

Geo. said...

A charitable outlay of $42.45 is the going price for divine favor --I'm pretty sure it's in the Bible.

Elephant's Child said...

When I pay that tax I like to think of it as the admission price for a stage show. Tragedy, pathos, exercise for my compassion muscle - perhaps with a cleverly worked out twist.

Linda O'Connell said...

My husband was approached on a parking lot by a woman who needed $32 for a timing chain for her car.

"She was really in need, knew what she was talking about. I really think she has car trouble," he said...as she approached her next victim, a man of course. Ehh, I say, out of the goodness of our hearts.

jenny_o said...

Oh, but it just isn't right for there to be a tax on the gullible, is it? It's not RIGHT, I tell you, because we gullible people pay heavily in damage to our pride, and besides that, we mean well. Dang it, shouldn't that be enough?

Jayne Martin said...

You need a lock on your gate.

Catalyst/Taylor said...

Jayne got it right.

Chicken said...

I believe that no one wants to be a beggar. Something drives people to it and if you give, you meet a need, so there's that. I also believe that but for the grace of God, it could be me or one of own. And finally, I believe it's always better to err on the side of gullible. Then again, I believe a fool and her money are soon parted and I'm living proof, so there you go. I still think you did a good thing. Now, back to that front loader and the snow...

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I think people have to do what they think is right, Pearl. She didn't, you did.

Lin said...

Oh no. I'm not falling for that one. You see...I see the same old beggars every stinkin' day on my way to work. I know what they look like. I know they are scamming everyone...'cept me. They don't get nuthin' from me. Nope.

I even quiz the kids who come to my door selling me candy for their sports. "What team are you on?" "what position do you play?" etc....

You gotta really earn MY money.

I'm sure you know what I'm talking about now, right?

Daisy said...

I've said it before, and it is still true. You've got a good heart, Pearl.

The Geezers said...

You have to admire her cleverness.

Also admirable is your willingness to suspend disbelief and do the right thing just in case it was legitimate.

Simply Suthern said...

I would feel better writing her a check for $42.45 than I do for the $15.00 a month rain runoff fee we have to pay to a city that didnt exist when the house was built. Especially since it aint rained in a month.