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Who Are We?

Discussion in 'Anything goes' started by KG, Aug 28, 2008.

  1. KG

    KG Active Member

    Have you ever witnessed something that you might ordinarily see and shrug off, but one day it affects you so profoundly that you couldn’t stop thinking about it? Did it make you question yourself about what kind of person you are? I witnessed something once that really changed me, and today I received a strong reminder about it.

    Let me start from the beginning.

    Not long ago, I was watching reruns of CSI. The episode “Hot as Hell” was on, and while I had seen the episode at least a few times before, it never struck me the way it did that night.

    They found this old bum lying dead in a pile of garbage. He had an empty plastic baggy with a smiley face sticker on it in his pocket. They figured he’d gotten a sandwich at one of the local soup kitchens.

    The first (and ultimately correct) assumption was that the old guy had died from complications of the heat, but during the autopsy, they noticed bruising on his face and body, as well as ligature marks on his wrists—this prompted a more thorough investigation into what really killed him.

    His ID had the prints of a beat cop near one of the local soup kitchens, which explained the ligature marks that indicated injury from handcuffs. When they went out to talk to the cop and his partner, they found out he had indeed been in their custody temporarily.

    As it turned out, the reason the cops had him in cuffs, was because they had to break up a fight between him and another bum. Apparently they had been fighting over a sandwich. They got the two men’s tempers cooled off and sent them both on their way.

    Now it’s like I said, I had watched this episode a few times before, but it never really affected me. However, this time, there was one part, one very miniscule part, which lasted for about three seconds in total, that I think it’s safe to say has changed me forever.

    When the beat cops were recounting what happened, they showed a scene of the two old men struggling with one another. They were not playing the audio of the recollection, but that was a good move, because it let the viewers add their own ideas into the scene.

    When the cops broke the two men up, they showed a shot of the man that eventually died with the sandwich, eating it like it was going to disappear into thin air if he didn’t get it down the hatch at the speed of light.

    Then, in the most profound moment, they cut to about a second-long a shot of the man who lost the fight over the sandwich.

    His shirt was unbuttoned because of the miserable heat, his hair was messy, his skin was dirty and weathered and he had a cut on his forehead from the fight. That’s all expected with his homeless status and the fact that he was just fighting, so that’s not the part that pierced my heart—it was the look that took my breath away.

    The look on his face was like the misery of no other. He didn’t look angry, or merely upset. He looked completely desolated.

    His mouth was slightly ajar, as if he was letting out a whimper of defeat. The creases around his mouth showed the strain of fighting back the painful, hushed sound coming from his mouth. His tired, old eyes spoke of wretchedness. They were red and puffy from what was surely a lack of adequate rest while living on the bantering, hot streets of Las Vegas. His battered old face was screaming as a consequence of the injustice of the cards life had dealt him.

    It was like he didn’t just lose the fight, or a sandwich, he lost all hope.

    They briefly flashed a scene again of the soon-to-die man devouring the sandwich, and then back to the anguished man.

    The second shot was even more painful to watch than the first.

    This time, he was looking towards one of the cops, an expression like someone who is completely lost in a foreign land. The strain of looking up and to the left showed the wrinkles and baggy skin of his thin, but aging neck. His mouth was open further than before, as if he had moved on from a silent protest to an aching wail. The pain was even more evident than before.

    As I was watching this unfold, I felt a sudden and empowering ache for the man. I’ve been hard up for money before, late with the rent, had utilities cut off, wasn’t sure if I could make it on gas for the rest of the week before I got paid, slept in the car a few times and crashed on a friend’s couch when I didn’t have a place, but I’ve never experienced the kind of pain this man was living with each day.

    The scene sent me through an absolute flood of emotions.

    It was right then and there that I decided I could do something to change the lives of others. There are homeless people everywhere, especially in the bigger cities that are living this kind of anguish out each day.

    By no means am I well to do, I still live paycheck to paycheck, but at least I have a roof over my head and the means to eat each day. These people, for whatever reason they are in that situation, do not.

    They have nothing.

    Can you imagine having nothing, not even a guaranteed bite to eat each day?

    It was those three seconds of a scene that made me decide to help with the homeless. Actually, I felt like I was called to step up to the duty. I’m not talking about donating to some charity (which is noble in itself), I mean actually put forth the energy myself.

    I can’t afford to do much, but every little bit goes a long way.

    Did you know that for about $30 and a few hours of your own time, you can give 25 people two peanut butter sandwiches and a bottle of water? For an extra $10-$20 you can add a banana (soft enough even for those without teeth to eat and full of potassium) to each packaged meal.

    A friend of mine hooked me up with someone who runs a homeless ministry to let me know where the homeless “hot spots” are.

    Handing out food without a license to distribute food is technically illegal, since you are not licensed with the health department to distribute food, but throughout your act of kindness, police and health department officials look the other way.

    The pictures below are the scenes from CSI that first broke my heart into pieces.



    It’s been a while since I’ve done anything, I shamefully admit, but today I was reminded of the needs out there.

    While I was at a gas station filling up, a dirty-looking man was walking across the parking lot towards me. He looked like he hadn’t had a haircut in years or shaved in the past couple of months. His clothes were too big for him, so they hung awkwardly off his body.

    My first impression, I regret to admit, was that he was a drunk on a quest for booze.

    I was sitting in my car with the nozzle pumping away, and had just finished checking to see if I had enough cash left to fill up (payday isn’t until tomorrow). The man approached the driver’s side where I sat and told me how he’d just gotten out of the hospital (as he pointed to some kind of blue wrist band) and that he was hungry…could I spare any change.

    I was thinking, “ok dude, there’s not telling where you produced that blue band. I doubt you were in the hospital.”

    I somewhat truthfully, but in my heart dishonestly, pointed at the pump and said I was having to put what I had into that and wouldn’t get paid until tomorrow.

    He politely thanked me and moved on to the next set of pumps.

    So there I sat, smugly thinking of how I thought I should probably go inside and let the attendant know that some guy is out there harassing their customers for money.

    I was still assuming the man just wanted money for booze.

    The pump finished, so I got out, hung up the nozzle and headed into the store to pay. On the way in, however, I started to feel bad. What if this guy really was hungry?

    After I got inside, I decided instead of just paying for fuel and a fountain drink, I’d see what I could pick up that was cheap and would help him out if he truly was hungry.

    I found some packages of peanut butter crackers that had eight per package. They were only three for a dollar—score! I also grabbed a bottle of water.

    By the time I was heading to the register, I noticed the man had come inside.

    I didn’t want to say anything about what I was buying for him in there, because I didn’t want it to be awkward. Sadly, I think I was selfishly worried about it being awkward for me instead of him.

    While I was at the counter, I noticed he had a single beer in his hand.

    Immediately I was thinking he was a jerk and was exactly what I gathered from my first impression. But as I stood there, I found myself thinking that if I were in his shoes, getting even a momentary escape a tall boy could offer would be pretty tempting to me.

    I thought what the hell, even if I change my mind about the crackers, I’ll just be up some yummy crackers for myself.

    While I was standing there to pay, he was still wandering around the store. I decided I would give him the food and water anyway after he came out, because he could obviously use it more than me.

    I went outside to sit in my truck while I waited for him to come out of the store. I could see that he was still wandering around, but when he got to the counter, all he had was some milk.

    I’m assuming he went for something healthier that would still be filling but would last longer. Apparently he had a place to go, because he was buying a whole gallon. That did relieve me some. But the sad part was that he really did only have change.

    While I sat there and watched the scene unravel, he was struggling to pull the coins out and scoot them across the counter one at a time. I’m assuming he was having trouble counting it all out. I wanted so badly to go in there and just pay for his milk, but something told me to let him take care of it with what he had, or it could do more emotional damage than he was already suffering. Had he not had enough though, I would have gone in and paid.

    It seemed like it took an eternity as I sat there waiting for him to emerge from the store.

    When he finally came out, I gave him some time to start heading in the direction of his destination. I pulled away from the pump, and met up with him on the other side of the parking lot.

    I held the bag out the window, urging him to take it and told him I hoped it would help with his hunger. When he began to reach for the bag, I noticed a white hospital bracelet slip out from underneath the blue bracelet I’d seen before.

    Boy did I feel like an ass then.

    Not only did I feel guilty for not believing what had been right in front of my eyes, but I felt guilty that I had another $10 (I don’t need the $10 tonight) that I could have spent on some more food for him, but I had not wanted to do more than the minimum while I was in the store.

    The man took the food from me and said, “Thank you. God bless you. God bless you ma’am. You have no idea how much this means to me.”

    I just said, “You’re welcome,” and I drove away.

    Again, I found myself feeling that pain I felt before, when I realized that no matter how tough things get for me, I am living like a queen compared to others living within a few miles of me. For all I know, one of my neighbors could be facing the same kind of turmoil.

    I shared this with you, because I hope it can inspire you to take a minute to notice the world around you. Take the time to pay attention to the details of a scene you might otherwise avoid completely.

    The homeless aren’t always drunks just looking for booze, and even if they are, can you blame them? Just a few years ago, they could have been in the same shoes you comfortably wear today. We all have made different choices in life that have taken us in different directions, but really, we're all the same. We're all people.

    I’m not saying everyone should bend over backwards to start a foundation for the homeless or anything. I’m just asking that if you find yourself in a situation like I’ve described, where that little voice inside of you tells you to lend a helping hand in even a miniscule way, don’t ignore it.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 15, 2014
  2. ArnoldBabar

    ArnoldBabar Active Member

    Thank you for sharing that. You're clearly a very sympathetic person, which is something to be proud of. It's so easy (and often appropriate) to be cynical. There should be more people like you and fewer people like me.

    I live in the city and am constantly harassed for money, everywhere I go. It seems like I can't cross a downtown block or enter a store without someone asking me to give them the money I work so hard for -- and usually with what sounds like a well-rehearsed sales pitch. I'll be honest, it makes me angry that they'll put so much effort into begging that they could put into a job.

    But I'll never forget one night a few years ago. I was going into a grocery store late one night, and a guy approached me. I was prepared with my usual, "Sorry, man, I can't help you tonight" line, but for some reason his spiel caught my attention.

    He wasn't asking me for money, he was asking if I could buy him some food.

    "Uh, yeah, OK. What do you want?"


    "But I mean, is there anything in particular you'd like?"

    "Anything, whatever you want. It doesn't matter."

    It struck me that the guy wasn't trying to manipulate me, he was trying to survive. I bought him a couple of sandwiches, some chips, a soda. I'm at the condiment bar wondering, "Does he like mustard on his sandwiches? Mayo?" And then realizing what a ridiculous question it was.

    It's staggering to think how many people there are out there, just trying to fill their stomachs every day. And how many assholes like me, feeling like a big fucking hero because I bought a guy a sandwich once. Pathetic.
  3. KG

    KG Active Member

    It's not pathetic. Imagine if everyone would buy a homeless person a sandwich once. That's a lot of nights where bellies go to bed full.
  4. bigpern23

    bigpern23 Well-Known Member

    That really was a touching story, KG. The CSI part reminds of a Murphy Brown episode I once saw about Thanksgiving. I don't remember a lot of details about it now, I was a bit young then, but I remember her working in a soup kitchen and how much the story affected me. I couldn't sleep that night and my mom came into my room to check on me and saw I was tossing and turning.

    She woke me up and asked what was up. I pretty much broke down immediately and asked why we weren't doing more to help the poor in our town. We were good, church-going people and, frankly, we didn't have much extra to spare. But, Thanksgiving was always big for our house and we always had a great meal. I asked if we could do something. My mom promised we would. We had Thanksgiving that year, but we didn't have the giant turkey that would last us a week and all the fixings. We had a pretty regular chicken dinner and spent the night at the local shelter, helping serve the homeless, just like Murphy Brown did. My mom didn't see the episode, but she knew what I meant when I told her about it and she made sure she didn't disappoint her son by having a lavish meal.

    In hindsight, I only wish that's something we did more often.

    The second part of your story, the part about the gas station guy, reminds me of some of my trips to Fenway Park, believe it or not. Despite being a Yankees fan (I know, they're not making the playoffs, fuck off), I used to go to Fenway all the time (before they won the World Series and outpriced most everyone). One summer, we went at least six times and each time, going from the Kenmore Sq. "T" station to the park, we passed a guy who called himself "The Bridgeman."

    He kept the bridge over I-95 clean, sweeping it, picking up trash, whatever. First couple times we passed him, we too, assumed he was a drunk. Frankly, he likely was. But one time - this was late August or early September - I had a few extra dollars in my pocket and dropped them on him. For whatever reason he planned to use the money, it doesn't matter. I don't think I've ever been so sincerely thanked. I just put the money in his little bucket and continued on, but he shouted, "Excuse me, sir!" I stopped, he caught up and I was taken aback a bit when he hugged me.

    Seriously. He hugged me in what felt like a sincere embrace. It felt like a hug from a man who was happy for anyone to stop and think of him instead of how many games the Sox were behind the Yankees.

    I hugged him back. Hard. It felt right. But I let go a little quick for his tastes and squeezed a bit harder and said, "If you ever need anything in Boston, you come to this bridge and The Bridgeman will help you." The next season, this was 2000, we got off the train at Kenmore Square and walked across the bridge and one my friends wondered aloud if we'd see The Bridgeman. We didn't. He was gone. I haven't seen him since. And every time I cross that bridge I wonder what happened to him.

    Damn ... This is depressing.
  5. KG

    KG Active Member

    Sometimes people come into our lives for a purpose, and sometimes that purpose is fulfilled in just a single minute. But really, because he's still in your thoughts and in your heart, you still carry him with you today.
  6. bigpern23

    bigpern23 Well-Known Member

    And that's what makes me feel like shit. As much as The Bridgeman did affect me, these days, I'm much more concerned about myself and my financial well-being. And that includes probably paying to much for a car that I simply love but don't need to spend $350/month on when there are people like the Bridgeman out there who could live off $50 of that per month.
  7. KG

    KG Active Member

    BP, that's kind of the reason I started this thread. I felt compelled to share this emotional thing I've experienced with hopes that others might try to help someone out from time to time.

    I don't mean go out and sell your car or anything, just whenever you can spare a few bucks, try to.
  8. waterytart

    waterytart Active Member

    KG, I understand you wanted to do more than write a check, and I think that's so admirable. But for those who are more leery than you of wading right in and distributing the $30 worth of pb sandwiches, I'd like to point something out.

    Kids are going back to school now. If they're poor, there've been no free breakfasts or lunches at school for 10 weeks. Food banks try to help cover that gap. People tend to think of donating to their local pantry when Thanksgiving shows up on their mental radar (thanks for the assist, Pern :) ).

    We're in the window where your local food bank's shelves are most likely to be bare. They do good work.
  9. PeteyPirate

    PeteyPirate Guest

    KG, you need to stop getting high before you watch CSI.
  10. ink-stained wretch

    ink-stained wretch Active Member

    FWIW: there is a federal program that continues the free/reduced lunch program through the summer months in many school districts. In addition, the summer is also the window for many faith groups to establish lunch and breakfast programs.

    We all sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
  11. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Good thread. The ploy (well, I think it's a ploy) I see all the time in my area is the guy carrying a gas can, claiming he ran out just around the corner and asking for gas money. Guy yesterday approached me as I left a restaurant, I blew him off. But as I left I wondered if maybe I should have drove across the street to the gas station, topped off my car and filled his can. If he tried to stop me, then I'd know he just wanted cash and that the gas can was his prop.
  12. Italian_Stallion

    Italian_Stallion Active Member

    I readily admit that I should do more. But I do make one little priority that drives my wife bonkers. I tip really well at restaurants if I think the person needs the cash. About three weeks ago, I went to Friendly's for the first time. The food was terrible, and the service wasn't much better. But I watched those employees. They knew they had a shitty job in a shitty restaurant where most of the customers are old people who probably tip a buck.

    My bill was about $30. I added $15 to that and walked out the door. I figure they looked at me like I was crazy. But I sort of suspect that money is funneled down to an employee's kids or is used to pay for medical costs or just for that night's dinner.

    Sometimes, the greatest thing you can give someone in need is a smile or a pat on the back or a hug. But sometimes only money can help. In both cases, what you're really giving people is hope. There's too little of that in our world.
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