Tag Archives: homeless

Random act of kindness: FAIL

7 Aug

Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 4.31.49 PM

While I was in Chicago for work last week, I met up with a friend for breakfast one day before the office opened. We agreed to meet at Do-Rite Donuts because it was close to my hotel AND had gluten-free and vegan options. (I don’t even want to know what they use to make a donut that doesn’t contain flour or eggs – I assume tree bark.)

Because I’m mildly OCD (and – more realistically – because she had to take a combination of trains and busses, whereas I only had to walk around the corner), I arrived 10 minutes before she did. I decided to grab a donut and hold a table for us outside since the place seemed fairly busy.

The donut selection was overwhelming, and it became even harder to focus when a homeless man shuffled into the place, slowly panhandling his way along the line leading up to the small counter. Everyone looked uncomfortable, so when he got to me, I said, “I won’t give you money, but I’ll buy you a donut if you’d like one.”

The cashiers heard me and we exchanged a look while they patiently waited for him to point to a donut. (Of course he chose a premium gluten-free flavor.) Then he leaned across the counter and tried to get them to bring him a cup of milk (which they said they didn’t have) and started asking about what else they had back there that he could eat. I felt a bit callous, denying a homeless person food, but I also don’t like being taken advantage of, so I reset expectations with him quickly. “No – sorry. I’ll buy you a donut, but that’s all. Let’s go.”

I paid and left, heading outside to claim a table. He, however, remained inside, presumably asking someone else for something. He must not have been successful, because he emerged a few minutes later, holding the donut I’d bought him. Looking at him, I allowed myself the small feel-good moment that comes with performing a random act of kindness, thinking that maybe we could fix all the world’s problems if we each just help each other out a bit more.

And then I watched as he walked to the curb and threw the donut on the ground. He stumbled around it for a bit, and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to pick it up or what, but he resolved my curiosity by drawing back his foot and kicking it, sending it sailing out into the rush hour traffic. Without a backwards glance, he shuffled down the block.

I guess he decided gluten-free was some bullshit.

Advertisements

At least I come by it honestly.

5 Feb

Image Source: funnycoolstuff.com » 2008 » November

On the weekends, a van drives around to the parks in DC and serves warm meals to homeless people. Yesterday when I was out for a walk, I passed a group of people ladling out soup just as the line finished. I didn’t stop to ask for confirmation, but I’m pretty sure that the woman with the ladle was starting to dish me up a bowl until she gave me a full once-over.

And I’m pretty sure the only reason she decided I wasn’t homeless was because my fleece had a NorthFace logo.

It was a smack-my-head moment, when I realized I had just been assessed as homeless. In my defense: It was FREEZING out so I was wearing two pairs of pants and two hoodies. And I had a ski hat pulled down to my eyebrows. And I was wearing an old, stained backpack that smelled like wet sneakers. (Don’t ask.) And I hadn’t  showered after yoga, so I probably didn’t smell exactly like a rose.

But really? My eyes were focused, I wasn’t talking to myself, and I was moving at a pretty quick clip. C’mon!

This case of mistaken identity forced me to realize four things:

  1. I can totally relate to celebrities who get unflattering photos snapped when they run to 7-Eleven for a soda.
  2. I now feel better about the time I kept trying to hand my left-overs to people who were not actually homeless.
  3. Alan is a saint for never saying, “You’re going to leave the house in that?”
  4. I’m now the second member of my family to be mistaken for homeless.

Yes – you heard correctly. I’m not even the first person in my family to have this happen.

My dad and I share the compulsion of walking (and tracking) a set number of miles. He targets 100 miles per month. I shoot for 25 miles per week. Since (as I mentioned), we’re somewhat compulsive about it, we often find that we’re walking in less than ideal weather. In DC, that’s still pretty mild, but in Michigan – where my parents live – it can be sub-zero and hailing and he’ll still head out to hit his mileage.

Another thing you need to know for this story to make sense: my dad is an ardent environmentalist. As a result, instead of outfitting himself with a snowmobile suit to make walking more comfortable  when the weather turns, he simply layers on old clothes to give himself many layers.  Also, he often picks up trash as he walks. And he has a full beard, which I suppose could be interpreted as not having access to a razor.

Image Source: Zazzle.comMy parents live in a small town, and since my dad taught there for many decades, almost everyone in town knows him. I won’t say he’s a celebrity, but he’s definitely a character. (Pause for a moment and think about it: which would you rather be? My vote goes to character.) People usually just honk and wave when they see him scrambling down a ditch to grab an errant soda can – nothing to see here folks.

In recent years, however, the town’s population has grown, so not everyone is a former student who immediately recognizes him. So it was that on a particularly cold day, his route took him down the alley behind the town’s main grocery store. As he passed the dumpsters, an employee dragging out a sack of garbage spotted him and called out, “Well now! Today’s your lucky day!”

My dad, thinking she was just being friendly, hollered back, “Really? And why’s that?”

Her answer? “This bag has a whole slew of pastries in it that are practically untouched!”

Yes. She. Did.

I have no idea how he responded, because I was laughing too hard by this point in the story. But if I had to wager a guess, I’m thinking my parents enjoyed a windfall of donuts that week. Waste not, want not, after all!

Paved with good intentions…

5 Mar

My parents were in town this last weekend, so we walked down to the Smithsonian to see an Annie Lebowitz exhibit at the American Art Museum. On our way, we swung into Five Guys to grab a burger for lunch.

The portions are huge, so although we’d only ordered a small fry, we ended up with (what appeared to be) an entire order left over. Rather than toss the food, we packaged it neatly with some ketchup, napkins and a dish of peanuts to give to a homeless person.

Nice thought, right? Turns out, it was better in theory.

The first homeless man we passed was peering into a garbage can when we spotted him. I approached and held out the bag, saying, “Would you like some french fries?”

He didn’t make eye contact and just turned his head away from me a hawked a loogey on the sidewalk in response.

I’ll take that as a no.

The next person I approached was a disheveled looking guy pacing around a newspaper box talking to himself. I walked up and was in the process of presenting the bag to him, about to open my mouth, when I noticed he had a bluetooth in his ear and was apparently on the phone.

I quickly retracted my arm, leaving him standing there, staring at me, no doubt wondering why I’d just come and waved my Five Guys bag in his face.

Remarkably, as we neared the entrance to the museum, I still hadn’t found anyone to give the food to. I eyed the trashcan nervously and scanned the benches flanking the steps.

BINGO. An elderly woman sat there, looking a bit out of it and decidedly homeless. She was the last possibility to keep those fries from going in the trashcan. I strode up to her and – as I got closer – I realized she had a full goatee.

And yet, as we made eye contact, I had my doubts. Was she homeless? Or did she just lack a razor? Confused, I simply set the bag of french fries on the bench next to her and — not wanting to offend her if she wasn’t homeless — simply said — [ready for this?] —

“You might want to check this out.” 

Um. WHAT?! What kind of approach was that? It totally sounded creepy. Like – “Go ahead. Open this. There’s some crazy shit in here.”

She gave me a puzzled, searching look and I hustled back to my parents. “Quick! Let’s get in the museum,” I urged them.

“Why?” my mom asked. “What did she say?”

“Nothing,” I told her. “But I’m worried she might not be homeless and she might throw those fries at us.”

My mom shook her head. “No way. She was definitely homeless. She didn’t have any teeth, Alison.”

And at this point, I’m pretty sure my dad – who had watched all this silently – interjected with all seriousness, “Then those peanuts might have been a bad inclusion.”

Indeed.

Next time? I’ll just buy a paper from the Street Sense vendor. At least now I know why they wear flourescent vests.

This has nothing to do with this post. Other than that it's about a peanut and it's hilarious. That's where the relevance ends.

 

Warning: Not very pithy, served with a dose of politics. Sorry.

31 Jan

The other weekend I had a quintessential DC moment. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was out for a walk. I’d ventured down to the MLK library and walked back past Franklin Square, where homeless people were huddled around eating food that had been distributed by So Others Might Eat.

This is NOT the S.O.M.E van. But wouldn't it be awesome if it were? "Oh hells yeah! I'm gonna get me some wildlife from this van!"

Whenever I see the white S.O.M.E. van, it reminds me of my first winter in DC, when my college friends Brent and Marcus (my then-roommates on Capitol Hill) volunteered to help deliver food. I remember Marcus’s eyes, wide like saucers, recounting the experience after their first time out.

“It was crazy, man,” he said, and I swear his voice had a slight tremble. “We pulled up and it was like a bank heist – we’d be all organized and spring out and start handing out the food as fast as possible. Someone would stay at the wheel in case things got violent and we needed to leave fast.”

Another casualty of delivering food? “People get sick. If it’s the first thing they’ve eaten for a while, it just doesn’t sit well,” Marcus explained.

Apparently Marcus wasn’t exaggerating, because last weekend when I was walking, just after passing the group of people who were eating their S.O.M.E. meals, I looked up and accidentally locked eyes with a man standing with one hand on sign post, projectile vomiting. If you’ve never made eye contact with a stranger puking, I don’t advise it.

The thing that made this experience weird (other than the eye contact bit) was that he was just very matter of fact about it. So calm that I actually found myself scrutinizing the pile of vomit as I walked past it to make sure my eyes hadn’t deceived me. (Confirmed!)

And once he’d finished tossing his cookies (or – more accurately – clam chowder, by the steamy looks of it), he turned around and successfully hailed a bus and disappeared. HAILED A BUS. I didn’t even know a person could do that.

Dude. Only in Canada. They have KITS for this.

Estimates of DC’s homeless population range from 6,000 – 12,000 people. To put that in perspective: my hometown in Michigan has a population of 5,800.

There’s something wrong with this picture. Even with high unemployment rates, we live in a country where most homes have multiple televisions, cars and an extra bedroom. And yet we leave people to sleep without shelter, to scrounge their next meal, while we argue over tax rates for those of us fortunate enough to have a job.

I swear, I’ll get back to the pith (and vinegar) in my next post. I just figured this might be a good reminder – right when we’re in the throes of filing taxes and acutely feeling how much money we didn’t get to hang onto this year – of exactly what we have.

To quote a friend: Love your neighbor, not your wallet.

UPDATED: Unless your wallet looks like this. In which case, you totally should love it: