Chapel Hill Mall, his back to the Regal Cinemas. It seems like a good spot, I guess. He looks young, maybe in his 30's, a bit rotund with an unkept beard and wearing a baseball cap. But each time I make my way home with my car filled with construction odds-and-ends, he's there, with the same cardboard sign:
I've never been first in-line at the stop-light, so I've never had the opportunity to ask, but I've wanted to. I'd like to know what happened. What transpired to create the situation that would have him stand at an intersection with a sign. I have given him money before. As the left-hand turn-arrow flashes green, I have slowed down to hand him a few bucks. As I round the corner, he does the same thing: he closes his eyes, stares up at the sky, mumbles something to himself, and places the money in his pocket. Donna often says that she'd like to keep food-certificates in the car and give them out instead of money, but we never get around to getting them.
I'm sure some of us who drive past this man probably feel a sense of superiority to him, as well, saying to ourselves, "That could never happen to me". But most of us are dancing on a shoe-string budget, a few paychecks away from disaster. Granted, maybe those who are a bit more educated might be able to use a computer more proficiently in order seek out other avenues to assist themselves, or they might have a larger pool of acquaintances who may be better equipped to help with industry contacts and such. But once those are exhausted, then what?
Why this guy? Is he just lazy? Does he have a skill-set and he just doesn't know how to market it? Maybe he doesn't have a family that can help. Maybe he has a family and they don't want to help. Maybe his wife has cancer and medical bills have wiped him out, or maybe he's a meth addict and his family left him because he won't get help. Or maybe he's not homeless and he just likes soaking people for a few bucks at an intersection until his government check arrives. I don't know. Should I help him and not care about the reasons, or should I just not care?
Living sheepishly. Life simply feels overwhelming sometimes, like I'm not strong enough to handle it. That's the way I feel sometimes, that it's somehow larger than me and can swallow me up in an instant.
Maybe you'll approach a busy intersection someday and spot a chubby, balding guy with disheveled facial hair and a "Cleveland Indians, 1997 A.L. Champs" t-shirt. And you'll see the sign:
He might be there for any number of reasons: failed business, lack of planning, or economic downturn. The money made from having sold all his gear has long since been spent. Will you help? Drive past? Sneer? You might stock the glove-compartment with a few of those food gift-certificates. They may come in handy.
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