Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Living on Egg-shells

I see him just about every time I'm ordered to head out to Home Depot.  When you purchase a home that needs this much work, you end up making numerous trips to Home Depot.  He stands at the corner of Independence and Buckholzer, usually facing the entrance to Sears at 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:

                                           Need Food
                                           God Bless

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.

As I sit in line watching him, I talk to myself about it.  If I don't give him anything, I feel superior to him, and that doesn't make me feel good.  If I do give something to him, I start to reconsider what I've done, saying to myself that he'll probably just use it to buy a drink at one of the many bars along nearby Brittain Road or Tallamdge Avenue.  I used to encounter a similar situation while working downtown in Pittsburgh.  I'd walk across the Fort Duquesne bridge en route to my parked car and a man with no shoes on would sit off to the side of the walk-way with a donation bucket.  If I had spare change I would give it to him.  Until one day, while walking through downtown during the lunch hour, I saw him coming out of a game-store, with shoes on, carrying a bag most-likely filled with some CD or game-cartridge.  So, I stopped giving him anything. Was that wrong?

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?

At the end of 2006, my position was eliminated.  After a few weeks of receiving emails from people writing things like, "Let me know if you need anything" and "I'll be on the look-out for you", those notes stopped pouring in.  I realized that, for the most part, I was on my own.  And, later, many of my attempts to reach out to established industry-friends yielded very little in return.  Either my industry-friends were in the same boat as I, or I didn't have as many friends as I thought I did.  Regardless,  I had a few freelance client-stations that I could use as a means to get up-and-running, and I was able to build it into a way to support us, at least for the time being.

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.

This week, my computer made me feel like that.  My whole world revolves around my computer, because our means of sustenance revolves around the computer.  If it dies, I'm dead.  We had made plans to purchase a new system for the business, since the previous Dell that I owned for the past 7 years had just been, well, temperamental.  So instead of buying a Dell, I opted for one of those companies that creates systems specifically for people in the recording industry who use their computers for complicated audio and video projects.  The minute I took it out of the box, it began to demonstrate its own temperamental ways.  My friend Brad agreed to come up and make the switch-over with the various new programs, audio-card, and other peripherals.  But after he left, it continued to simply freeze-up.  No movement from the mouse.  No movement from the keyboard.  No movement.  I would be in the middle of recording a few sentences and it would just stop.  A computer with 8 gigs of RAM isn't supposed to just suddenly stop.  Each morning, I would walk on eggshells, down to the studio, creep around the corner to see if the screen-saver had ambled in to its freeze-up mode.  If it hadn't, I'd breathe a sigh of relief.  But last week, it spent an inordinate amount of time simply...stopping.  A half-dozen tech-support calls later, we decided to drop some new RAM into it.  Hopefully, the problem will be solved.

So, am I 8 gigs of RAM away from standing on a corner myself?  It sounds dramatic, but I've thought about the downsizing of businesses.  My business, in particular.  Rates plummet, competition grows as more radio professionals become ex-radio professionals, and fewer and fewer stations pinpoint available budget for imaging and voice-over.  But I know that it's not completely the fault of the radio industry, as inept as it sometimes is.  It's partly my fault for not seeing the forest through the trees, for not planning better, for not diversifying earlier, and for perhaps for not sticking around one place for an extended period of time.  So we did the next best thing: we downsized, chose a fixer-upper, and settled for the overcast confines of northeast Ohio.      

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:

                                                    Need Food
                                                    God Bless

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.


Image: Dynamite Imagery /

1 comment:

susan miller said...

hmm. methinks we're all collectively "homeless, hungry, needing food, and ALWAYS in need of G-d's blessing." this fellow just has the chutzpah to put up a placard and let the world know.

knowing you, even a bit, in past years, you are one to keep your eyes open. thank heavens for that. me, too. i've had a "change of circumstances" of which you speak, that's lasted almost three years now. let me tell you, it's damn scary. i am not lazy, or unintelligent. i am merely getting older, and my nuclear family is nearly gone. i wish i could live from paycheck to paycheck. i worked uninterruptedly, since i was 16. now, i live for tuesday mornings, when unemployment offers up the latest installment of humility. i have a home. for now. i have not missed a meal, for food has always been a priority for me. clothes to wear. check. nothing w/ fine labels. do i have my health? yes, after several close calls w/death. do i still have dreams? indeed, i do.

i can walk, talk, see the beauty that surrounds me, listens to music that stirs my soul and still makes me want to boogie. do i have family and friends that love me? yes. so i consider myself, still rich, in many ways.

so, i pause for a moment and give thanks, and be transformed by greatfulness, that today, i have my daily bread, and i choose not to carry a sign, which we all could carry. we must be open to exchanging our needs for emotional and financial security for serenity. "no trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made," agnes de mille reminds us. "destiny is made known silently."

i have few bucks if i'm ever around chapel hill. if he needs to advertise, i say his need is stronger on this particular day than mine, for a structure that feels like home, and food or drink that quells his hunger. may G'd bless him. real life isn't always perfect. that's okay. if someone acknowledges his presence in a positive way, just maybe he'll work on his life, and live to survive and surmount that which confounds him.

feel superior by donating to his cause? enabling? codependent? i don't think so. be grateful you don't carry the sign, today. i know, i am.