As I got into my car, I saw him make his way towards me. He bent down and looked through my passenger side door to get my attention.
“What’s up?” I said. I saw that he held a can of light beer.
“Can you help me out? The old lady kicked me out, man. I need to warm up.”
I saw his coat was nicely made, with a polyester shell, and the rest of his clothes were clean and unworn. I’d met many beggars, but this one was the most well-kept yet.
“So you’re drinking,” I said.
“Hey, what else am I going to do? I’m not feeling too good.” Then his voice became proud. “Look man, I’m a professional. I’m in the trades. Look..” He fished around in his pocket and produced a card, for a local trade group,
“I understand,” I said. And then I gave him some unsolicited advice. “You gotta do what you want…but that means taking care of yourself first. Get your shit together.”
“Yea,” he leaned in through the window, resting on his arm. I could tell I had an audience, so I went on.
“Society has it backwards…they want everyone to be helpful, giving, but first you’ve got to help yourself, give everything you can to you, get as good as you can be, get your thing going.”
His face was receptive. I warmed up. “I know drinking is fun. It can get too fun…I’ve been there. But it distracts you from facing your life.”
“Yea.” his eyes became energized with some realization. “Tell it.”
I had been going on for a while. “I’ve got to head out, man,” I told him.
His face changed, “Maaaan,” he said, distraught. “You’re not going to give me anything?!” He was incredulous.
“I just did,” I replied.
He whined, and I said, “I can’t help you. I just told you. All I have is change anyway.”
I opened the compartment between the seats and scooped out a handful of quarters and dimes and put it into his hand, like a pacifier.
I know I hadn’t changed him. Changing personality is almost impossible. But maybe I changed his behavior. A little. It didn’t matter too much. At least I felt better that this time I took some time to say something, provide something of value, instead of carelessly giving a dollar and walking away.
I think most sane beggars don’t need money. They need passion, and direction, and friends. They need new batteries.