BrokeA bearded middle-aged man, with sallow eyes, and beady pupils, knit cap on his head, cracked hands, dirty finger nails, stood at the traffic light. I couldn't look at him much. Only a small container of goldfish cracker crumbs lay on the tray-table in the front of our van. Not worth handing over. I prefer not to give money. No telling where it will end up.
The light was red. He stood just feet away. He is a human being, I thought. I rolled down the window, and asked if he'd eat a burger. He was numb, stumblingly incomprehending. I asked again, and said I'd get him a burger and bring it back. He mumbled something about putting a lot of arsenic on it.
I drove on, to Staples to buy some colored printer paper for flyers for my [longitudinal project] (damn it, I'm going to get subjects one way or another!). I looked for Nutrigrain bars at the store. Perhaps something he could store in his pockets would be better. Nothing but candy and pretzels.
I drove to the Jack in the Box, and bought a breakfast sandwich, drove down the block, parked. I grabbed an audio recorder, and the sandwich bag, then walked to the corner. Hey, buddy, buddy... take a break, I brought you a sandwich. He nearly dashed into traffic before I warned of oncoming cars.
He walked, and sat with me on a bus bench. I asked if I could record him. Let's just say that part of my research entails listening to people talk. Why not do a kindness and get some potential research done at the same time. He wasn't so dumbfounded and wary this time. I suppose it's like unexpectedly hearing a language you speak; though you understand the words, you're not sure you heard aright. He replied to my inquiry: I wrote a poem... back in 1992, in a cemetery in Denver. Want to hear it.
I listened, and recorded. Much road noise. Don't know if the recording will give me much. I sat for 14 minutes, watching him shake while he ate. His breath smelled of stale alcohol. But, he was human. A bit worse for the wear, for sure. Didn't learn much about him, not enough to fill out the story of why he went from earning $980/week driving trucks and working on a farm in Iowa to subsisting on 80 cents a day (and I wasn't pan-handling... I'd find it under soda machines and the like).
He said: thanks for the sandwich.
I shook his hand and replied: Everyone deserves to eat, buddy, everyone deserves to eat.
And I meant it.