Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Woman Asks Me For Money

I was at the ATM today, braving the cold to deposit a check, check my balance, and get some cash before going on yet another emotionless date when I got hit up for money. This is nothing new.

After six years in the my university's town, I came to the conclusion that a full twenty percent of the town's population was comprised of pan handlers. The approach is usually the same: 1. Find target likely to have money (i.e. someone going into or coming out of a restaurant or bar...or at an ATM machine) 2. Make sure target looks naive or at least capable of feeling guilt. 3. Rattle off well-rehearsed hard luck story that involves the pressing need for whatever cash guilty/naive person can spare. 3a. Make sure said hard luck story cannot be solved by any means other than cash. 4. God bless.

I used to piss off my Republican buddies by obliging most pan handlers with spare change from the car or a dollar. They would always scold me for being so naive, so liberal (this was an epithet to them). I always responded by saying that regardless of whether or not the guy I gave my change to really needed it to buy gas to get to his first day of work after turning his life around and getting out of jail, he clearly needed it more than me. I mean, he's a pan handler, right?

I eventually toned down the giving of change when a particularly hinky pan handler asked me for change and then became irate when I did not give him more. I did not help the situation by rhetorically asking him, and I quote, "Are you fucking serious!?" And then following up such wise words with, "Give me my fucking quarters back and get the hell out of my face!" Luckily, the guy walked away a little taken aback, but my friends delicately pointed out to me that aggressively confronting a seemingly cracked out man over a few quarters was probably not the smartest thing I could have done. This turned out to be a significant under statement as we noticed a large knife in the man's back pocket as he walked away. I never said I had the best judgement in all situations. Which brings me back to today....

Midway through my transactions at the ATM I became aware of a woman hovering at a polite distance to my left. I could tell she was waiting for me and I knew she was going to ask for money. I was taking long enough that she finally spoke up.

"Excuse me, sir," she said.

She was was probably in her mid thirties, but looked older. At one point she had clearly been an attractive woman, but she had not lead the type of life that prolonged that privilege. She had on a ridiculous shade of lipstick. It was lavender and entirely too glossy and the contrast with her inexplicably tanned face was frightening. She stood mostly on one leg as if she'd stepped on a nail and she was dressed from head to toe in black clothes turning blue from wear. She looked profoundly, crushingly lost.

She started to speak and then stopped. She looked into traffic for the words and when she looked back she was crying.

"I'm trying to get to my mother's house in Cincinnati. I have to take a Geyhound and I have no money for the fare. I have been standing here for five hours. I just had my boyfriend arrested for domestic violence and I...."

She trailed off and couldn't finish. This is always an awkward moment. I'm a sceptic. I'm standing on a street corner with sixty new dollars in my wallet and all I want to do is get in my car and drive away. People call the police for things like this. It's a disturbance. It's unsightly. People say to themselves, "I would never do that. What happened to these people?"

As I passed her I handed her one of my new twenty dollar bills. I do this stone-faced and as she is about to begin another sentence. She bursts into tears and calls me an angel, but I still don't make eye contact. As I get into my car I finally look back to see her walking away. I can still hear he crying.

"Take care of yourself," I say, and then I get in the car and drive to the gas station where I can only get half a tank with my newly depleted funds.

I'm not sure if her story was bullshit or not. Logic would say it was. Logic would also say I have been lucky. Some people use the word blessed. It's funny how a person can seem a world away standing on the same street corner at the same point in time as you. It's funny how you can see yourself in that something that seems so far away. When I said I haven't always exercised the best judgment, I didn't mean in the decision to give the woman money. How many decisions away from her am I really?

I've been distracted all evening.


K said...

I thought about your second-to-last sentence tonight while I was watching the newest episode of "Breaking Bad" (btw, DVR is the greatest invention EVER). If you aren't watching this show, you should be. It's amazing.

Anyway, most of the episode (and the show as a whole) focuses on the series of bad/not-well-thought-out decisions that people make in desparate situations. I wonder what your lady's initial situation was that led her down this particular path...

Rachel said...

I'm a sucker for a hard luck story-- can't really explain or rationalize it, and maybe it's just another mode of self-delusion, a way to feel good about yourself, but I have to say I was proud of you after reading this.

Regardless of the true facts of the situation, you're still the type of guy who'll give a stranger $20.

Good on ya.