There's this guy right here in town who has been homeless for years. He doesn't just stay on a particular corner, he moves from spot to spot. He's rather in your face with his panhandling, but I've seen him so often over the years that I know he's harmless. I don't like to take my wallet out of my purse when I'm on the street, so if I don't happen to have anything in my pocket, I don't share.
One day -- months ago -- he asked me for "a dollar." I said, "I don't know how much change I have, but you're welcome to it." I put some coins in his hands.
"I need a dollar."
For real. He said that to me. So I held out my hand. "If my money's not good enough for you, give it back." He mumbled and walked away.
Wednesday, he was on the el platform. It cost him $2.50 to get up there.*
He came up to me and asked for a dollar.
I flashed to the people I see in the city. The solemn, silent people holding their cups and their signs ("This is humiliating," "Anything is a lot when you have nothing"). Sometimes with their kids, often with their pets. Frequently with all their belongings in a garbage bag or shopping cart.
And this man came up to me and said, "I need a $1 for a sandwich." And I lost it.
"No," I said. "I gave you money and you told me it wasn't enough."
"You gave me a quarter!" He said, as if I'd offended him. I promise you, that wasn't me. I never give my quarters away because I need them for laundry. So that leads me to believe there's another woman here in town that he pissed off.
"I don't have to give you anything. I save my money for people who say 'thank you.'"
"I don't care! Go away!"
"I got you, Buddy," said a voice from behind me.
"Go talk to him!" I shouted. "He's nicer than I am!"
The homeless man moved behind me, saying over and over, "She gave me a quarter. What do you expect me to get with a quarter?"
I don't believe he's that badly off because 1) he doesn't even carry a backpack, and if he was homeless, he'd have his belongings with him and 2) he had the $2.50 to get on the el platform. I resent him approaching me -- an old lady by myself -- and getting in my face. And the lack of gratitude just staggers me.
I know I should feel bad about this exchange, but I'm still angry. At him. I hope I get to the point where I can honestly say I'm angry at myself, or at least ashamed. But to be honest, I'm not there yet.
*Our el stop is manned by a CTA employee during morning/evening rush, so I know he didn't jump the turnstyle.