Crossing Broadway to get to work early this morning, I noticed something different in the doorway of the store. Some kind of clutter. A lot of it. I knew what it meant:
A homeless person was sleeping there.
I sympathize with the homeless, give them spare change here and there, but there’s no denying they can be a huge pain in the ass. They usually smell Godawful–entire subway cars are vacated when they’re sleeping in one, as the stench is unbearable–and always telling some possibly-true-probably-fictional story about how through no fault of their own, they’re in this position where they need some of your money.
At least in those scenarios, whether I give or not, they’re out of my life in a few seconds. This was going to be a project. The store had to be open for business in a half hour, and I can’t have some malodorous sleeping hobo in the doorway for paying customers to step over. I had no choice; I was going to have to wake this guy up. That’s not a task to consider lightly, because most homeless–the real homeless, the ones that actually sleep on the streets–became homeless because they’re Goddamn crazy. What if this guy flips out?
When I reached the front door, the guy was still sleeping. I decided to step over him, unlock the door and just go inside. With any luck, I thought, while I’m doing opening duties, he’ll just wake up and disappear from my life.
I wasn’t so lucky. When I was finished, there was still about 15 minutes left before the store needed to be opened. Just enough time to run to Starbucks for a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich. He was just waking up, and was gathering his stuff very, very slowly. I waited inside a half minute.
This guy is taking forever!
I couldn’t wait for the jackass any longer. If I didn’t leave immediately, I’d never get back in time to open for business. I was going to have to walk right past him as he was preparing to leave. I unlocked the door, which of course made a noise. He was bent over at the time, and looked up. As I opened the door, our eyes met.
“How are you?” He asked, nodding his head slightly.
He looked embarrassed. He looked anything but crazy.
He looked human.
I acknowledged him with the same greeting, though I didn’t wait for an answer as I walked past. I realized something just happened, though I wasn’t quite sure what. In the instant our eyes met, he went from being a useless drain on society to something else. Something that made my heart hurt.
Starbucks is only a 90 second walk, but it was enough time to make me think about my mother. Mom always gave of herself. Even in retirement, almost every night of the week she was doing some kind of volunteer work, like helping homeless mothers, singing choir songs for patients in hospice, or babysitting at the free child care at church. In her eulogy earlier this year, I mentioned this several times, adding that it inspired me to “start giving of myself in the same way, to honor her”.
Had I been doing that? What kind of person am I? Am I honoring my mother?
As I walked back to the store from Starbucks, the homeless man was just leaving the doorway, walking towards me while pushing a cart with all his life’s belongings. He was still bent way over; his torso was in a 90 degree angle from his legs. The poor guy clearly had some affliction that grossly affected his posture. He couldn’t even see me as I walked up.
“Excuse me, sir?” I said.
“I got you breakfast.” I handed him the second sandwich my mom encouraged me to buy.
“Thank you,” he said. He placed it on his cart.
“Eat it while it’s hot. It’s ham, egg and cheese on a spiral roll.” I smiled and started walking away.
“Hey,” he said, causing me to turn back to him. He’d opened the bag. “This IS the good stuff.” He broke into a smile. “Thanks again.”
Actually, I thought to myself. Thank my mom.