Why I Give Money To Bums

by irms

Well the term “bum” is derogatory, but I was just trying to get your attention. Now that I have it, I want you to think about the last time this topic came up between you and your friends or you and your family and remember just how hostile a few of them got. Maybe you’re the one that’s hostile. Maybe you say, “Piece of shit should get a job. I have a job. I work for my money.”

I don’t blame you. In fact, I appreciate that you have a job because, it means that you and I have at least one thing in common: we work to pay for stuff we want and need. That’s important, because that’s how our country is run. It’s a pretty good system, all things considered.

Still, people tend to get heated on this point, defending their stance every which way:

  • “They could be un-homeless if they really wanted to.”
  • “There are programs for those people.”
  • “If I have to work, everyone should have to work.”
  • “Hey, I have kids to feed. I don’t need to feed lazy-ass bums too.”
  • “They’re just going to spend it on drugs| alcohol.”
  • “You’re just saying it’s OK to be bums by giving them money to do nothing.”

Bullshit.

If I have the cash on me, 9.5 times out of 10, I’ll give it away (I don’t if I feel unsafe). I always have because I feel I just don’t really know what’s going on in that life. I.Just.Don’t.Know. Most times, there’s more to it than the seeming.

For the moment though, let’s put aside the fact that homelessness & poverty are super complicated issues and there are lots of reasons people end up on the street, just as there are lots of reasons people don’t leave. Some are legitiment, some are less so. Either way, let’s both admit that these issues are huge and beyond the scope of a measly blog post.

Instead, let me tell you a story:

One wet morning, just a few months ago, I got called out to a client’s remote location (two unstaffed satellite offices) to troubleshoot some network stuff. I left in a rush as it’s a two-hour drive there — in the middle of nothing and nowhere — then another two back, and none of this was part of the day’s plan to begin with. On my way out I realized that, in my haste, I’d failed to eat breakfast and by the time I got out there it’d be nearly time for lunch. I figured I could hold out that long. Even with the rain, I should be eating in 3-4 hours.

What you may not know about me, is that when and what I eat directly affect my ability to stay standing upright. My blood is kept thin to keep me alive. When I don’t eat within a window of time, my blood pressure begins to drop, and before long, it plummets and my body begins to shut down. A brain can’t breath if it’s not getting enough blood. I’m a severe stroke-risk, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at me.

So I go to the site, and I’m looking out the window waiting for a computer to reboot or something, and I see the rain has stopped. “Oh, good,” I think, “The drive home will be more pleasant,” especially after I get some food in me…and that’s when I realize my license and debit card (the only two cards I carry) are on my desk at my home office. Sitting next to the trailmix I usually keep in my car for emergencies — taken out to have my car detailed (part of the day’s original plan).

Shit. There’s no food here, and no means to buy some. That’s another 2-3 hours until I can eat.

I wrap up my fixes at office #1, and head over to office #2. The sooner I can head home, the safer I’ll feel. Already, I can feel that headache coming on. The dull throb that threatens to morph into tunnel vision if left unchecked. The headache is bad, but the weakness is worse. The inability to think and make decisions is rock bottom. I’m still several hours from that state, though, so I’m thinking I’m good for a bit longer.

I miss the turn into office #2 by about two blocks (it’s a dirt road that leads to a ranch, and it’s easy to miss the bent gray mailbox that marks the turn), and use a different dirt/gravel road to make a u-turn. Only the heavy rain of the past few days has turned even the hard-packed dirt into mud, and the mix of mud and loose gravel has formed a cement-like substance that I find my car is sinking into. I’m giving my little car all I can, but I’m only digging myself further in. I’m stuck. Getting out of the car to survey the damage, I’m up to my ankles in mud that cakes my shoes. 4″ on either side and it’s tough even to walk. In minutes, I’m easily 15lbs heavier on each foot thanks to this devil-made cement mixture.

After about 20 minutes of trying to rock myself out of the hole I’ve dug, a good Samaritan pulls off to help me. He’s nice, and accustomed to this mud, and he’s pulled many-a-car out of it before. Except that the mud is too deep for even his truck and he can’t pull me out. He’s literally spinning his wheels attempting to move me, but can’t risk coming further in lest he end up stuck as well. And that’s when he blushes and apologizes and suggests calling a tow truck, which I promptly do, with many thanks and, “No need to apologize, I really appreciate that you stopped,” interspersed before he drives away.

The nearest tow truck is 75 minutes away, will I wait? “Of course,” I say. “I’ll be right here. Blue car, lot’s of mud, can’t miss me.” And I use the time to call everyone I know because I don’t know how I’m going to pay the man when he gets here. I don’t have any money on me, if you recall. I get through about a dozen numbers, but it’s now the end of the workday and maybe people just aren’t paying attention to their phones. I’m getting all voicemails.

By now I’m feeling ill, and a little desperate. No one is answering, and now I’ve got to start calling people I’d never in a million years dream of asking to lend me money. Plus, my body is aching, and I want to close my eyes. I’m saved when my mom calls back. Over our poor connection — must be the storm — she reads me her credit card info including that stupid number on the back that always gets rubbed off.

It takes the tow truck driver almost two hours to pull me out. We’re both covered in mud by the time he’s finished and my car no longer resembles a bright blue, shiny MINI Cooper, but more like a salvage vehicle recently pulled out the pile. The wheels are so caked in the devil’s commixtion that two of them don’t turn, but this is outside of the driver’s realm, so he takes his payment and wishes me luck. He’s genuine, though, he even leaves me an old rag to sit on so I don’t make even more of a mess out of my leather seats.

I sit on that piece of cloth and take stock: I’m officially in danger now health-wise. I’m feeling weak. Any one I call will be at least two hours to drive out here, probably more to find me in the dark on the side of the road…and that’s if they answer. I have no money. My cell phone is dying, and two of my tires don’t spin.

I decide to go for the tires first, hoping someone calls me back or a miracle happens and food drops down from heaven. So since I’m filthy anyway, I leave the safety of my car and there on the side of the road I use my hands and arms to try to scoop out satan’s dirty poligrip from my wheel wells. In minutes my fingernails are torn off, and the rocks have scratched my arms red and bloody up to my elbows, but I’m making a little progress. You’d think a stick would help, but it’s too dark to search one out on the side of the road.

Finally, victory is mine and I have one tire freed up enough to spin. I think, “Three out of four ain’t bad,” and I get in my car and start to drive. I’m pretty sure just 12-20 miles up the road is a gas station, if I can get that far, I can use the light to get back to work on the tires. With my car knocking and shaking I slowly start down the road and realize that something is burning. Oh, it’s just my tires. I’m dragging one along (it’s too caked to spin) and at least one other is still rubbing on the caked stuff and smoking from the friction.

This is dangerous, I know, but I keep going. I’m thinking the cost of some tires — hell, the cost of a car — will be tiny compared to a hospital bill, so I creep along the deserted road.

Finally, finally, finally. I pull into the rest stop. I’m a wreck. It’s fully dark (cloud cover worked against me today), I’m covered in smelly mud, my arms look like they’ve been through a meat grinder, my car doesn’t work, and worst of all, I’m losing my ability to concentrate. I couldn’t make it two hours home even if I could leave right away. I’m not 100% sure I’m safe to drive in the first place.

I use the restroom to try to clean myself up, but it’s like I’m just smearing the mud wider, so I give up and go sit on the sidewalk with my knees drawn up and my head in my hands. Desperation finally takes hold. I feel (and look) like a wild animal trapped in unfamiliar territory. It’s there that I realize I’m going to have to ask a stranger for help. For food or for money to get food, either will be fine. I also realize what that’s going to look like. A small, pale girl in filthy clothes, torn up arms and glossy eyes asking strangers for money at a gas station. I’m humiliated, but I have no choice.

It’s all I can do to keep from crying.

It takes me several minutes to swallow my pride and collect myself enough to accept my position and do something about it. Even still, I’m wracking my brain for a way out. A way not to have to do this thing I have to do. I don’t want to beg. I’m not even comfortable asking for help under normal circumstances, but this is so much worse. Easily ten times worse.

Defeated, I get up to lock my car (not that anyone would be tempted to steal it in its current condition). I’m thinking it might help if I take my medical tag with me, prove I’m not just spinning yarn. That I’m not just a beggar. I mean, I make good money. I drive a nice car. I rent a cute house and I pay my bills on time.

But here I am anyway, I know what I must look like, and I definitely know what I’m about to sound like. There’s just no choice. I need a handout.

Leaning over  to reach into my glove for my medical tag, I spy a slip of plastic under the passenger seat. Hope rises in my throat and tears spill over as I realize a miracle has happened: it’s a half-eaten bag of trail mix.

I must have missed it cleaning out my car, or maybe elves put it there having pity on me, or maybe God willed it and it happened. Maybe all three.

I know better than to eat fast, so I sit on the dirty cloth and munch on just a couple pieces at a time while tears flow freely down my face.

In just 30 minutes I’m feeling stronger and clear headed. Now that I have light, and fuel in my body, it only takes me another 30 minutes to clear out the tires enough to drive. Sometime when I was in the bathroom making a better effort at washing the grime from my face and arms, my sister returns my call.

I tell her what happened, that my car is still driving badly, but I’m cleaner and fed, and I’ll be home in 2-3 hours.

 

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So that’s why  I give money to bums. Not because of what happened to me, but just because I have always felt stuff like that might be true of the person asking.

I know what you’re thinking, “What a crock. You’re a sucker for thinking they might have a situation like yours.” And you know what? You might be right. In fact, there’s a very high probability that you’re right.

…but what if you’re wrong?

That’s the only thought I need to think before I reach my hand into my pocket and pull out a crumpled dollar bill. Afterall, I’ve been there.