I was helping my friend move into my apartment when he approached us. Though homeless people could be found all around Milwaukee, it was rare to see them in residential neighborhoods. Yet here he was, walking up to us, wearing a baseball cap that had seen better days and holding a pencil case.
“’Scuse me, ladies,” he shouted.
Colleen and I paused on the sidewalk in front of my house.
The man trotted up to us shaking his pencil case a little. “I’m homeless, you know, and hungry. I was wondering if you could give me anything.” Again he shook his pencil case.
I’d actually recently been drinking at a bar when I saw a homeless man beside me. I recognized his grungy navy blue sweat pants. I’d bought him a sub sandwiches before and a gyro one time, and here he was on the bar stool next to mine, enjoying happy hour Miller draft beers. I didn’t mind that he was using other people’s dollars to have a drink, but I did find it repulsive that he wasn’t tipping. Asshole, I thought to myself.
Now, in front of my house, I didn’t want to contribute blindly to this man’s bag, but I didn’t want to let him go hungry.
“I’ll be right back,” I told him. “Let me see what I have inside.”
I went in my house and ransacked my fridge. I smiled when I saw the fresh veggies inside. If he’s homeless, he’s probably deprived of nutrients, I thought. I peeled two carrots, washed off three stalks of celery, and filled a plastic bag with peanuts in the shell.
Back outside, the man was asking one of my neighbors for money and shaking his pencil case. “Hey,” I shouted, waving the veggies in the air. He walked over.
I held out my hands as he neared me, showing him the fresh and nutritious lunch I was giving him. He peered into my hands, and then looked at my face. “What, no meat?” He said.
“I’m a vegetarian.”
He opened his pencil case with his two dirty hands. “Put ‘em in here, then.”
I looked in the pencil case, feeling my heart sink. The inside was gritty with what looked like sawdust and eraser crumbs. The veggies were fresh and wet in my hands, and I envisioned this man throwing them into a public garbage can while he shook out the grit from his bag. I sighed and dropped the vegetables in, along with the bag of peanuts.
I turned to walk away.
“Wait,” he said. “You got any money?”
“You got a beer?”
“Well, can I get a hug?”
I turned, smiling a bit at this taker. “No. But you’re welcome for the food.”
“Awright den. God bless.”