Monday, September 06, 2010

6 SEP 10: No Labor - Any Love?

Happy Labor Day to you. I've had to work many times on this day - explaining to friends, "News takes no holidays." This year, I suspect many people will be working on this day. They'll be at computers sending out resumes, hoping today's date will impress employers....

BLOGGER BEGGARS #5-6: "How are you doing?" said the man sitting on the grass one recent Friday afternoon. I was walking toward home on Fifth Street, in front of Fourth Street Baptist Church. The man could have sat at a park bench one block away - but perhaps he was a serious nature lover.

I said hello to the man, somewhat expecting what was coming next. "Do you have any change?" He sat at a METRA bus stop. But if he was hoping for passers-by to pay his fare, he could have taken a more orthodox approach. A Circle K store was only one block away - although other beggars might have claimed the turf first.

"I don't have any money on me," I told the man. That was the truth - and it was by design. I live close enough to the Mildred Terry Branch Library that I occasionally walk to it. But while I take a library card, I don't take cash unless the situation requires it. I know the neighborhood - and as they might sing on "Sesame Street," a beggar is a person in my neighborhood.

My answer didn't stop the beggar. "Do you need any company?" Huh?! Who was this man - a freelance guidance counselor?

The man explained he was willing to come visit me and talk - "whatever you want to talk about." As if I have no neighbors available for doing that?! One of them probably will talk at the top of his lungs about college football every Monday morning for the next three months - waking me up in the process.

What would I talk about with this total stranger - blogging? After several seconds of quiet thought, I offered an answer: "Do you want to have a regular Bible study?" At least I made it a question. A woman phoned me at random earlier this year, trying to start an all-day camp meeting [13 Mar].

That prompted the beggar to ask where I attend worship services. When I told him, the questioning changed. "Would your pastor be willing to help pay my rent?" I could have answered with one of my pastor's regular lines - "Charity begins at home." If you're not at home in his congregation, you'll probably have to wait.

The man said he lives in the Crystal Valley mobile home park. I met him before I learned online that more than a dozen registered sex offenders live there. Thankfully, I wear a shirt every time I walk outside....

This beggar had traveled across Columbus from the Crystal Valley mobile home park to the Historic District - yet he wasn't sure when the bus would come to take him home. What could have brought him to Fifth Street, perhaps for the first time? He didn't look like a sweaty construction worker on the new ice rink. But the probation office was about one block away.

"I wonder how much that house costs," the man said pointing to a home behind me.

I didn't even bother looking at it. "How can you afford to buy a house, when you can't pay your rent?" His question smelled like an attempt to distract me. Either that, or he was buying time to figure out something else to "borrow" - and I don't think I even wore socks with my sneakers.

The man's small talk finally ran out, and I went on walking home. I walked with nothing, expecting something. And in this case, something happened - making it worth the trouble to have nothing.

That case occurred a few weeks ago - but my most recent encounter with a beggar occurred last Friday around lunchtime. "Homeless, hungry, God bless" said the little cardboard sign held by a man along Airport Thruway. He faced traffic leaving Wal-Mart. He must not realize nonprofit groups often have tables right outside the door for these things.

This man also may not have realized he made things awkward for people who wanted to help him. He stood on the grass on the passenger's side of the exit lanes. Perhaps he hoped for sympathy from wives, whose husbands were behind the wheel. But doesn't that depend on which spouse has more of their stuff in the trunk?

The traffic light for turning right onto Airport Thruway is one of those "no right on red" lights. So when I was stopped there near the beggar, I knew I had to act fast. Step one: turn off the engine and turn on the emergency flashers. Make other drivers think I'm as forlorn as the man along the roadside.

Step two: get out of the car and run to where the beggar's standing. I hadn't seen his cardboard sign very well, and he had to unfold it for me. It's hard to solve the "homeless" part at 11:45 a.m. Shelters don't open for the evening before 4:00 p.m. - much less rooms at the Doubletree Hotel down the street.

Step three: tell the beggar, "I have food in the trunk." Then run to open the trunk and get out one of the specially-prepared "beggar bags." C'mon now - do you really think I should have given him one of the plastic bags full of groceries I'd purchased from Wal-Mart moments before?

Step four: give the bag to the beggar - after first making sure he's not diabetic. I learned my lesson from earlier in the summer [10 Jun], and now carry a special bag with a jar of tomato soup inside. Yes, I made sure that bag also is kosher....

Step five: once the beggar says thanks to me (and he did), I hurry back to the car and restart the engine to make the right turn. The traffic light did NOT change to green while I did all this -- so maybe I have a future on a NASCAR pit crew.

Whether walking or driving home, the take-home lesson is that it's always good in Columbus to prepare for begging situations. Sometimes that means carrying something extra to help people. But sometimes it also means going without -- to see if the person claiming to have nothing at least is carrying a little compassion.

The holiday weekend headlines seem to be dominated by sports items....

+ Callaway Gardens held its 30th annual triathlon. Contestants swam, rode a bike and ran - yet for some reason, none of them also were asked to help blow up hot air balloons.

+ Coach Gene Chizik declared on "Auburn Football Review" about the victory over Arkansas State: "Wins are hard to come by...." Sometimes Chizik must think he's still at Iowa State.

+ WRBL presented "The Nick Saban Show" after the Auburn highlights show. In all my years in Columbus, I can't recall a TV station airing the Alabama football highlights program before now. Perhaps it only happens after the Crimson Tide wins national championships.

+ Tony Stewart outdrove Carl Edwards by 1.3 seconds to win the NASCAR race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. No Columbus radio station broadcast the race - as if they all get kickbacks, when local fans sign up online for NASCAR TrackPass.

+ Instant Message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: You're on to something there - by saying the Middle East needs "new solutions to old problems." If the old solutions had worked, I doubt the old problems still would be around.

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