Change Would Do You Good

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A funny thing happened today, & not funny ha-ha, because y'all know I love funny ha-ha. And you should also know that I never say "y'all" in person, so please let me retract that without actually deleting it.

There are two sets of escalators you have to take to get out of the Woodley Park Metro. Tonight, on the landing between them, I spotted a guy about my age sheepishly asking passersby for spare change. He was holding a SmarTrip card & looking a little embarrassed; sometimes this happens, that people just don't have enough, for whatever reason, so they ask kind strangers for help. It's happened to me before, actually, when I found myself sans wallet & 25 cents short.

I'd been trying on clothes at Macy's for the past two hours, annoyed every time I took off my jeans & my pocketful of changed rolled all over the dressing room floor. So as I got closer to the guy, I dug into my pocket, ready to rid myself of the offending coins, especially if it meant helping a stuck traveler. I handed them to him & we exchanged pleasantries; as I walked away, he told me to "have a blessed day."

As I hopped on the second escalator, I noticed that a 30-something woman a few steps ahead of me was walking down the up escalator, which is sort of a feat past the age of 12. And she was walking toward me! She approached me & said with determination, "Excuse me. You should know that that man is a con artist. He's always here, asking for money."

I didn't know what to say & didn't want to be rude, so I sort of put my head down & said, "Oh, thanks. I just gave him 35 cents." She repeated her warning - "He's here all the time" - & returned to her spot a few steps above me.

It wasn't a big deal, so I'm not sure why my initial reaction was one of such shock. But I was sort of offended, mostly. I mean, come on. A con artist? Who conned me out of 35 cents? I haven't been conned out of much in my life, but even I've been conned out of more than 35 cents. If this dude was a con artist, he sure wasn't a very good one, if all he's conning people out of is a fraction of a train fare.

"He's here all the time," she said. But so am I. I'm here all the time, & I've never seen him. And even if I had, so what? Does seeing someone more than once preclude them from being worthy of a few spare dimes? I've been known to give to the same homeless people - to Antonio in Cleveland Park, to James who sells newspapers, to the guy who holds the door at the Dupont CVS. They're there all the time, too, but if I can spend $4.50 on a frappucino, I can certainly put the leftover change in their cups if I so please. It's not like I gave him a tenspot.

I know the woman meant well, & that's why I thanked her. But I wasn't about to engage her any further. I don't know what my point is, really, except remember that post I wrote about the Mother Theresa quote? I think it applies here. "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle." And who knows what sort of battles that mezzanine-level "con artist" is fighting? Maybe my 35 cents was just the weapon he needed to fight back, to hop on the train with a smile.

Or maybe he wasn't fighting any battles at all. Maybe he's just a cheapskate who didn't feel like paying his own way to the end of the redline. But even if that's the case, I feel confident knowing that my 35 cents went to bettering my karma.
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