Friday, February 20, 2015

The Compassion Business ( #1000Speaks )

I read the new hand-lettered sign with a cynical eye: "HOMEless", it says. "JOBless. Please HELp." The young man sitting next to the sign has it propped against his knee as he studies the smart phone cradled in his hands. He is sitting on his old sign to protect the seat of his new distressed-style jeans from the moist grass. Under his backside "VETeran, Need heLP. God BLEss YOU." sends its appeal to the worms.

Diagonally across the road at the busy shopping center is the woman with her toy dog on a leash. Her sign says, "We're both HUNgry. AnythinG HELps. Please GivE." Her dog plays at her feet, tossing a rawhide toy around. Last week her sign had asked for help to feed her two children. I've never seen children, just the little dog.

I see them there every morning, taking positions on their respective corners after the school moms and off-to-work drivers have passed, but well before the early shoppers begin to fill the parking lot. They take regular breaks, paying for their coffees at my kiosk with rumpled dollar bills and fists of quarters. They go to lunch after the lunch rush finishes. He likes Big Macs, she always wants pancakes from the Dennys. They go to lunch together, and leave the dog's leash tied to the picnic bench at my kiosk.

They get money from only one passing car in ten when the weather is fine. When it is a gray day or chilly, it is maybe one car in twenty. It's a busy street. After the late afternoon surge of cars, they will usually sit together at the table by my kiosk, drinking coffee and counting their combined takings, splitting them evenly. At four p.m., they climb into a van with six other roadside mendicants, headed for a free dinner at St. Vincent's or the Sally Ann's. 

I stay at the kiosk for the few customers who buy coffee to drink going home from work, then close it after a 12-hour day on my feet in the tiny space, and go wait at the bus stop to head home to my tiny apartment. I think I have the makings of a cheese sandwich in my fridge.

Tomorrow is payday. I will make a small payment on my student loan, pay the rent and utility bills, and buy some groceries. There will not be enough left over to purchase a latte at my kiosk, but I will still be there every weekday morning at six. The coffee business doesn't pay much. 

Not like the compassion business. My two neighbors tomorrow will split between themeven if the weather turns out to be grey and chillyenough cash to match my paycheck for the next two weeks.