Friday, October 10, 2014

A Fistful of Quarters, Part II

"You wash dishes?" said a harsh voice that sounded like it was gargling gravel.

I looked up from my magazine and saw an African American male sitting opposite from me on the #4 bus heading downtown. He was around 60 years old, wearing neatly pressed Khakis, a maroon pullover and canvas court shoes. His white-stubble beard betrayed two, maybe three days of growth. Meanwhile, his gentle brown eyes peered at me from behind a pair of protective work glasses.

"Excuse me?" I said.

"You wash dishes?" he repeated. "I notices [sic] your white pants there and wondered if you a dishwasher."

"No sir, I work in an office setting."

"My name is Jerry," he says while leaning towards me, hand extended.

I reach for his hand. He slips me a fish, but I don't mind so much.

"Hi Jerry. My name is Brady. Do you wash dishes?"

"Nah, I work at Lozier in hardware. But I used to wash dishes at Methodist. I wore white pants like those you wearing now."

"Ah, I see."

"Say, you got an dollar you could len' me?" he says without missing a beat.

"Sorry Jerry. I don't have any cash in my wallet" It was the truth. Except for a check to be deposited and a few old receipts, the fold in my wallet was practically empty.

"Okay." he says. A random smile envelops his face as he leans back into his seat. He raises a hand to scratch his stubble thoughtfully.

"They called me into work today." he eventually says. "Tomorrow too. Never know when I'm gonna work more than a couple days out. I'm in hardware, but I used to wash dishes at the hospital."

I nodded in silence. Jerry gazed through the window, appearing to look at nothing in particular. There wasn't much to see anyway. It was Omaha, after all.

We sat quietly as the bus rumbled down Northwest Radial, giving me some time to think about the ethics of altruism. Normally, I refrain from giving money to strangers, because I profile and suspect that it goes towards an addiction. I'd much prefer to offer buying a sandwich if they're hungry. Hunger is hunger, regardless of a substance dependency.

Still, there are times where I fell pity for the addicted. This is where I get in trouble. Half of me wants to not contribute to their vice, the other half wants to give them a momentary break from suffering, regardless of the long term affects. I also find this to be interesting; that it also takes willpower to not "help" someone in this state, just like it takes willpower to overcome a substance dependency (albeit a lot more).

At any rate, Jerry did not appear to be troubled by addictions. His profile indicated to me that he was a productive member of society. He was on an early bus and going to work. He was clean and neat. His eyes were alert. What he needed the $1 for could be anything: the commute home, food. I suppose it could be for cigarettes or alcohol, or illicit drugs, too. It just didn't seem like it.

As Jerry pulled the stop cord on the bus, I recalled that I had several quarters in my messenger bag's coin pocket. I reached in the fold and grabbed a fistful of loose change. There were several quarters in there.

"Is this your stop, Jerry?"

"Yeah. Gotta catch the #18 transfer," he rasped.

"Have a good day" I said, reaching out my hand.

He grasped my hand and felt the cool coins in my open clutch. His grip firmed up while his face transformed into another warm smile.

"Thank you, Brady. God bless you, and have a good day."

"See you around, Jerry"

1 comment:

  1. Nice post Brady...a good read for a Friday morning.