This week, the writing prompt over at Red Writing Hood is “charity.” It’s a topic I struggle with. Part of charity’s definition, I think, is that it’s anonymous. Helping someone else is between you and that person.
But I do have something that just might work …
* * *
I had 45 minutes to kill before the train picked me up at the Metra station. I had spent the night at my friend’s, in Chicago, and she dropped me off before her shift at work. Not wanting to spend that time below ground waiting for the train, I opted to grab a cup of coffee at a nearby deli.
It had started to drizzle, and I hurried up the street. A man stopped me. He asked if I wanted to purchase a copy of StreetWise. StreetWise is a Chicago newspaper that is put out by people who need jobs. There is no cover price, per se; people instead give what they see fit for a copy.
I stopped. “I don’t think I have any cash on me …” I started, thinking “Well, I do. I have $40, but I don’t really want to give you a twenty dollar bill.”
Then I caught his eye and immediately changed my mind — because I had been conditioned to not want to give him a twenty dollar bill. I had been conditioned to think he would buy booze or waste it away some other way. But it was just conditioning. Personally? I don’t care if a homeless man uses my money to buy booze. Hell, if I were homeless, I’d probably want a drink or four, too.
He handed me a copy of the newspaper as I started to open my purse in the rain, and he offered to hold the paper, noticing that I had a lot in my hand. I started to put the paper under my arm, but he insisted. I handed him his newspaper back, retrieved $20 and handed it to him. He blessed me and handed me my paper, which he had folded in half. I tucked it under my arm and proceeded into the cafe.
Once I had my coffee, I settled down to read my StreetWise.
But it wasn’t StreetWise. While I had been getting my cash, the man had swapped the newspaper published by homeless people with something else.
I had just paid $20 for a copy of The Onion.