April 16, 2007

Faces of the City (vol. I)

Recently, I had my first real experience with a bum. You know, usually they ask, and I say no. Not this time: AJ and I walked up the steps of St. Patrick's Church or Palm Sunday to see if it was open (neither of us have been in), and as we descended, a middle-aged woman with bad teeth and the faintest smell of alcohol came up and asked if we were from here, and did we know the city. I thought she was asking directions, so I said, "Sortof", and she started on this long story about how she was "from Pittsburgh, do you know it? I live in Oakland, and go to St. Mary's, and...oh your grandma lives there, well, I live by the airport, but not the new airport, the old airport, becuase they built a new one recently and it's really nice, and I'm from Oakland, and..." (*hugs me*). She was diabetic, and had an attack and had to go to the hosptial, and the Chruch group that she was with, "I'm so sorry, I'm so emotional right now, I'm crying, because I never do this and I am very nervous, I'm usually the one giving help, and I know its a crazy story, and I'm so sorry...the church group left, and the monsigneur left me the wrong bag, this (a ratty blue thing) is my cosmetics bag but I need my medication, and you can go to the hospital they know this is true, I am so nervous, I am so sorry... I'm really sorry to be asking you, but my son is in Iraq, and he's been there for nine months, and he is coming home tomorrow, to Oakland I'm so sorry, It's the only time I have to spend wiht my baby, and I live in a $300,000 house, and I am so sorry, I'm crying, I'm so nervous, and he's only here for two weeks, and ...

Finally, I cut her off, asking her what she really needed. "I need help, and I know where there is a McDonalds, and you can ask the police, because they sent me here, and I called my priest and he said just keep praying the rosary, Mother Mary will take care of you, just keep praying, and I saw you girls on the steps of the church, and I thought, they must be Catholic, and..."

"What can we do for you? We're on our way to the metro, I'd be happy to buy you a ticket. I can't take care of your bus fare as well, though, I'm sorry."

"What I really need" and she said this very carefully as if I was a child who couldn't understand "is protein and orange juice...becuase I am diabetic, and I was in the hostpital, and this is the only chance I get to see my baby, who was in Iraq..."

"Ma'am I'd be happy to get you some orange juice, if you'll just come with us, we'll stop somewhere and get it."

Slowly again, trying to make me understand: "I need orange juice and protein, (still more slowly) protein is meat, like chicken nuggets, if I don't get it in 20 minutes, I am going to collapse."

"Yes, I understand, ma'am, and I'd be happy to get you some, but I can't help you if you don't come with me." I didn't have any cash (who does, these days?), so this was the truth!

And then she started to turn: "You don't trust me," (more "tears") "if you trusted me, you would just give me the money...you want me to come with you. I'm just asking for help, and I am so sorry, and nervous, and I never do this..."

"Ma'am I trust you, I'll buy you the orange juice and protein, if you'll just come with us."

And then, in a flash:


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