Part 1 of a Series, by amy elizabeth
It’s been about a month since my encounter with a homeless man I call Barney. I don’t know what his real name is, but he earned the fitting name ever since I got a bit too close to him at a McDonalds. He was standing at the soda dispenser when suddenly I was nearly knocked over with the pungent smell of a barn filled with cattle…in the rain. I filled my soda cup in record time, didn’t give a heck about a lid, or even a straw, being more worried about passing out from holding my breath.
I grabbed a booth as far from him as I could and proceeded with my everyday writing agenda. By the time I was connected to the internet, Barney’s offensive persona chose a table situated about five feet away. I decided not be rude and move to another spot, especially since it was already apparent I wasn’t going to get any writing done. My creative side was readily replaced by curiosity, all I could think about was what happened in life to put this man in such a sorry state.
He sat all hunched over his drink with a blank stare, his arms hung limp at his side. It was 115 degrees outside that day and I wasn’t sure if he was just suffering from the heat, or if he had other issues as well. But it was terribly odd how he hovered over that drink all crunched up, nearly in a fetal position.
There’s always been a place I’d go after work to get a coffee and write for an hour or so, but I was laid off from my job recently, so now with a new job, this McDonalds was new writing turf for me. Turns out Barney was not there by chance, as time went by I realized he was somebody I would see everyday on the streets near my job.
I observed his behaviors day after day, and as I became more familiar with his habits I knew he was in many ways challenged. He had an odd walk, but not necessarily a limp, I decided it was more likely from his sneakers being an improper fit. He hobbled the streets all day with his sac of whatever traveling no further than about a one mile radius. Occasionally, collecting his nominal income from good hearted motorists that pulled over in his behalf. I’m assuming by the end of my work day he had enough money to buy a large drink, but I never once saw him eat.
He carried one small plastic grocery bag that carried all his personal belongings. It was filthy and torn and most likely the contents inside were equal in value to the grocery sac itself. For whatever his reason, before he entered McDonalds he’d stash it behind a bush near the door. This was a concern to me, I couldn’t help but keep an eye on it for fear an employee on parking lot clean-up duty would consider it trash and pitch it in the dumpster. I’m sure it’s now obvious how much writing I’m getting done while preoccupied with my new role as a security guard.
By the fourth week of this redundant ritual, I decided to put a five dollar bill in his stashed sac by the door. I then returned to my lap top situated by the window and waited for him to leave. He always picked up the sac and looked inside for a ridiculously long time before he walked away. That day was no exception, however, this time I saw a very different expression upon his weathered and haggard face. He reached in the sac, took out the bill, folded it half, and put it in his pocket. I decided before hand that if he walked off with the money I would never help him again. The last thing I wanted to assume was he’d save it for a bottle a booze. But no, he returned his bag of treasures to the bush and headed back into the restaurant, bought a hamburger and fries. Yay! He passed the test.
I’m convinced Barney is a Vietnam Vet, and also fairly certain both limbs are a prosthesis, which explains the odd walk. He has only two t-shirts, one a grungy pink faded from red, the other a dingy green. His jeans are worn thin, too large, and loosely gathered at the waist by a poor excuse of a belt.
I’m not one accustomed to giving hand-outs, I work hard for my money and have little tolerance for those too lazy to earn a living. However, there is a huge difference between too lazy and incapable of a holding a job. If you start giving a little notice, rather than turning a blind eye to the unfortunate, I think you’ll see exactly what I mean.
I don’t know how Barney ended up where he is, or who’s to blame. I’ve watched him enough to know he is incapable of rational thinking and needs assistance. If he is indeed a U.S. Veteran, I don’t want to even think this country has turned its back on him. Is that possible? It saddens me to think that there are probably more shelters for unwanted pets than ample benefits for our physically and/or mentally challenged veterans.
So what can I do? Probably nothing long term, but short term, perhaps I can offer some comforting necessities. This situation has indeed gotten my attention, I’ve some research to do and I’ll be sharing my findings with you in part-two of this post, coming soon.