November 16, 2009
The Daily Hell Vol. III - Bumsville
Issue 30 - How To Defraud A Charitable Organization or The Salvo's Hustle!
I never actualy got his name. I got his pant size, the train he lives on, his former addictions, I even got a hug. But I didn't get his name. I guess sometimes introductions are superfluous. They create awkward boundaries that insist we are strangers and therefore need to act as such until formalities are over and done with. If we just treated everyone like old friends, would we really need introductions- or even names for that matter?
I was biking home from Target and stopped at the Salvation Army on Atlantic Ave. just to do some browsing. I got to the men's section upstairs and as soon as I started flipping through shirts I heard a voice behind me ask, "Excuse me- could you help me find some trousers my size?" I turned around and realized the voice was talking to me. I thought it was pretty obvious that I didn't work there so I didn't bother pointing it out to him, but I was in no hurry so I figured, why not? I'm an Eagle Scout. Do a good turn daily right? So I said, "Sure I can," and walked around the rack.
"Ohh, thank you!" he said, smiling at me, "I'm damn near blind and don't have no glasses. I can't read the tags on these." The man had short hair, black but going gray and dark skin with creases around his eyes and a week's beard on his face. He wore a heavy blue winter coat, too warm for the weather. He was very friendly and seemed glad just to have some company.
We began going through the jeans, looking for size 30 waist. I found one right away, much to my new friend's delight. "All right, all right! You lucky man, these are 30s? I even like the color! Thank you. There any more in there?"
He continued an explanation of his predicament as I continued through the legions of fattie jeans. "You know, I'm almost blind! I'm on disability and I can get Medicare- I need to go to the office though to get it so I can get glasses. That's what I really need. I don't care how much it costs, you need to see! Money's no good just sitting there. Gotta spend on what you need. I gotta go to the disability office to get my check."
I was not having much luck finding any other 30 waists, but kept going down the line of jeans, as he kept up the conversation.
"You know where I live?" he asked me.
I wanted to know where this man lived, so I replied, "Where?"
"I stay on the subway!"
"Really? What train?" I asked.
"I stay on the JMZ line."
"Why that one particularly if you don't mind my asking?" I've always wondered the reason homeless people kept to certain neighborhoods or subway lines, if it was out of habit, territoriality, friends in the area, decent food, shelter. I'm just curious about this sort of thing.
"It's a nice long ride. From Jamaica all the way down to Coney," he said. So my curiosity was satisfied. That that makes sense I thought, makes your $2.25 stretch a little further.
I kept pawing through what was evidently mostly 38 through 42 size waist pants. "Man, lot of fat people in this city," I said to him.
"Ha ha, well that's okay. We got these nice one's. Thanks so much for helping me. You know, you do a kindness- if you're good, live a good life, you know it comes back to you."
"Well you must have done something good to have me helping you huh?" I said, trying to modestly deflect the compliment, but realizing the moment I said it that I was telling a homeless blind man who lives on a train, he must have good karma.
"I guess so," he replied quietly.
"Here's a pair," I said, changing the subject and pulling a size 30 from the rack.
How much are they?" he asked.
"Eight dollars. Bit much," I said.
"Yeah, well, we'll see what I can get when I get down there. Thank you for helping me. You're very kind."
We kept searching through the pants and he kept telling me about his past, how he used to do crack, but stopped and now tells people not to touch it, "because when you do it once, it's just too easy to keep doing it." There's something about former-junkies, sincerity that I find very touching. It's not like they have to tell you about it- but they really want to. There is no embarrassment or shame- if anything they are proud of what they have overcome. They have all these experiences within them and they want to share it and help others and prevent it from happening to someone else. I just think it's nice.
Finally we reached the end of the jeans and my new friend was holding four pairs of size 30 pants. He asked me what each one cost. Two were pretty cheap, but two of them were $7 or $8 a piece. Salvation Army has taken it upon themselves to mark name brands two or three dollars more expensive then items from Sears or K-Mart, regardless of wear, stains, missing buttons, cigarette burns, or anything else. In my opinion, that's just crazy and frankly, contrary to what the Salvation Army supposedly stands for.
I told my friend to wait where he was and went to find out what color tag was half price that day. (One color is always half price at Salv's. It changes day-to-day.) Today's discout color was red. We only had green and blue in our pile. Thankfully the men's department is on the 2nd floor and they don't often have employees up there.
I pawed through the dress shirts, found a few Red $5 tags and carefully removed them, bending the staples at the middle so as not to tear the paper. We swapped out the most expensive pants tags for red ones like this, but kept one Green, in order to not raise suspicions at the register.
I handed him back his newly priced pants. "They shouldn't give you a hard time. They don't really care that much. But remember if you get caught- we've never met." He laughed and took the pants from me, shook my hand firmly saying, "Thank you my friend. God go with you!" He then pulled me in for a hug, which I awkwardly returned.
"Live long and prosper man," he said.
"Thanks. You too. If I ever see you on the JMZ, I'll say hello."
"Yeah man, please do."
With that he turned and left and I went back to browsing for a while. I didn't see any jeans or bent red tags by the register when I paid for my purchases, so I assume we got away with the scam. My new friend bought four pairs of pants for about $12. Feeling very good about myself for helping him out and strangely proud at having ripped off a charitible Christian organization, I wondered which side of the Karmic scale this would fall onto. I technically assisted an elderly man in shoplifting, but he probably needed the pants more than Salv's needed the money. So I figured, Good turn done.
Boy Scout's of America, Slogan: Do A Good Turn Daily