Money for Nothing

Waiting at Pioneer Square in the morning for the MAX to the boonies, a guy is approaching each of us waiting there, holding up a book or booklet. A Bible? Asking for directions to a landmark in his travel guide? He gets a couple of “No”s, shuffles towards me. Homeless, obviously. Every physical attribute that would suit a person for TV – regular features, gleaming smile, relaxed good humor, eye contact, tailored clothes, voice of friendly authority, warm, charm, physical grace – this man was missing.

“Excuse me,” he said, looking slightly past me. “I need five bucks to get into the shelter.”

He held the booklet close to my face and pointed to a yellow highlighted section. The small print challenged my vision, but the man kept it steady. Yep, there was City Ministries at an inner Southeast address — five dollars a night. I had time to grasp that the publication was one of those free pocket-size handouts listing all the social services organizations and emergency numbers in town.

Handing over a dollar, I said that panhandlers had been hitting me up for money to get into a hostel at $35 a night.

“Fancy,” he said.

“How do you know you can even get into this mission?”

“There’s lots of room. I was there last night.”

What am I to think? That a $5 a night flop is going to have guaranteed space? That this fellow is really going to spend my morning dollar on an evening shelter? That this dollar would be better spent on the lottery?

Doesn’t matter. Anyone who begs money on the street can have my dollar, if I’ve got one. Sometimes I’ve said “Spend it wisely,” to the receiver. No longer. Now I mutter “Spend it any which way you want.” It’s a token of the existence of human kindness, which is not always practical.

The End

© Nick O’Connor: If you had been commuting an hour each way every weekday between Northeast Portland and the Sunset Transit Center at the border of Portland and Beaverton for two years and occasionally woke up, dislodged an earbud, or spoke to a fellow rider, you would have a few stories to tell, too. Nick blogs at Sardines Are Only Packed Once.

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