Friday, January 23, 2009

'Thank You' doesn't put food in your stomach

Today I ventured out to the RMV, DMV, Registry - whatever you call it in your world - and had to get new plates for my SUV. Funny, but I wasn't aware I needed new plates until the lady behind the counter said,

"You'll need new plates. Do you have the old ones?"

"Yes. They are on my SUV in the parking lot."

"OK. We have tools."

"Great, I'll go get those plates then."

I'll admit, the overall experience was rather pleasant - only about a 30 minute wait. Got to read a little of a book I wanted to read (for work, unfortunately, not pleasure). Sat on a seat while I waited versus standing in a long line like I used to do at the Registry in Watertown (wonder if they still make you stand in line there?).

So when the lady handed over the tools I ran out to put on my new clean, shiny plates. This will be two seconds and I'll be on my way home. Zip, zip, zip - front plate off, new one on. On to the back plates. Zip, zip, zip, zip, zip, zip, These screws are plastic. And not turning very well. And are covered in salt and sand from the lovely streets of New England. And I know my butt crack is showing as I try to bend and squat to get them off without touching the slush, ice, sand covered parking lot. Just lovely.

"Excuse me, Miss. Sometimes if you hold the back they come off easier."

Damsel in distress, I am. A knight in shining armour coming to my rescue, he is NOT. Rather a knight in a worn out coat, dirty pants, no hat, gloves, scarf and smelly profusely like cigarettes. Showering had not been part of his world recently, I could smell.

Crap. I need the help.

"I am waiting for a friend inside and I saw you struggling (and flashing your butt crack). If you hold the back, it might secure the bolt so you can turn it. Here. Let me help you."

I hand over the tools. And between the two of us we chit chat about cheap car parts and plastic screws, and we manage to get the new back license plate on. Very nice gentleman. Sadly, obviously not waiting for a friend in the RMV. Now I have to decide if I give him money for his troubles.

I say Thank You a hundred times for his help. Smile. Awkward moment. And he slowly turned to wander the parking lot.

I really, really wanted to say "Can I give you a few dollars for your trouble?" I knew I had a $5 bill in my purse, but I didn't want to make any assumptions about his situation. And I really didn't want it to go towards another pack of smokes or some other possible addiction. I KNOW. I KNOW. So cynical, right? Not every helpful guy wandering the parking lots of Lawrence, MA is a meth addict trying to score his next fix, or an alcoholic hoping he can buy a bigger bottle of booze by hitting up the lady with the Lexus - but at the end of the day I just reminded myself that I give to the local shelter in Lawrence where my new friend can go for a meal and a bed. And I donate clothes and food and money to as many local charities as we can afford. So while 'Thank You' won't feed him if he's hungry...or quench his thirst...or buy him new gloves, today it was all I could offer his kind soul.

I ran inside and handed the menopausal lady her tools and the old plates (yeah, she gave me the whole scoop on the hot flashes. Apparently RMV employees can't blog so they tell residents their woes.) and I returned to the parking lot. What if he was still wandering near the car, should I offer then? Do I see him? Hmmm...nowhere. Maybe he did have a friend he was waiting for.

Unfortunately, times are tough for so many people that live one town over from me, with literally the highest rate of foreclosures in Massachusetts, and I feel this sorrow in my heart when I look in those empty eyes wandering around the city. And it does hurt. And it does suck. And I should have offered my $5 bill hoping he'd take it across the parking lot for a sandwich at the sub shop.

Later today when I jump back in my warm car to go get the kids at school and bring them back to our warm house, this stranger will be on my mind. I'm not able to let things like this go easily. Part of the reason I left NYC was the homelessness and also the reason I have a hard time visiting San Francisco. Only positive I can glean is that it reminds me to be grateful. Very grateful, for what I have.

1 comment:

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Such a tough call. I'd also not want to assume he'd 'need' the money for fear of insulting him but you are probably right that he did need it. Maybe stick that $5 in the next food pantry donation box and pass on his good deed to someone else who needs it?