afterwards, i was driving home. there is a ramp where I-24 exits onto bell road, and i had to stop at the light. there are often panhandlers at that intersection, looking for spare change. an older guy was standing there today. normally i ignore panhandlers, but the job interview had gone well, and i was in a good mood. i rolled down the driver’s side window and waved a few bucks. the panhandler came over.
he was super polite about taking the money. “is that for me?” he asked, pointing to himself, before touching it. i nodded, he took the money, and he said thanks.
then he started talking about my car. “nice MR2,” he said. “i used to sell these at the toyota lot where i worked. i was a car salesman. i sold a few MR2s, and other toyotas. camrys, supras, corollas. the usual.” then he complimented my clothes. “that’s a nice suit you’re wearing. and a nice tie. it goes well with your eyes. i don’t think i could have picked a tie as nice as that.” he smiled the most sincere smile i’ve ever seen on anybody.
ahem. i would like to say that this was the start of a pleasant conversation, since he was being so nice. sadly, that’s not what happened.
the first month i was living in miami, i was making more money than i knew what to do with. i was walking downtown one day, and i gave twenty bucks to a woman with a sign claiming she was a deaf-mute. there have been dozens of others i’ve gifted with lesser amounts. the best i’ve ever gotten in reply was a semi-coherent grunt. that’s pretty much what you expect, right? a person with “people skills” wouldn’t be begging for change. and yet here i was talking to a beggar who was on the verge of charming the pants right off my ass. i really like the recruiter who got me this interview, but the beggar i was talking to could have easily out-charmed him.
i don’t think well on my feet. i was not able to process the situation. it was like giving a bone to a stray dog and having him strike up a conversation with you.
my choice of analogy says it all, doesn’t it? most of the time, i don’t allow beggars their humanity. i’m not expecting that they will be able to participate in my world. one of them proved he could, and i nearly died from the shock. it was deeply weird.
this strange new information caused me to take a closer look at the guy. i’d guess he was 50 or 55. he was wearing a raggedy old green army jacket. he hadn’t shaven in a few days, but i’d guess he would look pretty nice, cleaned up. he could have been quite handsome in his younger days. he looked me right in the eye when he spoke.
i regained enough of my composure to ask a question. “if you can sell cars, why don’t you go back to doing that? pretty much any used car lot will take you in on a commission basis.” his answer: “aww, anybody could do that.” translation: sorry pal, i’m not answering that question.
the light changed. “you have a nice day,” i said. he smiled and waved as i drove off.