Those That Have One Coat…

Several of my coworkers are still scrambling to organize the paperwork and get their return in the mail by midnight.  The inbreeds from the Tea Party movement are rallying on the State House steps even as I type right now.  When I worked at IRS Service Center in Covington, Kentucky, and at the main post office in Cincinnati, April 15 was the day I dreaded.  (I didn’t need to; I was working inside, and they usually provided free doughnuts, coffee, and punch to the workers.)

A lot has gone through my mind since we returned from Mineral on Monday.  Those of us who have two coats gave to those who had none.  Yet my experience has been that many people who do not have two coats still go ahead and give.  It is ironic that the more one has, the less willing he/she is to part with it.

When Susie was about three, we took her to an Easter egg hunt at a church near where we lived at the time.  Although she was one of the youngest children there, she had a knack for spotting one egg after another.  I wondered, after a minute, why she only had one or two eggs in her basket.  I watched her, and soon learned why.  She would find an egg, and would give it to another child.  I finally persuaded her to keep at least a few for herself, and it took a bit of convincing before she agreed not to return home empty-handed.

Panhandlers frequented most of the main streets in Clifton, the neighborhood in Cincinnati where I lived from 1990 until 1995.  They were quite a nuisance, especially when they set up shop by ATMs and pay phones.  I made it a point to never make eye contact or acknowledge them.

One night, a bearded street person in his mid-60s came up to me and actually clutched my sleeve.  “Young man, do you have money for dinner?”  They always needed it for a cup of coffee, or bus fare, or for a meal–never to buy booze.  That was how cynical I was.

“No, I don’t,” I said, using a tone that telegraphed to him the matter was not open for discussion.

“Well, for God’s sake, get yourself something!” he said, stuffing a five-dollar bill in the breast pocket of my shirt.  Before I could fully comprehend what had just happened, he disappeared in the other direction.

Even in less constructive circumstances, those with very little will be very generous.  Washington Park is in Over-the-Rhine, the Cincinnati neighborhood just north of downtown.  Many homeless people spend the days (and nights) there, and complaints about open containers, trash, and panhandling in Washington Park took up miles of column inches in the Cincinnati newspapers, and still do.

However, whenever one of the alcoholic street people managed to collect enough money from day labor jobs or panhandling to buy a bottle of Night Train or Wild Irish Rose, he would go right away to Bang’s Market and get it.  He then would not retreat to the privacy of a men’s room stall or an alley to slam it down.  He would let the word out that there was a bottle, and it would go around until all were sated.

When I was between steady jobs, I often took light industrial or clerical jobs through temporary agencies.  At one construction site, a lunch wagon (“roach coach”) came around at lunchtime.  That particular day, I had no money except for bus fare back home, so I was hanging back and distancing myself from everyone when the wagon came around.  One of my co-workers, another temp, went and bought me a roll and a Coke, even though I doubt he had much more cash to his name than I did.

I lived in the Columbus YMCA whenever I was taking a hiatus from Ohio University.  It was not the place to form lasting friendships, but it was cheap, furnished, close to downtown, and required no lease.  About all I did there was pick up my mail and sleep.  Nonetheless, people I never knew were quite generous and helpful to all of us.  Someone had a nice pair of dress boots, but either did not like them or they didn’t fit him.  They would leave the boots by the windowsill next to the Coke machine and the pay phone.  Often, I would be in my room watching TV when someone would knock on the door and wordlessly hand me a bag of vending-machine sandwiches one of the downtown churches gave out.

Undoubtedly, the food boxes we hand out at Mineral are shared far beyond the homes of the people who received them.

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