Believe it or not, this is a true story. It happened when I was house-sitting for a friend in Burlingame, California where I lived and worked for many years, long before becoming homeless in Berkeley. It tells how I left my wallet on a bus on the way to a lunch for poor people at a Catholic church, in Redwood City and how my efforts to borrow a dollar in order to get a bus back to Burlingame were only greeted with suspicion, as though it were some kind of sophisticated scam. After five failed efforts in increasing frustration, I never could procure a single dollar. So I wound up sleeping on a lawn outside the city library. I suppose I’ll have to put some serious effort into honing my dollar-borrowing skills for the future.
Get a load of this. I lost my wallet yesterday with my photo I.D. and all my cards including Starbucks and McDonald’s cards I had put money on knowing that I might run of cash early in the month. Lost both my debit cards – and even though one of my customers is paying me tomorrow, I have no way of receiving the money that I know of. My assistant Danielle will get the money as usual, but the typical means of transferring my cut of it to my account are inapplicable, since there is no way for me to draw the money out of my account.
I was stranded in a strange town all day where I had been going to a “feed,” which is a “free lunch” where people in the impoverished classes go in order not to spend money that they don’t have on food. I had left the wallet on the bus, and though I realized seconds later what I had done (waking up and hurriedly running off the bus, realizing it was my stop), I could not flag the bus driver down. Then, once I was able to reach a SamTrans office agent by phone, I was told that the particular driver had switched buses by then and that I would have to fill out an online form in order *maybe* to get the wallet back in 8-10 days.
All right, so that’s typical bureaucracy, and worse things have happened. But proceeding to the feed after that was one of the biggest mistakes I could have made in terms of maintaining health or sanity at that time. For as I attempted to see about obtaining a bus ticket of some sort in order to get back home to Burlingame, I was repeatedly told by one social worker after another that I would have to walk a distance of over two miles in the noonday heat and get in a line at a separate social service agency in order to *maybe* get a bus ticket. There was not one iota of sympathy for the loss of wallet, cards, Safeway card, library card, photo I.D., etc.,” Slowly I began to realize that this was not an issue of my ability or inability to tolerate a difficult situation in life; it was an issue of prejudice against a person in a lower socio-economic class.
After I had spoken with four or five people at the feed, trying to find someone’s supervisor and so forth, I admit that by then I was deploying what appeared to be a very well-rehearsed appeal — possibly even a scam. Did anyone actually believe me? I wasn’t quite sure. I could easily have been a very sophisticated street hustler brandishing some cockamaney tale in order to get one dollar after another from the gullible. That would at least explain all the chuckles and general feeling of amusement that I was getting on the part of these social workers as one by one, they dismissed my dilemma as frivolous and immaterial, not to be taken seriously.
But my “appeal,” of course, was that I be granted a single dollar bill in light of my hardship, so that I could simply take a bus home, and take it from there — given that I had also left my bus pass on the SamTrans bus. The fourth person had her arms on my shoulders telling me she would “pray for me,” which was a wonderful expression of complete abnegation of one’s responsibility as a fellow human being toward another human being in need, as though: “Of course I dare not help you, but perhaps God will if I petition Him on your behalf.”
Incensed, I approached a fifth person with my plea, to which she simply shrugged and said: “It is what it is.”
By this time, I was infuriated. I turned to her and asked her directly: “When you lose all your keys, and you cannot get into your car, and you cannot get back inside your house, and your kids are crying and screaming, and you cannot get them to school on time, and you left the burner on in the kitchen, but you do not have the key to the side door, and you call for help somehow to someone, and then you hear the words, ‘it is what it is,’ do you particularly appreciate that response?
At that point, I was advised by security that I was no longer welcome at the feed.
I said: “fine,” and set down my plate, somewhat emphatically, as it were. I was thereafter so exercised that I had no problem at all storming over to the Human Services Agency in the heat at a lightning-fast clip, being as one of the many great advantages of my years of outdoor living is that it happens to have put me into excellent, vigorous, physical shape. (That there were no vouchers for bus rides at the HSA came as no particular surprise, nor did my announcement that I would then therefore be crashing out on the lawn by their lovely city’s local library come as any surprise to the shoulder-shrugging social workers in attendance.)
People who are in the business of “helping” those of us who are in the underprivileged and disadvantaged classes need to become aware that it does net “help” us when we are not regarded as equals. Granted, nobody there “owed” me a dollar — but if they are Christians, which I would hope that people associated with St. Anthony’s Church in Redwood City are; then certainly the words of St. Paul apply:
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8 NASB
What they owed me — what we all owe each other – and the only thing that we owe each other – is love. Where, I ask – where — is the love?
November 12. 2015
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