Last week, I came out of the Trader Joe’s on Bee Cave Road and as I started to drive away, a man next to a car with the front door open was waving for me to stop. He had a story. His wife (in the front seat) had just gotten out of the hospital and he needed to drive her to her family in Waco, but his debit card (which he showed me) didn’t work and he didn’t have money for gas. Could I give him $20 and write my address down and he would… I didn’t even listen to the rest. Sorry, man. I know a con and more times than not it requires gas money. Usually, they’ll be holding a gas can. When they should be holding an empty crack pipe.
When I got home, I called my son, a kind-hearted, gullible kid, who is away at college. I realized that I hadn’t sufficiently drilled into him that most people who approach you on the street asking for money are scam artists. “Don’t even think about it,” I told him. “Just make it a personal rule to never, ever give money to panhandlers.” If you stop to hear their plea it’s much harder to get away, so don’t even slow down.
Well, the kid was hearing none of it. He’s given his last dollar to a hobo and felt good about it. “He needed that money more than I did.” At that point, I realized that all the scratch I’ve worked hard for, and scraped together, and put into accounts that would make his life easier should I fall before my time, would be given away to scruffy alcoholics or con artists with a good line.
That’s why I’m staying at the Waldorf Astoria while I’m in NYC this week. The inheritance is in serious jeopardy. Better I run through it than Son Theresa hands it out.
Just about an hour ago I was at Trader Joe’s on Broadway at 72nd Street. (We’re spoiled Austin and I didn’t know how much until I went grocery shopping by subway.) So, after the 25-minute wait to check out, I had my bag of stuff the hotel marks up 2000% ($7.50 for a bottled water!) and was headed for the station when I saw a young man with long hair, wearing too much jacket for July, sitting on the ground, drawing. He had an old dial phone as a paperweight, holding down a stack of what looked to be drawings and notes. Big stack. “Starving Artist” was written on a piece of cardboard. He didn’t look up as I watched him draw. He didn’t even look up when I put a $20 bill in his little wooden box. “Bless you,” he said softly.
For $20 you could eat really well at Gray’s Papaya hot dog stand across the street and still get a nice bag of food at Trader Joe’s. For $20 you could also get pretty wasted on booze or high on drugs. It didn’t matter. He needed the money more than I did, so I gave him some. And when I was walking down those steps to the train, I never felt more like an artist myself.