“Hey Brother,” he said. “How are you?”
“Hey. I’m good thanks.” I said glancing back at him.
“The fountain looks good this time of night doesn’t it?”
“Really nice.” I stopped walking and turned around, facing both him and the fountain.
It really was impressive. I had just snapped a few pics in the early evening light at Logan Square, and began heading back across the street to the wedding. It was an unusually warm night for early November and I had pushed my luck by staying outside as long as I did. The wedding reception I was playing trumpet for started in a few minutes.
As I strolled across the stone walkway towards the sidewalk, I had caught site of him out of the corner of my left eye. He was a somewhat tall, reasonably thin man in a black polar fleece quarter zip. He had called to me from a few feet away as our paths narrowly missed intersecting.
“Do you live near here?” he asked.
“No, I’m just in town for the night. I’m from Lancaster.”
“Yeah- I know Lancaster. Amish country, right?” he said smiling.
“Yes sir.” I laughed back.
“Look man I’m gonna be honest with you. I live on the street, mostly because I screwed my life up with a drug addiction. I’m clean and sober now for 3 months, and very happy to be that way, but I’m still stuck out here struggling on the street. There’s a Wawa… You know Wawa?”
“Sure- we have Wawa in Lancaster too”. (Wawa is a regionally famous deli/convenience store/gas station loved by basically everyone)
“Haha- great! Well there’s a Wawa a few blocks away, and if you could spare me a couple dollars, I could probably get something to eat. I’m struggling and I hate doing this, but I’m not into robbing people or doing crazy shit, I’m just trying to get through another night out here.”
I dipped into my pocket and took out the worn, silver money clip; the one my daughter gave me when she moved off to college, and thumbed through my cash.
“I got two ones, a five and a twenty.”
Doubting that seven dollars would cover, I handed him the twenty.
“Here you go.”
He hesitated for a second before taking it. “Twenty? Thank you! There’s a dollar store nearby to, with this I can stop by and get a couple things after dinner. I really appreciate it man -it was a pleasure to meet you.”
“Thanks man- you too.” I said. “Good luck.”
“You’re in town just for the night?”
“Yeah, I have a wedding across the street at the Logan.” (The Logan is a high-end hotel in Center City Philadelphia)
“Dude, this is your wedding night and you’re over here talking to me?!” I was wearing most of a tux and he apparently mistook me for the groom.
“No no- I’m just a trumpet player in the wedding band. I’m just going to work.”
“Oh- OK!” he said laughing at himself. “Thanks again,” he said. “And have fun at the wedding.”
“Thanks-good luck to you.” I said again as we shook hands and parted.
I went across the street and joined my bandmates. We spent the evening packing the dance floor with well dressed, fabulous looking people, full after a fine meal, drunk on free booze, and overflowing with joy for the very nice couple whose wedding it was.
After The Gig
Several hours later, I stood on the street again, looking across the jumbo sized, circular intersection as the “walk” signal took its time appearing. Half a block down on my side of the street, a man appeared to be lying face down on the sidewalk.
It was late and there was no traffic. A single car was on the street, a white SUV which had pulled over to the curb. I could see the driver’s head leaning out the window. I assumed he was trying to get the man’s attention.
The man rolled over completely until he was facedown again. The SUV drove off, and I crossed the street hoping that I would not have to deal with this guy. I was tired and had a long drive home. I assumed the man was okay and not in need of immediate medical attention, otherwise the SUV driver would have done something.
He appeared to be sleeping as I walked silently past him and up to the next intersection where another man lay sleeping on his back, a stop sign as his only shelter. I moved by quietly so as not to wake him, both out of respect for him and also because I didn’t want to be bothered. Two blocks later I was in my car and headed home.
When I arrived back in my hometown, I stopped at Wawa for a late night sandwich. I thought about the man I met at the fountain as I sat in my car eating a turkey hoagie. He had been headed to Wawa too.
Oil, vinegar and a little old bay dripped off the sandwich wrapper and onto my white tux shirt. I was irritated but grateful, realizing that although I am not rich, the possibility of having to buy a new tux shirt pales in comparison to the hurdles faced every day by my Wawa-loving counterpart back at the fountain.
Three days earlier in my hometown I had been approached by two homeless people. I don’t remember much about those interactions because they came in the middle of my conversation with a friend. But I do remember giving the first person a few dollars. I straight-up ignored the next person as if they didn’t exist, turning my head so as not to disrupt the conversation I was having.
Why do I act like this?
Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is.
I’d like to say that I’m empathetic and always do what I can to help those in need. I always am empathetic, at least on the inside. And I do help.
Often, but not always.
Sometimes I want to walk to my car unbothered and go home. Sometimes I want to talk to my friend about our petty business as I walk through town unapproached. Sometimes I’m skeptical as to how an interaction might go so I avoid it on purpose.
Sometimes things go well like they did tonight at the fountain. Sometimes they don’t. Once I gave a lady money for a sandwich but she asked for $10 more so she could get her favorite food at a local restaurant. I was irritated. I said no and walked away.
I’m neither a completely good guy nor a total asshole. I truly want those in need to be helped, even though I’m sometimes too petty and self- absorbed to actually do it myself. I know we can’t always help every needy person we encounter, but I’m still not comfortable with my sometimes lacking will to engage. Maybe I’m just a whiner who needs to shut up and step up.
I have some things to work through, but how lucky am I to be doing it in comfort instead of having to decide which concrete block of sidewalk to sleep on.
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For Todd Fulginiti, musician- visit www.toddfulginiti.com