Hello, Readers and welcome to the latest Off Season. For the next six weeks or so I’ll be scrambling for subject matter to fill the blank screen in front of me. As exciting as that possibility is to me, it can also be a frustrating and daunting item on the Some Guy To Do List. Truth be told, I find less inspiration at the bottom of Lone Star bottles of beer than I used to and my life has forced me to focus on a lot of new things lately. Still, I enjoy this part of the year because it doesn’t involve me chaining myself to my television set for a couple hours at a time in order to force feed myself the likes of Ben Flanjik and what’s her name.
As always, your suggestions, comments, and feedback are appreciated more than usual in the Off Season. This is, after all, your blog too so feel free to communicate with its writer as often as you wish. In the meantime, I’d like to point out that Spring has sprung here in
and because of all of the
rainfall we got in January and February the wildflowers abundant this
year. Personally, bluebonnets and Indian
paintbrushes are my favorites, but there are literally dozens to look at simply
by driving through town. Austin,
March and April are my two favorite months in
. It’s not uncommon to see families parked
along the sides of the freeways just to the West of town taking their yearly
pictures amongst the bluebonnets. That’s
the state flower, by the way. It’s also
the perfect time a year to take a drive West through the Texas Hill Country and
look at the fields of flowers while hopping from winery to winery before stopping
off for some bar-b-que. But first, let’s
get to this week’s post. Austin
As I made my usual walk down
during the lunch hour the other day my plan was to contemplate my next blog
post while enjoying my lunch. It’s
difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a linear train of thought while in my
office. Phone calls, people entering and
leaving, documents to sign, Internet to surf; they all add up to one big fat
distraction. I’m kind of a big deal, you
know. I’m often amazed at how little I
get done when I’m getting a lot done.
As I walked toward the Capitol, I noticed the usual array of deadbeats, derelicts, and drop outs congregating around the bus stop looking to bum cigarettes and God knows what else from each other. Even
has an underbelly and, as is the case
in a lot of cities, that underbelly catches the bus several times an hour
during the work week. I always wonder
where they’re going and why they’re going there. It’s difficult to suspend judgment at times,
but I think I do a fair job of that.
Still, I think it’s safe to assume that
the majority of the people waiting on that particular street corner aren’t
simply taking a vacation day to go and enjoy the Spring weather. Austin
As I strolled past, my thoughts ceased wandering and began to focus on “the other half” and how different their lives are in spite of the fact that we cross paths several times a week near the corner of 6th and Congress. Mid-ponder and about a block away I noticed a familiar homeless man standing in front of me, sign in hand, begging for a handout. I watched as dozens of people sidestepped their way around him in order to spend their money in local restaurants and shops along the way. I heard the sound of change hitting the bottom of the metal can he’d strategically placed on the ground near the corner as a couple of people emptied their front pockets into it.
Incidentally, when did the terms “bum” and “hobo” migrate from innocuous, albeit unflattering, ways to describe that segment of the population in favor of the politically acceptable “homeless person?” I always imagine Brando’s famous lines from On the Waterfront had that been the case when that movie came out.
“You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a homeless person, which is what I am, let's face it.”
Doesn’t really have the same effect, does it? Annnyyyhooo . . .
Rather than mull over the conservative vs. liberal “causes of homelessness” argument, I decided to turn my focus inside out and asked myself, “what can I learn from that guy” instead of cursing him after holding my breath as I walked past. After all, there exists a silver lining in every situation. Besides, I was about to sit and eat lunch by myself and I needed something to think about. Here’s what I figured out.
Consistency and persistence pay off
It struck me that I’ve seen the same homeless person on the same street corner asking every person who walks by for money nearly every day I’ve walked to lunch over the past several years. He subtly yet unapologetically asks every person within ear shot if they can spare some change. His requests are met with responses spanning from indifference to open hostility. Regardless, he keeps showing up, keeps asking, and keeps delivering the same message. Occasionally, someone drops a few coins in the can.
Granted, that’s not Tony Robbins on the corner and I doubt you’ll see him in a $5,000 suit with a microphone attached to his earpiece lecturing a group of wanna be entrepreneurs at the local convention hall about staying motivated, but the message is the same and he’s not charging me $3,500 and pretending to be someone he’s not. (I can’t stand Tony Robbins, but that’s for another post).
He’s learned that a consistent presence combined with a clear, simple message delivered in a persistent manner over an extended period of time equals results. A lot of us paid quite a bit of tuition to learn that lesson in college and, lo and behold, there it is just blocks from the UT Campus being demonstrated for free.
Giving up is not an option for him and I doubt there’s much further he can sink. Still, we would all do well to apply his example to the empty spaces in our lives. I’d be willing to bet that most of us have given up under less difficult circumstances.
Exploit the resources you have
If you and I had a tin can, a cardboard box, and a Sharpie there’s not a lot that we’d do with it. Notwithstanding Donna and Some Girls from
’s requests for me to
sign certain areas of their anatomy with the aforementioned Sharpie, the other
two items are likely trash to me.
However, to our homeless brethren, these are the tools of the
trade. Putting the items we possess and
the gifts we’ve been given to their fullest and best use will often allow us to
take a step forward from where we started. Austin
For him, a can and a box make a sign and a receptacle. The point is that if we can inventory what we have at our disposal and make a plan to use those resources we’re all likely to be in a better place than when we started. Think about how much time we spend watching television, for instance.
If we view “time” as a resource instead of dead space, it becomes apparent that all of us waste a good deal of it watching over-privileged housewives of (insert large city name here) yell at each other about nothing at inane cocktail parties and charity events. Hell, we all just spent a combined 25 hours each watching The Bachelor last season. I’m not advocating a Spartan existence in all things, but you get the point. Unlike our homeless friend, we aren’t forced to act. That often leads to complacency.
It occurred to me that the reverse is also true. If the fruits of those resources are misused, we may end up in a much worse position. Bernie Madoff’s misuse of the status and influence he was given is the white collar equivalent to our homeless person taking the change at the end of the day and heading to the local liquor barn in search of strawberry wine and cigarettes. The lesson here is to use what you’ve been given judiciously and constructively and to use the rewards it brings just as constructively and judiciously. I wonder what Tony Robbins would charge me for sharing that?
Don’t worry about being judged
I noticed that the sneers and look-aways often given in response to his requests for change did nothing to change his approach. Even HE can’t be immune from that kind of overt, repeated rejection, I thought when I walked past him. He is human, after all, and at one time in his life he was probably just someone else’s son on the playground or a child standing in right field contemplating the clouds and the bees as the crowd yelled in vain for him to notice the ball rolling past him while runners circled the bases.
Regardless of what road he traveled to get to begging for change on the corner of
7th Street and Congress Avenue, he
wasn’t born to be there. Indeed, we are
all probably much closer to that fate than we’d be comfortable admitting. I noticed that he did not fear being judged,
nor did he revel in it. He simply
WAS. His focus was on the small
percentage of people he could convince in that brief interaction to reach in
their pockets for the change that would likely end up in a wine jug in the wet
bar or in the console compartments of their cars collecting dust
I suppose when it’s that change that buys the next meal, pays for a night at the local shelter, or even supports a bad habit, it’s much easier to ignore that judgment. However, I think there’s a bigger point to be made. So often we allow the unsolicited judgment of those around us to dictate how we act and, much worse, major life decisions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the suburbs where the Keeping Up with the Joneses mentality substitutes for the Golden Rule.
By virtue of his misfortune (intentional or accidental) our homeless person has learned a lesson that many of us may never appreciate: His choices are his own to make and only he can define their worth. Ultimately, it’s up to us as individuals to decide what direction we want to head. Advice is helpful, but acting out of fear of being judged often leads to a large gap between what we know we need and what we ultimately settle for. When failure means we won’t eat for a full day, that distinction becomes glaringly apparent. It’s when we can’t put a price on that failure that the problems arise.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
“I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers,” proclaimed Blanche DuBois right before she was taken away to the looney bin in A Streetcar Named Desire. As with every Tennessee Williams play, there’s no happy ending but I was reminded of Blanche when I saw our homeless person on the corner. I think the struggle those of us with jobs, a home, an income, and taxes to pay have with handing that money to someone on the corner is that the person asking for it, no matter how haggard or downtrodden, seemingly does not deserve something for nothing. Fair or unfair, I think that’s what prevents most of us (including me) from simply pulling out a dollar, handing it to him, and wishing him well.
The fact remains that he is a human being simply asking for help and I, frankly, often struggle with the reconciliation of what I believe in my head and what I feel in my heart. I refuse to give away half a handful of change that will ultimately make no difference in my daily existence, yet a few times a year, I load up my “junk” and donate it to Goodwill so they can sort it and sell it to people less needy than the guy on the corner---for a profit nonetheless. Most of us are fearful of asking for help in our own lives and I think it shocks us that someone, arguably at least partially responsible for his own dilemma, has the audacity to ask for it literally thousands of times a day. Setting that internal struggle aside and giving simply for the sake of giving is, I think, the nature of true charity.
Chesterton took a much more robust stab at this point than I could ever take. He wrote, “Charity is the power of defending that which we know to be indefensible. [C]harity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them. For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.”
By realizing that we all have people in our lives who will unconditionally offer help, we may also realize that there is no shame in asking for it. Just a thought. The same reasoning applies when we’re asked for help. “No one has ever become poor by giving” said Anne Frank. If she could come to that realization then perhaps the guy on the corner does, in fact, deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Well, there it is. This Off Season is officially up and running. I’ll try and lighten things up a bit next week and throw in that filthy sense of humor you all seem to revert to requesting when things get a bit heavy here in Some Guy’s cyberspace. Have a wonderful week. In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be thanking my lucky stars. DP