Thursday, November 15, 2007

Contemplating the Dollar

I picked up my first paycheck from LB today--a whole $32. Whoo. While I was waiting to retrive said paycheck, I was lovingly fingering a red and black jet bead necklace and earring set and thinking maybe it would be the perfect accessory to a certain upcoming birthday party--until I flipped it over and realised it cost $30. Four hours of work = one necklace. Maybe not.

Last night after work I was craving a Coke. I mean--just gagging for one. I think this has something to do with the fact that I'm trying to rid my diet of high fructose corn syrup, and my body was cranky because the only sugar it had had that day was Splenda. I decided to be bad and get a Coke, but I only had One Dollar. Coke in the convenience store costs at least 1.25 (which, with Chicago tax, comes out to roughly $4.06), but then I remembered that McDonald's had been having a deal on soda, so I trundled across the street. Alas, the deal, advertised over the summer as "42 cents for a cup of Coke the size of LAKE MICHIGAN!!!" was over. The small Coke was now $1, which, with Chicago tax comes out to roughly $4.06. Dar. No soda for me. I decided to suck it up and wait until I got home, where I could just be a grown-up and steal one of my roommate's Cokes.

I got a front-facing seat on the train, near the end. Almost immediately after I got on, a thin homeless man came through the door and started asking for money, explaining to everyone that he only needed five dollars to get into a shelter, and waving around a dollar. Now, most of the time I don't give money to people who ask (homeless persons and Greenpeace alike) because I a) believe they will buy alcohol with it, b) don't agree with their politics or c) I don't have any money on me. But this man struck me as particularly persistent: he walked up and down the train, stopping to harass people and wave his dollar in their faces. And everyone--to a man--ignored him. Even when his dollar came between their face and their newspaper. Not a glance.

I gave the man my dollar. I didn't really need it, and now I have thirty-two more dollars, so I figure even if that's only a rough profit of $31, I'm still coming out ahead. It's strange how other countries have their versions of the particular beggar you see over and over again: in Greece you have black clad weeping widows who kneel for hours outside in the sun, holding out a hand, occasionally with a child in tow. In Paris you have Algerian immigrants who will ask to show you a trick, then tie a bracelet on your wrist and refuse to let you go until you give them some change. In London, you have the thin, spaced-out train junkies who have given their speech so many times they sound like zombies. And in Chicago you have genuinely crazy people who--through a combination of no universal health care and madness brought on by the cold--can be downright scary sometimes.

Today there was another man on the train asking for money, a tall blind man holding a McDonald's cup (the kind that would have been 42 cents earlier in the summer) in one hand and a white cane in the other hand. He managed to walk down the aisle of the swaying train without falling and without holding onto anything. Once again, he was largely ignored, although the woman next to me quickly rolled up a dollar and tossed it into his cup so he didn't realise she had done it. I wanted to turn to her and say "I gave a dollar last night! Why did you give that guy some money?" but I didn't want to embarass her. Or myself. The Bible says we shouldn't make a big deal out of charity, and being the only person on the train who gives money can make you feel like a spotlight is shining on you. It shouldn't though--after all, the most it earns you is a thank you before the person moves on. After all, it's only a dollar. And, really, what can a dollar buy you these days?

1 comment:

Laura said...

That's so sad to think that a dollar can't buy you much these days.

Yes, we have our version of "street people" here in Romania too. I've heard the stories about the homeless children who return to their parents and are beaten for not bringing in enough money. It makes sense these kids move quickly to theft. it's the only way you can control the amount of money you bring home.

I was explaining to a friend of mine why I gave a woman on the street holding a baby that looked like a doll but was actually a baby 1 leu (about 43 cents) and she said A lot of times the child is their brother or sister. I said I don't care if it's their second cousin it's still a baby and it needs food. As the coversation continued it became clear she had a million reasons NOT to give money and finally I said, look You can rationalize not giving all you want and that's fine with me, but I don't do it every day and I probably should and will continue to give no matter what you say.

That shut her up.