Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Brief Update (and on charity, the homeless)

I suppose I should tell you - seeing's how I asked your prayers for her - that my mother's surgery went forward, successfully at that. She underwent a skin graft which seems to have taken and she is healing apace. She gets to keep her leg. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I will assume that the prayers worked. So thanks.

---Bernadette just finished filming some kind of golf thing for television, a sort of Big Break kind of thing only I forget the title of it. Maybe it's called the million dollar shootout. I'll let you know. She and a few other pros were made available to amateur teams for shotmaking purposes. She got to meet Fred Funk and found him "funny" and "very friendly," unlike some others she's met. I think Fred kind of took a shine to her, but then who doesn't? Besides, he's too old and too married. The show's scheduled for January on Pax TV, so be on the lookout.

---Text message from Elizabeth, on adjusting to her new life in Chicago:

Some guy is playing the saxophone for spare change outside my apartment building. I live in a city...


---Text message from Elizabeth, from the produce aisle of a big city supermarket:

Omigod. I just sneezed and farted at the same time...


---Last Thursday I was hurriedly hauling some yard trash to the curb when an old black guy pulled up on a bicycle and asked if there was any work he could do for me. The nature of his need was that his wife had been maimed in an accident, paralyzed for life, and he needed money to help pay the medical bills. He pulled out a plastic notebook and opened it to what appeared to be a xerox copy of a newspaper article with a picture of a black lady above the byline. I gave it a mere glance, saying I didn't have time to think about it right then, (I wasn't lying - I had to get to work and time was tight) but that he could come back on the weekend and we'd see about it. I figured if he really needed the work he'd come back. I wanted to read the article, scrutinize it for veracity, check the date, check his ID, ask a few questions to see if his story matched up with the article's. By the time I finished asking questions, he'd probably think he deserved to get paid for answering them.

A few years ago I was coming out of Wednesday night choir practice and some longhaired young fellow asked for spare change. He gave me a sob story about his young wife and their infant son, the latter in desperate need of infant formula. Anything I could contribute would be appreciated. 50 cents, whatever. I told him I was deeply sorry, but that we'd been instructed by the pastor to refer all supplicants to the Coalition for the Homeless, where they'd be happy to meet his needs. (I wasn't lying here, either; the pastor had indeed issued such instructions.) Beggars see churchgoers as easy marks, but, frankly, we Christians don't want them hanging around, which they will do if you give them money. Every time I go into the restroom after a Sunday morning Mass, there's one of them using the sink by way of a weekly shower. And you can smell the guy from ten feet away. But no one ever bothers them about it, including me. The next Wednesday I come out of choir practice and there's that same guy soliciting money for infant formula from another choir member (a former bass for Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians - magnificent voice). "Still working on that infant formula?" I asked. He gave me a startled look of recognition. "Oh, hey man," and went on to offer some excuse but I interrupted him. "Have you advised her to try breastfeeding? Save you a lot of work." I took the bass singer's arm and helped him exit to the street, while the guy's voice followed us, still making his excuse.

On another Sunday after church, the wife and kids and I crossed the street to the parking lot and before we got into the car I noticed an enstupored black man asleep against an adjacent building. He sat on a narrow curb with his back against the building, one hand clutching the neck of a green bottle peeking out from a brown paper bag. His head was slumped down, his legs akimbo, and it was this latter posture that drew one's eyes inexorably to his crotch where his fly was open and his genitals hanging out. Must have passed out before he could get the buttons refastened, or the zipper up. If he had buttons, or a zipper. "Don't look now, girls," I said, but all three had already seen where I was looking. "Oh my God," said one. And I thought: There but for the Grace of God go a lot of people I have known at one time or another, but not me. And we got in the car and went home where I cooked a big ole pancake and sausage breakfast.

I don't like being asked for spare change. There's a history to it I don't have time to go into right now. If I know you, you can bum a cigarette. I am quite liberal with beer and frequently give away free sixpacks of really good stuff, unless I've seen you passed out against a wall somewhere, or you act like a fool after imbibing. It's all right to drink too much as long as your loss of composure doesn't go beyond compulsive garrulousness or finding the silliest things extremely funny. If you come to the door selling a religion that will save my soul, I'll argue with you until you realize that I am beyond salvation. I don't really care whether you convert to my way of thinking or not. If you come to the door selling magazines as part of your enrollment in a drug rehab program that will establish your bona fides as an employable entity - an attempt, in other words, to turn your life around - I will not buy any. An appeal to my sense of charity and self-interest in the same breath sickens me for no immediately discernible reason. One fellow to whom I lied (I told him I had no cash and the wife had the checkbook but she wasn't home, sorry about that) was walking down the sidewalk toward the next house (I had thought him long gone) when my wife emerged from the workshop with laundry basket in hand as I headed out the backdoor. "Oh, sir, is that your wife," he grinned, "the one with the checkbook?" That got me seeing red. I went up to him, stuck my face in his, and snarled, "Do I owe you money?" Yeah, turning your life around. As long as a con works, keep using it. Infant formula, whatever. So I don't lie anymore. Now, if you come to the door, in habit, claiming to be a member of a Pope-loving religious order, and can prove it, I might just write you a check for more than I can afford. Might.

I just wish St. Paul (I think it was him) had never written that passage about "ministering to angels unaware." Or something like that. Everytime I dismiss (which is almost everytime) one of these pathetic, unfortunate, and desperate victims of either circumstance or self-destruction, I always cast one last look over my shoulder.

Well, this turned out to be not so brief after all. Sorry.

25 comments:

Michael Brendan Dougherty said...

I'm a sucker. Walking through NYC I've paid guys for free magazines and on and on.

Once as I was walking through the Bronx at night in a not nice area. I gave away my last 3 or 4 dollars. 2 to a guy who needed it for a bus. And one for someone who looked cold and the last to another. They must have seen me from a mile away. Soon this lady comes up to me. She's poor, black and I don't really know her story.

I reach into my pocket and say I don't have anything but she heard rattling. I pull out my rosary beads - which I had just bought for 18.99 that Sunday to replace another rosary that had broken. I gave her the rosary. (Why? I don't know.)

She put it around her neck. I walked back towards campus and in the middle of the Bronx on the street was a $20 bill. Why? I don't know. There were no homeless people on my way from then on. I couldn't find the lady to trade for my rosary beads back - (since twenty dollars would give her the means to the food she needed) (or the fix she wanted).

I don't think there was meaning in it really. Maybe I did for a minute. But if anything - God was probably just pleased that if I was being foolish it was at least generous. BUt I'll never fall for that crap again.

TS said...

ohmigod...

Did you get Liz's permission to post that!? *grin*

There but for the Grace of God go a lot of people I have known at one time or another, but not me.

That is LOL funny. Sometimes the imagination faileth.

Everytime I dismiss (which is almost everytime) one of these pathetic, unfortunate, and desperate victims of either circumstance or self-destruction, I always cast one last look over my shoulder.

Me too brother, me too. It always seems like it happened so fast and then I regret not being more charitable, if at least in attitude, but of course it's not supposed to be about my conscience but about them.

Paul Cella said...

A friend in my Bible study recommends carrying around a few bus tokens, to be given out to the homeless who need money for a bus ride to work (or whatever). Sounds like a great idea, but I've never implemented it. I don't imagine it goes over real well.

Bill is (1) a text-messager and (2) sings in a choir?

William Luse said...

Michael, I can't see paying twice for the same rosary, but that's just me. I'm sure God was pleased by your generosity.

Paul, there are these guys who stand at the bottom of the interstate exit ramps holding signs that say 'Need food, please help', or 'Will work for food.' I've seen people through food at them- bags of potato chips, cans of beans - for which gift freely given the recipient seems oddly disappointed. I might even have done it myself once or twice. You know, for test purposes. A friend of mine, a retired cop, used to wear a T-shirt to the golf course that said 'Will golf for food.'

1) My wife got me a cell phone without my permission. When they text message, you better answer.
2)Bill used to sing in a choir. I made good background noise.

Lynn said...

I refer people who ask me for "spare chain" to St Francis House and the Salvation Army shelters. Panhanlding is now illegal within this city.
There are more than 1000 homeless people in Gainesville, many of whom want to get back on their feet, but of course there are "entitlement" types....it is a struggle to try to provide food, clothing, and housing...especially with the approaching cold weather...how are other cities dealing with this problem?

alicia said...

I work with many of these down on their luck folks - on a daily basis. We refer them to the shelter, the soup kitchen, the food pantry, etc. We provide health care on a sliding fee scale and we have our hand out regulalry to the folks who fund such stuff. In NH there isn't much government help. but we have lots of private caritable organizations available. I will sometimes give random change, but not at the office!

Lynn said...

There isn't much government help here either, but volunteer and private groups do their best to provide food and clothing, as well as referrals to medical and social agencies. A growing number of homeless people sleep in tents in the woods. There just are not enough shelter beds, despite much effort from homeless advocates.
There is not nearly enough affordable housing for the working poor, although Habitat for Humanity is quite active here.

William Luse said...

Guess what, Lynn. I used to work at St. Francis House. Twas the president of the "board" for a brief time. Boy have I got some stories to tell.

Lynn said...

Small world, Bill! Was the house still on 7th Street then? I was there when it opened on March 17, 1980 and was also on the board.
I'd love to hear some of your stories!
We probably know lots of the same people.

William Luse said...

7th street? It would have been more like 17th street. It was behind and just down the block (east)from St. Augustine's. Fr. Baker was the pastor at the time.

Lynn said...

Yes, the soup kitchen started on 17th Street, in the old convent building. Carmen Caudron was the organizer...do you remember her?
St Francis House shelter opened a couple of years later (1980) on nw 7th st, but the soup was still made in the kitchen of St A (because of codes), and people still ate at the 17th st location.
The new shelter, on S. Main St (near downtown) has a large kitchen and dining room, as well as housing for 30 people.

Sophia said...

Speaking of your daughters, whatever became of the seizure incident that your youngest had?

Lynn said...

I wondered about your daughter too; hope she is all right.

William Luse said...

Sophia - basically nothing beyond what was in the original post. She had a stress reaction, and the only way to prevent it is...don't stress out. One can take benadryl for the hives, but that's an after the fact treatment, and they go away on their own anyway. Nothing's happened since that incident, and we can only hope it never happens again. It's the passing out that scares me. And now she's off on her own someplace where I can't come to her aid.

Lynn,
Carmen Caudron was the one who drafted me to step in as interim prez, and I emphasized interim and stuck to it. After a couple of board meetings, I'd had enough. If you've ever tried to get a bunch of Catholics to agree on a course of action, you'll know what I mean.

Carmen had stepped down because, though she was the founder, her overlordship had caused some kind of discomfort among various somebodies. Sorry I don't remember the details. I found her an adorably benevolent dictator, which was the quality that probably ruffled some feathers. She liked me because, well, we just hit it off, and unlike most of the women (and a few men) who worked there, I was physically capable of maintaining order in the face of the obstreperous drunks who occasionally popped in for soup and sandwich.

Lynn said...

I remember that time well. I worked at the library across the street and came over sometimes to help (I was a "counselo"). Carmen was a lovely, committed person (benevolent dictator, I love it), but she had her own way of running/organizing the place.

After the kitchen closed, some of the more obstreperous ones hung out on the front lawn for hours, leading to gang wars in the neighborhood. I found myself on the side of the neighboord, opposing the church.
Ah, those were the days!

Glad your daughter is doing well; will keep her in my prayers.

TS said...

The lack of Luse-ian posts of late has been disturbing and created a void in blogland.

William Luse said...

That's probably the opinion of you and about two other people. But I do appreciate the thought.

TS said...

I could, in solidarity, strike with you, i.e. no posts until you post. Though that would have a "if a tree falls in the woods and no one heard" quality to it. If I didn't post who would care? But Mark Shea...

William Luse said...

I'd care. When I'm not posting, I count on you for reading material. Who's Mark Shea?

Lynn said...

I'm one of the two people who would miss your posts.

Jeff Culbreath said...

I'm another one of those two people. And thanks for the book chapters, Bill. I'll read them again this weekend. (wink, wink, TS).

William Luse said...

All right, I see the seeds of a fan club here. Actually, Lynn, Culbreath's the one writing some good posts lately (TS too).
Jeff - chapter 3 should be ready before the weekend's out.

Lynn said...

Will check them out!

alicia said...

count me in to the club. thanks for the post on Jeanne d'Arc!

William Luse said...

Thanks, Alicia. And Lyn, you should visit those guys on a reglar basis.