Michael Thomason mug

Michael Thomason

I recognized the name on caller ID. For 20 years, he has stopped and asked to wash my truck or do any other odd job to earn a few dollars. I have always accommodated him. I figure at least he’s trying to do something for the money, rather than simply ask for a handout.

This was the first time he called. I was surprised he had resources enough to own a cell phone but not enough to live on. But such is the modern world.

Because of the Coronavirus, he was stuck somewhere out of town without the ability to stop by. He was in a real pickle, unable to make his rounds and collect his ‘pay’, given travel restrictions and all.

I love the guy. He is one of those people God put on this earth as an example to us all that not everyone is equally blessed. I never look down my nose at him or refuse to help, no matter how irritating it is to have him show up out of the blue. Actually, I’ve grown to like him over the years. There but for the grace of God go you and I.

But now he was stuck. He wanted money, I am sure, but had no idea how he would get it over the phone. He named a family member and asked if I knew her. I do. He said she was nice. I agreed. He asked if I had her phone number. I do.

I think he was trying to get me to send cash to her, so that she could get it to him. He didn't, however, want to come out and say so directly. He knew this was uncharted territory in our relationship.

What he wanted was obvious. I asked him if he was in a safe place. Yes, he was. I asked him if he had food and a bed to sleep in. He did. So, I sighed and sympathized with him and said I’d see him when all this was over. He sighed and we ended the call.

All that got me thinking about the needy across our land, and how they cope with national disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, the Coronavirus, and so on.

In some cases, there are those who have lived on government assistance for two, sometimes three, generations. Many have no clue how to manage during times when help is interrupted, having grown accustomed to depending on somebody else for food, lodging, transportation.

When trouble comes, they often lack resources or plans, other than to sit and wait to be rescued. I wondered if we had really helped them over the years.

Surely, we all feel education and opportunity can beat back poverty. Maybe our attempts to help aren’t really helping at all. Maybe we aren’t supplying the proper remedy and find it’s easier to hand out cash than deal with the underlying problem. I don’t know.

There are those among us who are truly disadvantaged, physically or mentally, and will always need our help. My friend is one of them.

Minimally educated and born in poverty to a single mother struggling with drug abuse, he lives a bare existence on the ragged edges of society.

He sometimes gets on my nerves, but at least he tries to work for his handout. That shows character. So many others are simply willing to take what scraps are thrown their way; they have no desire to climb out of whatever situation they find themselves in.

I refer specifically to those whose profession is panhandling. I know of one who used to hang out on a corner I passed going to work, when I lived in Houston.

I followed him home from work one day to see where he lived. He lived better than me, and had the car and house to prove it. I smiled to myself, mildly amused that some people are bold enough to stand on corners and ask for money, without the least shame or embarrassment.

I confronted him the next time he came up to my car. He told me to get my own corner.

Today, I suppose, in this pandemic he would be cut off from his source of income and have to make ends meet another way. I wouldn’t doubt that he would put a bucket on his curb with a big ‘thank you’ painted on it, hoping passers-by would come to him.

These are perilous and oddly comical times when even panhandlers have to work from home. I’m just glad that sort of thing couldn't happen in our little town. Near as I can tell, anyhow.

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