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Give Us This Day - Articles Surfing
About three or four years ago I worked a contract that required me to drive through a less than desirable part of town. One particular freeway underpass housed the man I would later come to know as Harley.
I think Harley was about my age, maybe even a little younger. He certainly could not have survived these conditions if he were much older than 50. He had lost most of teeth. He couldn't seem to stand fully erect and when he walked to a car to accept a hand out his movement was restrained as though each step towards the charity caused him physical and emotional pain.
In the 30 seconds or so that one must endure witnessing these daily dramatics, I would think about giving something to the guy. But it always seemed the light would change before this bedraggled weary figure could reach my vehicle. Sometimes I would wave and enunciate a "Catch ya next time" as I drove passed him. But mostly, it saddens me to say, I would just try to put the whole image behind me.
Finally, after about two months, I got up the courage to actually try and interact with Harley. IF the stop light gods would just position me appropriately, I was going to hand him a twenty dollar bill. I approached the underpass and sure enough the light went from green to yellow to red placing me first in the line of potential donors. I rolled down the window and Harley came up to me, smiling a hideous but somehow engaging toothless grin. I extended the twenty but Harley pulled back.
"Oh no brother, that's too much" he said.
"No, it's not. Please take it!" I insisted.
"I can't my friend. I just don't need that much," he replied.
"What do you mean? Come on, I want to help," I retorted.
Just then the light changed and Harley stepped back onto the curb out of reach. "God Bless you brother! You better get going. Five's my limit," he said as he held up the five gnarled fingers of his right hand. Cars began to honk at me so I had to drive away. How could this guy turn down twenty bucks? I thought about stopping my car and walking back to talk to him, but there was really no place close enough or safe enough to pull over. Besides, it would have made me late for work. So I resolved that tomorrow, I would just give this guy four fives. Clearly, he was too addled to know it was the same as a twenty.
The next day came and the lights were with me again. I held out the four fives to the approaching Harley, he pulled one of them from my hand and said, "That will get me a meal and night in the shelter. God Bless you brother!"
"Well, take them all so you can have 3 more nights in the shelter!" I replied. Harley stopped smiling, took on a more professorial air and pronounced, "I couldn't do that. If I die tomorrow then you will have wasted all that money. You just give the rest to somebody who needs it today."
Over the next few weeks, I managed to get about a half dozen more fives into Harley's hand then he wasn't there anymore. I figured he had found a better spot to collect his daily allowance. When the homemade cross appeared at the intersection with the words, "God Bless You Harley," I knew I was right.
Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).
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