It was late enough at night to potentially be early morning, and I stood at the crossroads of wariness, where trouble meets the cops regularly. An old lady walked up slowly on the sidewalk with a pink cruiser, the flattened tire making the squeaky sounds of need, and I tensed when she shoved a toy in my face and loudly exclaimed, “Look at my dog!!”
I was taken aback. Her approach had popped my comfort zone, and I could tell from the wild look in her eye, that she was probably insane. The headphones on her head told me a long story I understood, so I remarked, “Cool, what’s his name?”
She smiled coyly and responded, “Country!” I chuckled, and was glad to have met her inappropriate advance on the street with patience, and encouraged her with, “That’s a cool name for a dog!”
Street people have a sales pitch, and most of the time it boors me, or makes me feel unsafe, but her’s was fun, and while smelling her wasn’t particularly pleasant, I hesitated to back away. She took the opportunity to sink in her hook, and quietly asked, “Do you want to feel country?”
I laughed while visualizing country songs, and the places I’d rather be than the dangerous street corner where we spoke. I reached out and pet her silly dog, and recognized that she had earned something giving me laughter, so I offered a cigarette.
I wish she ran a school for the other panhandlers, inspiring them to trade value for value, instead of asking for something while offering nothing. As I walk down the street it hurts me to turn away from the advances of the less fortunate or desperate souls, so I love that she gave me more strength of purpose when I respond with, “I’d be glad to trade that for a joke that will make me laugh, a short story that will make me cry, or enough money for some apple pie.”
Sometimes all people really want is acknowledgement that they exist. They don’t want pity, or scorn and the street has teeth, so I find that a little bit of cheer in a response makes my path healthier.