Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Feeding the homeless, feeding the muse

I know, this is supposed to be a writing blog. But occasionally I am probably going to veer off into my personal life. If that doesn't entertain you, feel free to skip over posts like this one and I will be back to business tomorrow. :) I justify recording these events as the little things that eventually make their way into inspiration and then story form.

Yesterday, Handsome and I were driving to our favorite Mexican restaurant (mm, quesideas and raspberry margaritas). When we exited the highway, we saw a man standing on the corner with a sign that said, "Hungry - please help."

"Do you want to stop off and buy him a burger?" Handsome asked.

I agreed that sounded like a good idea. We know a lot of the homeless kids in our area, so we sometimes give them food or money, but this was the first time we'd stopped off to buy food for a homeless stranger. We discussed the etiquette of it as we pulled into a Carl's Jr -- should we flag him down first and then pay for his order? Or just pick up food and then run it back to him? in the end, we decided to just order him a combo meal and bring it back.

Well, I still don't know about the etiquette, but I do know about the practicality of it. When we emerged with a bag of fast food and a Coke and walked down the street to the highway entrance, there was no more homeless man. We walked down the road a little further, wondering how he could have gotten out of sight so quickly (maybe our fast food wasn't all that fast).

So there we are, with good intentions, dinner plans, and a bag of fast food we don't know what to do with.

"Where are the homeless people when you need them?" I asked Handsome, because I am always very sensitive.

We walked back to our car and decided to drive down to the beach, looking for someone homeless. And as we parked our car, a man sat down on a park bench right in front of us. He was older, wearing a dirty fatigue jacket with a long beard. But... was he homeless? Would we be complete jerks if we went up and asked him if he wanted Carl's Jr?

"You do all the talking," I warned Handsome.

"Okay," he said. So we walked over to the park bench. "Um, do you want some Carl's Jr?"

"No," the guy said. Oh. Okay. Nevermind. Fall back and regroup...

"Okay," Handsome said. We started to move away, and then the guy said, "Well, maybe. Did you have extras or something?"

We explained the story of the disappearing homeless man we'd hoped to give the meal to.

"Well," he said. "I guess I can eat it. Okay. I'll eat it."

"Great," we said. We gave him the bag and the Coke.

As we started to walk away, he called, "God bless you!"

We're still not sure if he was someone who needed food or if he just wanted to end our awkward search. But I'd like to think we still managed to do a good thing that day, even if we bumbled it. Hopefully, we're in service of some higher power that's a little more slick than we are.

Next time we see someone asking for food, though, I am going to ask what he'd like and either bring him with us or tell him not to go anywhere! Handsome would like to take it a step further and bring them into our restaurant with us, but I'm not sure how that would go over. He is inspired by this project. And maybe it's not a bad idea. Probably someone living on the streets can use not just dinner, but someone to talk to.

And, tying this back to writing, the novelist in me thinks it might not be a bad idea, either. Pushing our personal boundaries could change our perspective, challenge our cherished beliefs, inspire our best writing. I know that's how, for better or worse, I've made some decisions for my life -- not, what's the smart thing to do here? but, what's going to make the better story to tell? Remarkably, I am still alive, and maybe a little bit more interesting of a person, as well.


Philip Sington said...

Sounds like it could be the start of a good short story. Or possibly even a Hornby-esque novel. People trying to do 'the right thing' is a fertile area for literary exploration, because it's often not as simple as it sounds where strangers are concerned.
Perhaps, in the interests of health consciousness, you should have gone looking for a tofu salad instead?

morrow said...

Definitely would make a great short story or essay, and I like Philip's idead about how doing the right thing is not always simple and that them would be a great one for a novel.

Guinevere said...

Funny that you mention Hornby, because I recently read "How To Be Good". So well-written, but painful to read at times!

And the morality of it can be surprisingly complex, it's true. I volunteered once at a soup kitchen where the lady who ran it was very rude to the homeless people who came in -- was it a valuable thing to feed them? Maybe, but I could not work somewhere they were treated so disrespectfully. It didn't seem like enough good to be doing to counterbalance the harm.

And, I actually do feel a little guilty buying fast food to give, because I wouldn't eat it myself. But I've been told before the fast food can be a good thing for them because they need the extra calories... so that's how I justify it. That, and the inconvenience of buying food quickly that would cater to my own quirky organic/ethical standards!

Tess said...

Out blog hopping today and came across yours -- funny story here :)

I guess, in the end, the blessing comes from the desire to serve, right?

you can visit me at :


(not that you have to - but you can....if you wanted to, that is)

Ashley Ladd said...

I work for a charity that feeds the hungry for my day job. I'm not out in the field, though, but I know I'm helping.

A few weeks ago I ran into a homeless man on the street with a sign and he was begging for food. That particular day I had bought an extra hamburger to give to my daughter who I was on the way to pick up. I was inspired to give it to him. I figured I could get something else for her. Otherwise, I usually give a dollar or two as it's so difficult to go back. I'm usually in a hurry. I figure if they don't use it for the right purpose it's between them and God.