Reversing Karma

Yesterday was an ordinary day—until I stopped to pick up my laundry on my way home from work.  That’s where things got interesting.  As I parked my car, I noticed a guy lingering in the parking lot.  Given my several experiences in Seattle where I’ve mistaken homeless people for legitimate parking attendants, I was adamant that I wouldn’t fall for it this time.  I ignored the strange man’s “Excuse me, excuse me” attempts to hassle me, and I crossed the street to the cleaners.  I quickly paid for my dry cleaning and crossed the street to return to my car.  That’s when I noticed he was still lingering by my car and appeared to be taking down my license plate number.  What was this homeless man DOING?  It still hadn’t dawned on me that I was on the Eastside, and it might not actually be a homeless person.

As I got closer to my car, the man walked away and mumbled under his breath, “You really shouldn’t do that again.”  To which I replied, “Excuse me?  Do what?”

“Park here and walk across the street,” he said.

“Well, there weren’t any parking spots on the street, and it took less than two minutes,” I told him.  I then began backing out to drive away, but I felt compelled to roll down the window and say,

“Are you an official parking attendant?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you should really think about wearing a uniform because I thought you were a homeless person trying to harass me.”

“This IS my uniform,” and then in a shy voice, “this is what they gave me.”

*commence feeling like a total jerk.*  “Oh, umm, well, there are no signs.”

“There are signs everywhere.”

“Well, I don’t see them, and I don’t think the less than two minutes I parked here did any harm.”

I immediately called my best friend, M, as I drove away to tell her the story.  She laughed hysterically, and then I spotted a legitimate homeless person (with a sign) at a stoplight.

“I can reverse my karma and hand out a blessing bag!” I told her.

“I don’t think it [karma] works if that’s the reason why you’re doing it,” M said laughingly.

Truth be told, I had been waiting for an opportunity for the past few months to hand out one of the blessing bags I made after my experience I wrote about in a previous blog post.  You can find it here.

The man enthusiastically thanked me and took the bag, which was full of goodies like snacks, wipes, hand warmers, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.  I guess this answered my question of whether or not people would accept blessing bags in lieu of cash.

So this makes up for me telling a nice dutifully employed man that he looked like a homeless man, right?  Err, maybe not, but at least the other guy was happy.  Here’s hoping I don’t somehow end up with a parking ticket in the mail!

Pumpkin Cookie Bum

Recipe found here:  http://www.heynataliejean.com/2013/10/the-pumpkin-chocolate-chip-cookies.html
Delicious pumpkin chocolate chip cookies!

Last week, I was downtown Seattle for a lunch meeting and had an interesting experience while parking.  As I pulled into a pay-to-park lot, I noticed there was a homeless man “working” the lot.  This is something I’ve noticed many times since moving to Seattle—and even fallen for a few times.  Homeless people wander the parking lots and act like parking attendants, preying on tourists or green Seattle-ites.  By the time you realize they’re not official parking attendants, you’ve already told them how long you intend to leave your car.  Next they’re asking you if you have any change to spare.

Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not some cold-hearted cheapskate who isn’t willing to help someone who is down on his luck.  That said, over the years, I’ve come to a point where I strongly believe in giving food or gift cards in lieu of cash.  Perhaps it’s a generalization (and I’m sure there are exceptions), but I believe that a common reason folks find themselves on the street is because of an addiction—drugs, alcohol, etc.—and by giving them cash, we’re only feeding that addiction.  It may feel like we’re helping in the moment, but we’re actually not helping at all.  We’re perpetuating the problem.

This belief was further confirmed when on several occasions, I offered to buy a homeless person a meal, and the response was something along the lines of, “That’s okay.  I already ate up the street.”  One would think if someone were truly on the street and in need of food, he would take the opportunity to get a sandwich to save for later.  Am I right?

This brings me back to my experience on Wednesday.  I saw one nicely dressed man go back to his car that he had just parked to get some cash to give the old, shabby homeless man.  I was not falling for it again, I thought to myself as I pulled into the pay lot.  I quickly scanned my purse to see if I had a granola bar or something to give the old man.  On the seat next to me, I had a full plate of delicious pumpkin chocolate chip cookies that I intended to drop off at a friend’s house later that afternoon.  I had overdone it on the cling wrap, so there was extra to pull off and take out a few cookies for the homeless man.  It might not be money or a sandwich, but it was something I could offer him.  My friend wouldn’t notice the two missing cookies, and she would certainly understand if I told her where they went.

As I stood at the machine to pay for my parking, the tattered homeless man stood next to me, acting like he was walking me through the steps to pay—as if I couldn’t figure it out without him.  The conversation went something like this:

Man:  Do you have any spare change?  I haven’t eaten in days.  I just need $1.50 to get coffee and a donut.

That’s odd, I thought to myself.  I just saw that other man give him some cash.  He should have more than $1.50.

Me:  I’m sorry, Sir.  I don’t have any cash.  I do have some really good cookies I made that I can offer you.

Man:  [Opens his mouth wide]  I don’t have any teeth…. And umm, I’m a diabetic.  Can’t have no sugar.

That’s odd, I thought to myself again.  He just said he wanted a donut, perhaps he meant a mushy, sugar-free donut for his toothless diabetic self.

Me:  Well, I’m really sorry, Sir, but this is all I have.  I try to keep food with me, but I hadn’t thought about people being diabetic.  I guess I shouldn’t carry cookies, huh?

Man:  [Feeling more at ease, leans in and speaks in a whisper] Do you smoke cigarettes?

Oh, so that’s what this guy really wants.

Me:  No, Sir.  I do not.  My grandma died of lung cancer, so no, I don’t.

Man:  Oh, okay.

Me:  [Finishing up my credit card payment at the machine] Best of luck to you, Sir.  Take care.

Man:  Thanks, you too.

I left the scene with a mix of emotions.  I felt compassion for this old man, who probably hasn’t had much to eat in days—although as my mom pointed out, if he was actually a diabetic, he would have passed out by that point.  I felt angry that he thought he could fool me by jiggling a couple of coins as if that was all he had.  Part of me wished I had said, “You’re not fooling me, buddy.  I saw that other guy give you cash.”  I wanted to yell, “If you’re going to claim this money is for food, don’t use a DONUT as your example if you’re going to claim to be a diabetic.”  Another part of me—the more compassionate part—wanted to ask him how he got there.  How does one get to a point where he is living on the streets?  Where was his family?  Where were his friends?

I haven’t been able to shake this old man from my mind the past few days.  I’ve been asking myself, what could I have done differently?  I kept coming back to a post I saw a friend “like” on Facebook about making “blessing bags,” to handout to homeless people.  The “blessing bag,” is simply a zip lock bag, filled with items the person might need—travel size toothpaste, toothbrush, granola bar, socks, etc.  After my several experiences of folks on the street declining my offer for food, I can’t help but wonder—would they even accept “blessing bags?”

I’m ready to find out.  I’ll let you know how it turns out, dear readers.

You can find the recipe for the delicious pumpkin chocolate chip cookies here.  I used Guittard dark chocolate baking wafers instead of the milk chocolate she recommended because dark chocolate makes me feel like I’m eating healthier 😉