His name is Ricky. He’s eighteen, has a two-year-old daughter and is homeless. That’s the story he tells on the 6 train. I’ve seen him a few times, which is why his story comes easy. The reality is that you don’t find too many teens begging in the underground. On streets, yes, often with scraggly dogs and flipping through torn paperback books. I’m no saint: sometimes I hand over a dollar, others I ignore it. Those of you who ride the subway daily know what I mean: the asking is overwhelming and continuous. Ricky stands out in my mind for a reason, though.
Last time I saw Ricky I did hand over a dollar, and he commented on my tattoos, like he did the last time I flipped him change. Four seats down from me another guy wasn’t as understanding. As Ricky approached, the dude started heckling him. At first I thought it was a joke. Ricky drew closer; the guy’s badgering, louder. “You ain’t homeless man, quit wasting all of our time.” He looked at the people seated around him for verification, as weak-minded people often do. Having others justify your idiocy is a universal trait.
Ricky sidled by, shrugging his shoulders. Dude grew vehement. Ricky replied with a frustrated, “I’m just trying to feed my daughter, man.” Dude shook his head in mock laughter, like he was spitting week-old phlegm. Whether or not Ricky’s story was true, his look of despair was genuine. Hey man, this isn’t easy. Why do you have to make it harder?
As Ricky exited, dude shook his head, still clamoring for attention. Turns to the two women next to him, tries to strike up a conversation. As the doors were closing, another homeless man enters at the other end of the car. Whereas Ricky was young and vibrant, albeit pretty banged up, this man was in no shape anyone would call healthy. His quiet voice made some proclamation before he limped across the floor. This nearly sets off dude in a rage. As this second man draws near, dude gets snarky: “Nah, sorry buddy, we just gave to your friend, you’re out of luck.” This man doesn’t muster a reply. Like the rest of us, he probably had no clue what he was talking about.
Dude chuckles to himself, still wanting confirmation from the women on his left. He finds sympathetic ears across the aisle in an older man, and they chat about something. I’m beyond disgusted at this point. As I said, we might not all be able to give every time, but to mock the homeless?
Then an interesting thing happened. At the next three stops, one of the three people dude tried to wrangle into his juvenile stupidity exit the train. As they pass, he looks up and says goodbye, followed by ‘God bless you.’ This threw me for a loop. Whose god was he talking about? The god of people that he deemed of his class, i.e. not homeless and in need of help? The god that was imagined for working class people who can afford the subway, on their way to work without begging?
I’m not super knowledgeable about the more popular religions in America, which is what I’m guessing he was referencing, given the small cross dangling around his neck. My studies have always focused on philosophies that don’t consider gods that important, but direct attention to the human side. At root, however, there are universal concepts that also apply to the Christian and Catholic faiths: charity, compassion and empathy. And from what I recall, those things are to be offered without exception, not only to people who you want to offer them to. If that’s your way, then your religion isn’t really working—at least, you’re not working for your religion.
What pleasure would we possibly take from harassing people with less than we have? If Ricky is really a drug addict or alcoholic seeking a fix—my educated guess is that this dude was guessing such—is making fun of him going to help? And what if that’s not the case? What if he’s an 18-year-old in a tough spot? You can offer to spoon a shovelful out. Or you can ignore him, as many do. But kicking dirt onto him while he’s already down is only proving how deep in the mud you’re already bogged.