“Is that for him?” I misunderstand the question at first, and misinterpret the woman’s intent. For the second time in less than a quarter of an hour a human being who is strange to me has approached me, and gotten within knife range. No, it’s not like I think this woman in particular or anyone in general is going to gut me in public, but it’s the idea of someone approaching me without me knowing their intent. The one animal that kills more people than any other animal is human beings. Not all of them are dangerous but how to tell? But this woman seems angry for a reason, and I’m guessing she’s picked up on the fact that I just clashed with another human being. I’m wrong, of course, but there is no reason to think that from the question she just asked.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning. I never go into one of those forty acre stores because of just such as this. There are too any people there and far too many of them want to be there. They crave this sort of place. They feel their lives are somehow enriched by being a part of the Chinese Cheap Plastic Junk and Future Landfill Material movement. But I need a very large bag of dog food. I need Glucosamine for both myself and Sam. I do not have enough time to go across town just to avoid the twenty acre train wreck of a store. And they sell dog food in fifty pound bags.
When I worked on the Interstate at night I learned a lot about panhandlers. There is a tone of voice about them, smarmy and creepy. They also are apt to prey on the sanctimonious by tossing out religious catch words and phrases they know will work. There are medical sad stories and family sad stories and incredibly bad luck sad stories and each and every one of them has a sense of urgency about it. You have to help me because you are my last hope, God Bless you. They all have learned that if you can’t get someone to listen to you in the first few seconds, and money within a couple of minutes, move on to the next mark, and maybe… It works and works well because you, as an average person, would rather pay two bucks to get rid of someone than listen if, especially if, you believe that person. On the other hand, that two bucks means a hell of a lot more to the person asking than it does to you.
“Please sir, God bless you sir…” I’ve trained myself to ignore that tone of voice and to keep moving, faster if I can, when I hear it. But this is no ordinary panhandler. One, he’s actually on the inside of the forty acre store. Two, he’s in a wheelchair. And three, he’s grabbed me. Wheelchair or not, regardless of need, I do not like being grabbed. I don’t really like shaking hands with people. I hate those men who will shake your hand and then not let go. Preachers and car salesmen are the world’s worst about this. I’ve told people I want my hand back, all the while trying to pull away, all the while they’re trying to pump it and keep it for a while longer. But this guy has grabbed my arm. I take his wrist and twist it away from me, instinctively, and he lets go. This doesn’t seem to startle him at all. He starts his spiel without missing a beat.
“Please sir, God bless you sir, I need a bike pump for my wheelchair.” He says and all the while he’s pushing forward towards me. “Anything you could do for me, God Bless you!”
“Your wheels are rubber coated steel. Why would you need a pump?” I ask.
He looks down at the wheels as if he just noticed them. His right leg lifts a bit when he twists. For someone confined to a wheelchair, he wiggles around a bit more than I have seen. The chair itself is shiny and new. There isn’t much wear at all on the wheels.
“Uh, yes, sir, uh, it’s my other chair, it had a blow out and I need a pump.” He looks at the other wheel now, and his right foot lifts up again.
“How can you operate a hand pump without being able to hold it down?” I can think of a dozen ways, actually, because I live alone I’m used to doing things that would normally require three hands.
“Uh…” This befuddles him. He has to answer quickly and he knows it. “My Pastor comes over every night to pray with me, he can help!” and life is good again. This is a great answer. He’s going to commit this one to memory.
“Okay. Let’s do this thing.”
I walk to the sporting goods acre and all the while he’s behind me God blessing me and Jesus loves me, and how he is living on a fixed income and we find a bike pump that costs ten bucks. He seems a little disappointed. We go back to the counter and he’s God Blessing me and Jesus loves me, and as I pay for it he’s telling everyone there are still good Christians left in this world and then I hand him the pump. He very nearly comes out of the chair reaching for the receipt.
“I need that in case it doesn’t work.” He says and he nearly comes out of the chair again as I step back.
“No problem.” I step in, take the box out of his lap and I open it, pull the bike pump out and it works fine.
“Uh...” he doesn’t like this and he’s quit blessing me. Other people are watching now.
“Your pump works fine.” I tell him and I put it back in the box and hold it out to him.
“I still need the receipt, you know, just in case.” No “sir” no “God Bless you” and apparently Jesus doesn’t love me like he did just a minute ago.
“I’ll give you two dollars instead of the pump” I tell him.
“Okay!” and he smiles, not realizing what I just did.
I walk back into the store with the pump to get my money back. The fish has slipped the hook, and as he sees certain money walk away he tries to follow me, but can’t. God is blessing me again, Jesus loves me again, and I am Sir again, but I’m not buying it this time.
I get the dog food, the Glucosamine, and as I get back to the cashier the man has cornered a woman and some kids up and is giving them his routine.
“Is that for him?” and I’m thinking she’s being sarcastic. Maybe she didn’t the way I handled the pump thing, and this is her way of suggesting I’ve bought dog food for him instead of real food.
“No ma’am it is not” and I try not to lean on the words.
“He told me his dog hadn’t had anything to eat for days.” She nearly snarls the words and I realize she’s given him money. I start to ask why she’s standing around asking me this, and two deputies walk through the door. God really blesses them and Jesus really loves them, and the woman goes to speak to them. I suspect she works at the store but she isn’t in uniform.
I sit in the truck and listen to Abra Moore and wait. The two deputies leave without the guy, and he leaves after they do, still in the chair, but he’s moving quickly now. He stops long enough to bang on the door of a truck that has stopped for him, and I have this odd feeling that Jesus loves the driver, God Bless him.