The fact that I am writing about this undermines the little good I tried to do this morning, when a bearded man in a straw hat asked, “Hey, can you give me $5 for pancakes?”

I confess I normally avert my eyes and breeze by these kinds of interactions, but for some reason – maybe it was the San Francisco air — I responded this morning.  I told the guy I’d buy him pancakes.

The first red flag I missed was his immediate response, “Can you just give me the money or a gift card?” Like a wily pitcher, (or so I thought) I shook him off and pointed to the diner across the street. “We’ll get some pancakes over there.”

The second red flag I missed was his insisting that he sit at the counter by himself.  He pointed to a booth in the rear corner and said, “You can sit back there and read the paper.”  The waitress behind the counter looked none too pleased when I asked her if she would send my newfound friend’s bill to me, after he finished his breakfast.

When I looked up from my newspaper fifteen minutes later, my bearded buddy was long gone, but the waitress now had a smile on her face, and she informed me that he’d run up a bill, nearly 4 times the cost of those pancakes.  She shook her head, and I could almost hear her silent “tsk tsk’ as I handed her my credit card.

Moments like this make me realize that, while I may have a fistful of letters after my name, there are days when I feel like I still just fell off the peanut truck.


20 thoughts on “Pancaked

  1. Been there…don that. I try to provide food for the belly but my contribution seems to fund additional
    drugs or booze.

  2. Jim,
    Your blog resonated.
    I have seen lepers begging in the streets of Brazil and felt gratified when giving them money when my wife and I were with the Franciscans there. The Franciscans said they were truly needy. It was so rewarding to feel blessed by such giving.
    But in America, I too have been hosed by several of these types.
    I used to go to FedEx in Bethesda often. A polite, smelly guy once bagged me in the stairwell with his ”story.” I gave him money thinking he was not a pro. I was wrong… I saw him there too many times afterward and he would not come near me again, thankfully…
    My hometown of Worcester recently got the courage to outlaw panhandlers at red lights. Seems it was not enhancing the experiences of college visitors, and was getting out of control.
    Why does Penn State make their students stand in roadways begging for money for cancer research? I told my kids not to apply to that place after seeing those students doing that just once).
    A few years ago, a cop told me: Never give to panhandlers because it only makes them multiply and become more aggressive, and they are a traffic hazard.
    I have wondered when one will jump out in front of the car to create a lawsuit… maybe they just need better coaching.
    My church has been subjected to a cadre of slick, professional panhandlers who have been showing up outside all three church entrances most every Sunday for many years… a reliable source related that more than one pastor has quietly instructed lay volunteers that they are frauds, but it continues because it could be too provocative to reveal this to the congregation. What a dilemma!
    I am not so hardened that I will not ever give to a stranger again. Three times in the last few years I have been approached by fellows begging at restaurants on the turnpikes. I did give money to one fellow at a Mass Turnpike stop, and later concluded that he was probably gaming me. But even if he was, I felt he deserved it for his story line and performance!
    Now even being charitable is complex. What in society is not being gamed by clever dirtballs? Where did Mayberry go?

  3. Ouch! And here I thought San Francisco was peopled by benevolent hippies… although maybe that’s what your new friend thought he was 🙂

  4. I love it!
    One of my college buddies working in NYC 30 years ago was so used to hearing “gotta quarter for a cup of coffee?” that he actually coughed up the requested amount when a guy on the subway stairs said, “Hey, man, can I have twenty bucks?”
    Grit goes a long way.

  5. Interesting, a similar event occurred to me the other night: a man approached me asking for five dollars to grab gas for him and his family, who eagerly awaited his return in their car idled across the Dunkin’ Donuts down the road.

    Of course I could forgo the five dollars so he could get his wife and child home safe, but alas, as I passed the DD there was no white van the man described, and no mother and child in sight.

    What can you do?

  6. I think this is a perfect example of when our genuine interest to help others lead to us questioning whether or not we should really go out of our way to do some good in this world. At the end of the day however, I believe that everything that you put in will have an equal reaction on you. I would personally be a bit ticked off but at the end of the day I would’ve probably shrugged it off and laughed. Cool Story.

  7. My wife and I have a shorthand for moments like this one … PhDuh.

    But yours was motivated by charity in the genuine sense of the term, so count on less time in purgatory,

  8. Two thoughts:

    1. My grandad’s saying:

    In life there are givers and takers.
    The takers may have fuller stomachs,
    But the givers sleep better.

    (I don’t think you were taken advantage of)

    2. This is truly giving without thought of receipt (-:

  9. What a sad story Jim,This poor excuse of a man missed out on a moment that most people who know you would stand in line for.

    He just slithered on to complete his very sad journey. You did all you could,he missed what might have been a moment of grace.

  10. Duped by a man “experiencing homelessness”, eh? My kids enjoyed reading the story! This will have to go in the book.

  11. Had a very similar experience in DC a month ago.

    Took a few days to stop taking it personally when i realized his belly was thinking about itself and not my wallet. Kind of like my kids and dog do every day….

  12. Well done! I probably would have said ‘what the hell’,
    and would have taken him to a liquor store and bought
    him a bottle of cheap wine, but less than $5.00 worth.

  13. My father used to say,
    There are two kinds of folks in this world:
    The givers and the takers.
    The takers sometimes eat better,
    But the givers always sleep better …

    Food for thought!

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