Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006

Ink Soup

by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
Seattle, Wash.

Printable version of this story

SEATTLE, Wash. -- Dale, my sauna buddy, the installer of acoustical wall and ceiling panels, said the other day that he could not get over the amazing weather we've been having. In the fall it's normally bad, gloomy and rainy all the time, he said. But we are in what passes here for a drought. Under brilliantly blue skies I have to keep watering the ornamentals if not the lawn.

Dale is from Missoula, Mont. I am from Anderson, S.C. Everyone here in the Northwest claiming to be an expert on the weather is from somewhere else. Which is unsurprising: the natives, all five of them, hardly notice the weather.

I've not been here long enough to know what to expect - but what is one to expect when you have days like today: rainy and dark in the morning after a windy night (which blew over a plant on the deck) and then ... bright warm sunshine pouring down from a blue sky, shining at sunset into the picture window and interfering with my tv viewing of Game Seven of the World Series?

o o o

Walking along the street to the gym, I thought how seldom I had seen anyone begging in that area lately. Panhandlers and homeless people were common not long ago. I hoped that their paucity was a sign, among many, that the general economic health of the U.S. was improving.

Then, in the locker room, I saw a young man with long unkempt hair and beard who was laboriously performing all sorts of personal grooming chores (toenail clipping, &c.) and who had simply stashed his gear in a locker without a lock.

A homeless kid, I thought. A single visit to the gym costs only a few bucks. It occurred to me that many homeless must take advantage of the showers, and that accounts for the oddity of lockers stuffed with gear but without a padlock.

Later on, driving out of the parking lot next to the bank, I was accosted by the "King of the Panhandlers." A neatly dressed young man (suit, tie, overcoat) tapped on my window, and, with many apologies and a long prologue anent his respectability, his not being a beggar, and so on, he asked me for money.

He offered reasons. His wife had left her handbag at home, he had no cash, the car (full of kids) was out of gas, and he needed just enough to get home, and, if I'd give him my business card, he would gladly, etc. I gave him the three dollars I had in the singles part of my wallet, saying that it would hardly fill his tank but that someone else would no doubt help him, too.

Was that a Christian thing to do? No, it was my usual compromise: just enough to convince my conscience that I had given, not enough to do any real good. Perhaps I should have given him a twenty and a few extra to get something to console the children?

My real esprit de l'escalier was to realize that I should have given him at least my email address and asked him to write and tell me his story so that I could get a column out of it.

Sad epilogue to the above story: the next day I saw the same fellow, in the same spiffy attire, accosting others with his story of stranded children.

Not that this excuses my stinginess. Nothing does.

Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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