The hardest job

Sutter, Bush, Pine, California, Sacramento. Five blocks from the BART station to my work. On these five blocks work a half dozen or so of the people with one of the hardest jobs in the world. They are beggars.

Most are men, four or five of them, all seemingly middle aged, scrawny, bearded and long-haired. They are almost indistinguishable from each other except for the one with reddish hair. Each has his own corner. Most of them stand. One sits against a lamp post with a blanket around him. Sometimes he sleeps. He has a sign that says, “Testing for human kindness.” When I put dollars in their paper cups, they all say, “thank you, darlin’. Have a good evening/morning/weekend.”

There are three women. One looks just like the men, except she doesn’t have a beard. She also says, “thank you, darlin’.

One is an elderly Chinese woman wearing a gorgeous embroidered jacket. She stands sort of bent over, leaning against the building on the southwest corner of Montgomery and Sacramento with one hand out. If you put a dollar in her hand, she grasps your hand with both of yours and speaks in what I think is Cantonese, nodding her head as she talks.

The third woman appears infrequently. She is younger, shorter haired, with unfortunate skin. She kneels in front of the BART station entrance with her head down and her hair hanging around her face so you can’t see her well. When you put a dollar into her paper cup, she says “thank you” with the most unexpectedly beautiful voice.

Once, when I got off at another station, I saw a black man in a wheelchair. His sign said, “Give to the United Negro Pizza Fund.” (I did. How could you not? I’ve paid a lot more and laughed a lot less.)

I make sure I have a dollar or two in a handy pocket as I walk to and from work each day. I don’t have any illusions about how these street beggars might use the dollars I give them. Maybe they shoot them up. Maybe they drink them. Maybe they go to McDonald’s. Maybe they pay rent and buy their kids apples. I don’t care. I don’t give them dollars because I think I’m helping them in any material way. I give them dollars because they have just about the hardest job in the world and I’d like them to know someone gives a damn.

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One Response to “The hardest job”

  1. Ethel Seid Says:

    I am amazed that a Chinese woman is begging. I was certain that the Chinese organizations took care of their people. Saving face is alive and well in their community.

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