April 9, 2016

The Incredible Thing a Homeless Guy Did to Pay Back $20.


Oh geez, I thought. Here comes another guy with his hand out. Don’t look at him. Don’t make eye contact.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Excuse me. Please. Could I just please talk to you for a minute?”

I didn’t want to listen to him. It was a typically cold San Francisco morning. All I wanted to do was go in the restaurant where it was warm and have breakfast.

“Look. I don’t mean to be rude. But no, please no,” I said, holding my hand up as a barrier.

Go away. I thought. You don’t have enough clothes on to be out here in this weather. Can’t you just go away and take my conscience with you?

“Please ma’am. Just listen to me. Just for a second.”

The voice inside my head was saying ugly things about the man. He’s lying. He just wants your money. He’s dangerous. The voice’s hatred and fear was speaking way more loudly than the man standing in front of me was.

Wait a minute. Where had all my so-called compassion gone—right down the drain with the San Francisco fog, that’s where.

“….and the hospital let me out ahead of time and now I don’t have a room until tomorrow.”

“How much do you need?” I said finally. “How much?”

He stopped mid-sentence. “I’m just trying to raise $8 so I have a place to go today.”

I knew all I had on me was a $20 bill. 

“I’m sorry. I can’t help you. I don’t have it.”

“Please ma’am. Anything will help. I’m not lying to you ma’am. Honest. I’m not.”

I paused.

To be honest, I don’t know whether I gave him the $20 out of some kind of altruistic feeling of love for my fellow man or because I wanted get rid of him or because I wanted to buy off my conscience. Maybe it was a little bit of all three.

But in the end, after listening to his story, including his name (which I immediately forgot), and where he was born (somewhere around there) and something about his mother playing the oboe for some symphony orchestra (which made me think he should be asking her for money instead of me) I gave him the $20.

Then he asked me my name and where I was from. I didn’t want to answer him but he gave me that “please ma’am” thing he’d given me before and so I did. Then he asked me if I was married and what my husband’s name was and how long we were married and how we met. By then I got uncomfortable and told him he was making me uncomfortable and he said he was sorry, he didn’t mean to make me uncomfortable but, “Please, ma’am. Please.”

It told him everything he wanted to know and said goodbye and he thanked me and I went into the restaurant where I could hopefully pay for breakfast with my credit card.

About a half hour later though, just before the waitress came with the bill, he came in the door and spied me at my table.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Could you just listen to me one more time?  Just one more time and then I won’t bother you again.”

I have to admit, I hoped it was true, that he wouldn’t bother me again.

He took a piece of paper out of his jacket—the same jacket that wasn’t warm enough for the weather, the same one with the thin t-shirt underneath that he was wearing out on the sidewalk—and held the paper up in front of him.

His fingernails were black and his fingers were red and chapped. His hands shook. He told me it took him longer to get that piece of paper he was holding up in front of him from someone on the street than it took him to get the money I gave him.

He laughed. He was nervous.

Then he read me his poem. Actually, he “delivered” it while standing right there at my table.

The poem was about me. It included all of the information he had asked for. He’d heard every single thing I’d said. He hadn’t missed a thing. He even got the spelling of my name and remembered my husband’s name.

“It’s just my way of saying thank you, ma’am,” he said when he was done.


I looked him in the eye.

“No, no. Thank you,” I said back, and then I told him the truth.

“All I did was give you $20. Twenty dollars was easy to give. Way easier than listening.”

I reached out to him and we looked at each other and shook hands and smiled.

Here is the poem:

“The Craigslist Love Song (The Heart of the Matter)”

Craigslist has so many desires to be acquired

All in different headings

Romances take charge in the city of San Fran

Maybe they are inspired from the start

Eager, it goes beyond the origin of how it was conceived, straight to the heart

Laughing on a park bench—a blind date in the produce section

Ever after happily relationships have begun in places you would not believe

Now you both have achieved a friendship so strong

Easy to see why you fell for each other

Dave, I say this would make a really cool song

All about love at first glance

Vicariously so many never find their mate

Indeed it’s hit and miss

Destiny for you was born two years ago—double check upon Craigslist







Author: Carmelene Siani

Editor: Travis May

Images: Flickr/Anne Worney

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