I think his name is Henry. I’m not really sure because he has a speech disability and I found him quite difficult to understand.
We met him standing by the side of the drive-through lane at one of the local McDonald’s. My wife had a headache and wanted a Coke and, you know, Mickey D’s has drinks for a dollar these days.
We asked him if he wanted something to eat and he said yes. So along with my wife’s Coke, we ordered Henry a cheeseburger and fries and a soda. He expressed his gratitude in no uncertain terms.
At the drive-through window, my wife asked the young clerk with the headset whether the people that hung around outside McD’s were really homeless or just beggars. “Probably a little of both,” he opined.
When we drove by again a few minutes later, Henry was still there. The food was gone and the wrappers were discarded on the ground. The guy must have inhaled his meal. It may have been a while since he had eaten, or perhaps instantaneous consumption is the only bulwark against competing homeless people stealing what little you have.
I felt as if someone should chastise Henry about littering, but I suppose where one’s trash is deposited falls low in priority when one’s belly is empty. Moreover, my wife and I realized that the man is almost certainly developmentally disabled.
A little while later, while exiting the Wal-Mart parking lot, we saw a gentleman with one cardboard sign propped against his backpack (“I am really hungry”) while he held another (“I am really thirsty” in large lettering, with a small notation “anything but alcohol”). I suppose he believed that he would be deemed more worthy of charity if he made it clear that he wasn’t just hoping for a beer.
Then there was last night. On the way home from my job in downtown Sacramento, we pulled off the freeway to use the rest room in a fast food restaurant. Two homeless people, an old man and a young woman, were hanging out near the door. The woman was wearing a vertically striped outfit that reminded me of an umpire. She kept tugging up her low rider pants that gave the world a clear view of her butt crack. My wife pointed out that she was pregnant.
The old guy had a scruffy little dog as a companion, tied to a small pile of possessions by a red leash. I couldn’t help thinking that it was bad enough to be born a dog, much less to end up the canine pal of a homeless person. As often as I hear derogatory comments about homeless people having pets when they can’t even feed themselves, as the first drops of rain began to fall I realized that loneliness does not discriminate based on economic need or social station. We all need a friend.
My good and kindhearted wife pointed out that we should drive back around to ask the man and the woman whether they needed something to eat. But they were gone, perhaps to seek shelter from the impending storm, just another in a long line of storms that had already permeated their lives.
As we headed home, we heard a clap of thunder and spied a distant flash of lightning before the sky opened up in a torrential downpour, so desperately needed by the parched crops here in drought-ravaged central California. Hurrying the short distance into the house, I was well and truly drenched.
As I stripped off my soaked clothes and pulled on a warm pair of sweats, I wondered where the pregnant woman and the old geezer with the dog would spend the night.
And I wondered what their names are and how long they’ve been living outdoors and who their mothers and fathers were.
It seems a crime to throw away people as if they were worthless, as if they had no ability to contribute to society, no ability to love and be loved. As if they were no more than paper wrappers discarded from hastily devoured cheeseburgers.
At least if I see Henry again, I’ll be able to address him by name.