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November 29, 2014 / Gregory Williams

Should We Buy a Bum a Meal?

Almost two weeks ago I was pulling out of city hall and a homeless person jumped out of the bushes at the curb waving two stakes (yes, sharpened sticks), crossed in front of my car, spit on it, and then flipped me off through my open driver’s side window. A wooden stake clenched in a fist with a raised middle finger is a surprising image to have a few inches from one’s face.  My instincts took over and I flipped him off back. He backed away shouting, “You wanna fight me nigger?” Then he headed towards the other side of the building where the police station is, and I wondered if he was going to be shot.
I mention that last bit because this guy was angry, one of the most angry people I’ve encountered my entire life. Angry and obviously sick of it and probably wanting it all to end, or maybe off his meds, or just on his own special blend. Hard to say these days.

I thought a lot about that little incident in the days following. Thought a lot about that time in my life when I was a few acts of kindness away from homelessness myself. Thought about the hundreds of homeless people I’ve encountered between Chicago and Seattle, and how one day in my twenties I stopped giving money to pan handlers, then stopped trying to buy them cheeseburgers, and generally put up my urban defenses to avoid being yelled at, spit on, or scammed.

Today, my phone started going off at 04:05. When I dragged myself out of bed, and sat down at my computer to respond I noticed that someone had mentioned me in a facebook comment. The post was older, posted by an old friend about showing kindness to homeless people because “its the right thing to do and that’s what Americans should do”, though I paraphrase. The post was tagged at a Burger King, the company that recently merged with a Canadian firm to avoid US taxes as I recalled at the time.

My comment was meant to be cheeky, “Burger King is a tax dodger, take the bum to an American owned business instead.”

Today’s commenter insisted that I had missed the point, and maybe I did.

I’m quite sure that being homeless in a Burger King is a depressing situation to be in, and as such it’s probably very nice to have someone offer up an apple pie and a cup of coffee.

But I am inclined to ask, why should this be the case? What is more kind, to buy a low grade meal for a homeless person or to ask my country why there are homeless people in the first place? Is it morally acceptable to patronize a tax dodging business like Burger King, and then enhance their profits by a problem that corporate cultures like theirs is partially responsible for perpetuating? Should random acts of kindness only be the responsibility of the people and not the state?
More over, if I should buy a meal for the disaffected sitting in restaurants, what should I do for the angry disaffected spitting stake wielders of America? Flip them off and wonder if the next guy they piss off might happen to shoot them down?

It seems to me that all of my nation’s problems are so intricately interrelated that their connections are now as unnoticed as their solutions are out of reach.


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