The one where I give a homeless drug addict $20

I was sweeping the leaves/dirt/broken Old English bottles off of the sidewalk in front of my house yesterday when I was approached by a skinny, bald, black man.

Him: Looks like you could use some help.

Me: (laughs) I could use some help getting my grass cut.

I could use some help convincing the neighborhood lay-abouts that my front lawn is not a glass recycling bin.

Him: Well, ma’am, I’m staying at a shelter right now, but I’ve done some landscaping and I could cut your grass for you.

I agree to pay him $20 to cut my front and back yard with a lawnmower he’ll borrow from a friend. Thunder is rumbling in the distance and it’s sprinkling, so I tell him to come back tomorrow around 5:30 to cut the grass.

Him: I-I, uh, I really need that $20 today, ma’am. I have to make my rent or he’s going to put me out.

Rent? Are they charging rent at homeless shelters now? And who’s ‘he’?

I tell the guy it’s up to him if he wants to mow in the rain, and he walks down the street to get the lawn mower.

He shows up 15 minutes later with a gas-powered weed eater, which he cannot get to stay cranked long enough to cut more than 2 or 3 blades of grass. After about 45 minutes of cursing at and tinkering with the weed eater (with Ernie and I watching from the window), he admits defeat and knocks on my door.

Him: I don’t know what’s wrong with that thing. But I’m almost half-way done (he’s not even 1/5 of the way done with the front yard), so if you pay me that $20 now I’ll come back tomorrow and do the rest.

Me: Um, I can pay you $5 for what you’ve done, sir, but I don’t feel comfortable paying you the rest until the work is done.

Him: (getting visibly anxious) Look, I’ll give you my wallet and leave the weed eater here. I promise I’ll be back tomorrow; I really need that $20.

Please, God, let that weed eater not be stolen.

Me: Sir, I’m sorry. I don’t want your wallet, and I can’t let you leave the weed eater here. If you can come back tomorrow to cut the grass, I’ll be happy to pay you the rest of the money.

He leaves, and I start to feel bad. I mean, I not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but $20 on any given day is not going to make or break me. I’m thinking maybe I should have just given him the money and hoped for some good karma.

Cut to: a half hour later, Ernie is freaking out and I hear a lawnmower cranking out front. I look out the window and Mr. I-Need-That-Money-Right-Now has procured a lawnmower from who-knows-where and is cutting the grass with a shit-eating grin on his face. He sees me at the window, waves, points to the lawn mower, and gives me a thumbs up. Sweet. But now I’m faced with a dilemma. I have a 20, a 10, and four 1 dollar bills, minus the $5 I gave to him earlier. I think about trying to get the $5 back from him and giving him the $20 bill, but I know I’d probably just end up giving him all $25. A thorough search of the house reveals nary a stray dollar bill. I have to break into my precious stash of vending machine quarters to come up with the last dollar of the $15 I owe him. Apologizing for the change as I hand the money to him, I am secretly mourning the loss of those four quarters.

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3 thoughts on “The one where I give a homeless drug addict $20

  1. I always feel bad when I see homeless people. Because I feel uncomfortable giving them money. In the past, I’ve given them food and clothing, but never money. Though, I think it’s great you made sure he owed up to his promise to mow your lawn before giving him payment.

  2. Good for you but also good for him! I didn’t think he’d actually come back but whatever he need the money for motivated him enough to find some way to do the job. That, I think, was as beneficial to you as it was to him. Now maybe you can hire him to convince the neighborhood layabouts that your front lawn is not a glass recycling bin.

  3. nilsa – I felt a little uncomfortable giving him money, too, because although I’d like to think it went towards a some food or something else non-destructive, I know it probably ended up in the corner dealer’s pocket.

    dingo – Keeping the glass off of my lawn would definately be worth $20. And at least my grass is cut.

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