Sunday, February 19, 2012

The AMPM Downtown

The AMPM downtown 7/11/11

I have refined the "don't ask me for money" look.

After trips to Paris and Istanbul and Oxford where beggars wait for dumb Americans,

I have learned a curt headshake and frowning distant eye look that clearly says, "don't ask me."

I try not to go to the AMPM in downtown Bakersfield because

I'd rather just avoid the streetpeople or the conmen who make up convoluted stories about why I should give them my money.

And who treat me like I'm cheap if I give them less than a five.

"I just need enough gas money to make it to Riverside where my sister has a job roofing her house for me."

"Don't you have any more? Come on, I just need a little more."

But sometimes gas is cheaper there and it's more convenient to stop there, so I go.

And there is this young man who looks scruffy and unkempt and perfectly healthy enough to get a job

and I see him approaching out of the corner of my eye as he mumbles something hard to understand,

"There's a motel down the street, we just need-" but I cut him off with my effective headshake and he moves on.

As I finish pumping my gas, he walks over to a young girl standing under a yellow streetlight,

with her hands on a baby stroller.

I feel a wave of bile guilt rise in my throat as he shakes his head sadly at the girl.

They walk away and they are nearly to the end of the block before I drive behind them in my car.

I open the window and hand the man a twenty.

I wrote the above piece last July and I am proud to say that it was accepted to be in the Blinking Cursor Anthology, which just went to print. My copy is already on its way to me.

This was, of course, a biographical piece about a real event which I found haunting and upsetting. I don't want to ignore the needy; I hate being hard-hearted, but there are so many people out there who will take advantage of kindness that it's hard to know who has a legitimate need and who doesn't. If you've ever struggled with this dilemma, you will understand what I was trying to say.


  1. Interestingly- rather than upsetting - it seems it was almost a gift, that life allowed you to see a real need when you were so uncertain. I know exactly what you mean about not knowing who to trust in this regard, but I think we can, over time, develop a discernment about the character of others. Your writing is really good!

  2. I struggle with this every time I go out of the neighborhood.I am so glad when I can give though. You know what it is a very happy feeling for me when I do give like I am free from the dilemma. I sometimes just want to keep a certain amount of money around just to give away and not have to debate who needs it or who is taking advantage of me.