It's what we're supposed to do

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Sunday May 23, 2004.

I drove through downtown today and saw a guy selling papers at a church. Our local rag, and I’m sure many more papers across the country, employs guys to stand around in various places around town and hock the paper every day of the week. They get a lot of sun, and I’m sure they get their fair share of wind during the winter. Some people have told me that they hire homeless guys and pay them by the amount of papers they sell, which would possibly make their employment a little bit illegal. And I also figured it was a bit presumptive, and possibly slightly classist or racist, to assume they are homeless.

Seeing that guy today got me to thinking about one of those guys I had gotten to know a little bit a few years ago. His name was John and he worked outside of a grocery store that also housed my bank. I would arrive a little early to work and roll in. Most days I’d pick up a paper if I had the spare change. I’d often just hand him a dollar and tell him to keep it (papers cost 50 around here). But that posed a problem for me eventually. John liked to hang around and talk, but I was an up-and-comer, so I couldn’t be seen goofing around with a guy who had no possible business with me. He wasn’t about to take out a loan on his house for $50,000 or anything like that, so he was effectively a waste of time for me.

The problem I encountered with John was that since I usually gave him twice as much as the paper cost, he would feel obligated to give me a free one when I didn’t have the cash. In turn, this obligated me to hang around and talk to him and act like I cared. I felt really uncomfortable, and it’s a feeling that became ingrained in me for a while. After I left the bank I’d shop at the same store and see him. He’d ask how I was doing and that kind of thing. I always felt weird just saying hi and walking by, but sometimes it’s what I had to do. Then I started seeing him at a post office I would walk by on my way to classes. He always recognized me and wanted to chat a bit, but I’d blow him off. It never felt right to do that, but it was always easier than feeling uncomfortable by hanging around and talking with him.

Seeing that guy today made me think of John differently than I ever had before. I had forgotten aboput him since it’s been a few years since I last saw him, but I now will wonder what happened to him and I’ll be looking for him as I pass his old stomping grounds. I’ll make it right if I do see him again. I really wish I had taken time out of my stupid day and have a cup of coffee with him and start asking how he was doing. He was never weird or creepy. I only felt those ways because I was supposed to be selling things to people, not getting to know people. It’s another major block in the building that made me hate my job at that bank. I never felt right doing the things that human beings should always be doing—making connections with other human beings. And I still thank everyone around me for supporting my decision to start living a better life.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who wants people to eventually refer to him as "that dude who climbs mountains."

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