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Holiday Madness

This morning while parked at the light on Tudor Road and the Seward Highway exit, I noticed not for the first time, a man standing on the corner holding a sign. It read, “Cold, Broke. Anything Helps.” He was young, my age or maybe even younger perhaps. I’m 37 by the way. He was wearing a pair of worn out black canvas Vans tennis shoes with white laces, the brand label still faintly legible, baggy blue jeans, a camouflage light-weight jacket with a dark hoody and baseball cap. He looked cold from my perch on a leather heated seat, in my convertible Volkswagon Beetle, radio on, playing Orthodox Christmas choral music… Bach, I believe.

The theme of the show on the radio was the holiday spirit, giving and sharing, family and warmth. The man on the corner looked cold, skinny and weather beaten, his family lost or worried, who knows? I glanced at him, offered a weak, sympathetic smile, then looked down. I realized I had nothing to offer. Not a hot cup of coffee, no change in my pocket. And I felt sad, a reflection of the times, the juxtaposition of wealthy and poor. My comfortable life, my well-to-do family, well-fed animals with better healthcare than most, all modest by society’s interpretation, yet astoundingly gluttonous while parked at the Tudor Road light. I am bothered. The difference between me and the man on the corner is thinner than I am comfortable with, and still I know I’ll probably never be that man.

Last week, I had $46.27 in my account, and to my name, I had less than that. A lot less. A loan payment here, credit card debt there, granted all under control due to extreme force of will. I eat Top Ramen noodles when my budget forces my hand, refrain from owning a television so I have no cable bill. I don’t have a car payment anymore, but if something happened to my car, I’d be pushed to a very uncomfortable position. Twice late last year and earlier this year, I had to ask my dying mother for financial help. I’m lucky she had it to give.

Perhaps the man on the corner was more like me than I know, yet without the family safety net. It’s 13 degrees outside, warmer today than yesterday. His threadbare, yellowing fleece mittens seemed barely adequate. He returned my smile, a look of thanks crossed his face, and then a blank, vacant stare filled back in.

Maybe he could see the pained look on my own face, that all I have to offer him on a 13 degree post winter solstice afternoon on Christmas Eve was a mere smile. I wish I could have offered him something. But no. Instead I drove on, turned left over the bridge, past Lake Otis Blvd., past the McDonalds, to make an illegal U-turn and hook sharply back to the right.

Timmy the cat is unwell, drooling, and I suspect he’s in pain, too. Unlike the man on the corner, Timmy’s suffering will be addressed. He will get food, shelter, water, antibiotics to cure his ailment and a warm soft comfy bed to stretch out on at home, cuddled tight in the arms of a sleeping 8-year-old, eagerly awaiting the gifts Santa will leave under the Christmas tree.

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