The scruffy man stood on the corner in the rain. Shirtless, shoeless, dancing around–seemingly unmindful of the cold. I’d seen him hundreds of times on my way to the store or the bar. Sometimes he had a coat on, sometimes not. I was afraid of him so I never engaged him in conversation though we often passed close in parking lots. I knew he had mental health issues and his outbursts made me think he could be violent. He never had a begging sign and didn’t seem to collect refundable bottles and cans so I wondered how he supported himself.
That day I was on my way to Goodwill to donate some clothing that was too big for me after shedding some pounds. With the sky pouring the way it was I could barely see him but something tugged at my heart and I pulled to the curb. I reached over the seat and rifled through one of the bags until I found the coat I was looking for. I didn’t have shoes but thought maybe he went barefoot on purpose. I’d noticed that several of the homeless in the area did the same. Anyway, I rolled the window down and waved him over after locking the doors. At first, he ignored me and I almost pulled away to keep my seat from getting soaked. I beckoned again and he peered at me like someone looking down a hole. As he shuffled toward me, I put the car in gear and planted my foot on the brake. At that point I was wondering why I’d stopped.
When he got close, I held the coat out and asked him if he wanted it. His toothless grin made me so frightened I almost dropped it and sped away. The deranged look in his eyes chilled me to the bone but I managed to stay put. Cackling and rubbing his hands together, he closed the gap, then reached for the coat. As soon as he touched it, I released my grip, lifted my foot off the brake and stomped on the gas pedal. Rolling up the window I noticed my hands were shaking and my sleeve was sopping wet. The phrase “No good deed goes unpunished” ran through my mind as I pulled into line at the Goodwill donation station. I wondered if he might pester me in the future now that he’d seen me in my car.
After dropping off the clothing, I went to Pastimes and ordered a double shot of whiskey because my hands were still shaking. As my nerves responded to the whiskey, I realized my attempt at kindness was misdirected. He hadn’t asked for my help and donating to charities serves the same purpose. Offering him an umbrella would have been better than giving him something that would be soaked in minutes. Since I don’t like to drink and drive, I figured it would be wise to order one of Pastimes’ excellent pizzas and a glass of water, then sit for a while before leaving. You’ve probably guessed by now that on my way home I passed him again. The rain had slackened but a cold wind was blasting. Typical weather for the mouth of the gorge. There he danced, shirtless still, my coat lying on the sidewalk, sodden and bloated. It made me sad to think that someone might have appreciated its warmth if I’d left it in the bag.
Since then, I see him everywhere but he hasn’t bothered me and my fear has abated. I’ll always be happy that my heart has the ability to share and care but now I understand that spontaneity can be a good thing in certain situations but not in others. Reaching to pet the wrong dog can get you bit.