Transactional Altruism

I get out of work around 10:30 pm, music between my ears I walk towards Main street.

I walk past a large guy smoking and sitting on a bench, who I’ve seen at least twice before around the neighborhood. The first time I saw him I had just met Dan, a colleague from LA, on the trolley. We had gotten off the trolley together, and this large guy on a bench, sitting as if he was there just waiting for people to get off at the stop, had asked for money. Dan breezed by as if the wide sitting mass wasn’t well delineated against the building, and headed to grab a coffee at the local hipster cafe. I noticed the same behavior I have pretended a million times, and felt guilty for the both of us, so I stopped, and gave the guy two bucks.

He did not thank me the thankful way a toonie buys amongst beggars. I did notice. He was kind of pissed at me, and of course I was buying a smile and a feel good hipster feeling, so I felt the feeling and dopamine anyway and screw the guy, what can I do. I slightly resented him the way you and I – salaried employees and slaves of slaves of the slaves of the capitalism pyramid, resent a bad purchase.

So tonight as I passed he raised a finger to grab my attention and I smiled and made a sort of facial body dance that in my mind was the physical equivalent of the sound “hey, you cool, I cool, but sorry I have no change”.   Which was sort of true, because I’ve been running on debit card for a couple of days. Sort of.

He did not seem to hear my face, and kept moving his lips and finger at me, with increasing urgency. I was already past him, and could have just looked ahead and moved on. But I stopped, moved my soundproof headphones off my ears, smiled and walked back, apologizing for not hearing him.

So he said:

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I don’t know about you, but as an introvert, I do not fare well talking rationally to strangers and/or under psychological pressure, pressure which I was indeed feeling, because of the conflictuality inherent in wanting to help the guy vs. the uncouth salesmanship of his poverty and indigence.

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I smiled again, put on my headphone, and headed across the street to wait for the bus. The audacity! He did not understand the bourgeois, cashless predicament I was in, but seemed pissed at me again. I did not bother to hear or go back to ask what he said.

I had created a story to justify why I refused him help, and I acted the part I had written for myself, what else was there to do!?

The story, of course, was that I had no change, otherwise of course I would have given! And I communicated that narrative to him, so that all involved now had the chance to buy into it, and commit to the story.

Except none of it was true. And I had to stand about 10 minutes across the street waiting for the 19 trolley, trying to convince myself that it is normal to help in exchange of something, something that man was quite unwilling to sell.

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After about a minute, I purposefully put my hand in my jeans pocket, and felt some change. I crossed the street again, and approached the guy: “Hey, I found some change!”

He was not impressed, plus he had his own sense of guilt to juggle, for having told me off a minute earlier.

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Of course I had lied again.

The real change was in my coat pocket, I knew it because I had put it there the day before when I forgot my Compass card at home. Here it is. A meal.

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We are all very busy justifying our lack of humanity, our rejection of brotherhood, and of those – if any – who will ever read to the end of this, most will think I’m making too much of a deal of denying help to a man who is obviously not selling anything, just asking, and is even more obviously tired and pissed about having to ask, just like you and I would probably be after half a day of begging.

“panhandling is such an embarrassment”, told me an insanely tall and big young first nation man asking for a meal I bought for him a week ago. For twelve months he had begged and roamed the town homeless, and yet it was better than back home, because “the sea, and the mountain”.

 

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The ‘big deal’ is about us, the slaves of capitalism, and the way we’re being well trained as guard dogs of the rich’s wealth in exchange for their scraps.

That’s also why when I get home every night, I can’t but trade sleep for drawing.

 

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