Walking the streets of New York is a game of dodgeball. If it isn't a busker in the subway or a homeless vet on the corner or an activist with a clipboard, it's a person, like the one who approached me at the corner of Park Place and Vanderbilt in Prospect Heights last Thursday. I'd just come from a delicious meal with Daughter #2 at Cheryl's Global Soul, an extra-good and reasonably priced family fave; we'd had a lovely time and I was plenty full.
She was probably my age, maybe even 10 years younger, with a makeshift cast on her foot, a cane, a tattered coat, and large gaps between her teeth. I can't remember if she apologized first but however she approached me, it wasn't threatening. Just sad. She said the obvious: "I need something to eat." And because the received wisdom on the streets is that you "shouldn't" just give people money because, of course, they're all junkies and drunks, she was a step ahead. "You can buy it for me." Embarrassed at the wealth of riches in my wallet -- credit cards, Metro cards, and the almighty cash -- I reached right in. My impulse was to give it all to her but I didn't though I gave her the most I've ever handed out in a situation like this: a twenty.
She was so diminished that I'm not certain she took in that she could buy a couple of meals with that (in my mother's newly hip hometown, probably 1.5) but thanked me and shuffled off. I wanted to go with her, buy her several meals, find her an apartment and a job, and reform the entire economic system that results in her being where she is and me being where I am. Not to mention the Iraq War vet sitting on 23rd St in Manhattan the next morning with a big sign saying who he was and holding up his Army ID in case anyone would think someone would impersonate such a person. I'm sure it's possible but if ever anyone looked the part...
I didn't drop a dime for him or the half-dozen others I saw; maybe three dozen because at a certain point you have to screen it out or the pathos becomes overwhelming, paralytic. Big cities magnify the divisions and few places render them in greater 3D than New York.
All of which is prelude to Roland Merullo's reporting ("The table of the hungry") on the hornet's nest of greed and stupidity that is going on in Washington at the moment, making many more streets full of people like my friend from last Thursday. And reservations. Here (Boston Globe opinion page) he confronts a similar situation at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Roland says it all so well and with such precision. His lede:
I’ve been thinking lately about an expression I once heard from a Russian friend: “The full to the table of the hungry do not go.” I suppose it’s on my mind because of the news from Washington: the well-fed insisting on political grandstanding they surely know will cause great hardship to the poorest among us. It’s quite a sight, isn’t it, men and women earning six-figure salaries and pontificating about the need for cuts to programs that overwhelmingly give succor to the worst-off — the poor, the ill, the handicapped, the helpless. Then you see these same folks making a public spectacle of kneeling in prayer and asking God to help our nation. Where I come from we have a word for that. It is “hypocrisy.”