A few nights ago, I went out with my sister Echo* and friend Chris to get some much-needed sustenance. Echo has a crank in her mouth – a metal contraption that is forcing her teeth further apart to correct a crossbite. (Yay for orthodontia at the age of 23!) Chris and I had an upcoming trusts and estates final that we’d been studying for that afternoon and evening. Our requirements, therefore, included food so soft that a baby could gum it down, and that could be prepared in under 5 minutes.
This lead us to the food complex on 4th South, between 7th and 6th East. Salt Lakers will know what I’m talking about—the Noodles and Company-Rumbi-Rubios-Starbucks-Whole Foods-Wingers-Jamba Juice-L&L-Lunaberry-Jimmy Johns plaza of wonders? (There’s also a UPS, in case you need to mail something after gorging yourself.) As we stood on the sidewalk, torn between frozen yogurt and mac and cheese, a homeless gentleman approached us.
“Excuse me,” he said, “do any of you have any change so I could get something to eat?”
I’ve often thought that one of the more tragic consequences of our modern age is that homeless people get the shaft even when they approach soft-hearted college-agers such as ourselves. Coins? Paper moneys? What is this you speak of?
As the three of us simultaneously explained, “I only have cards,” he switched tactics:
“Would one of you mind buying me some dinner?”
To this, I had to reply, “Of course, come with us.” (I feel very guilty when I see a homeless person. I felt doubly guilty that day, having taken a mental health leave from church that morning.) (I generally believe it’s best to skip church once every other month or so. And every time the word “conference” appears in the title. But that’s a story for another day.)
The four of us wandered into Noodles and Co. Chris and Echo promptly jumped into line to order their food, leaving me alone to converse with the homeless guy. He told me that he liked my hair, it reminded him of his ex-wife’s. He then launched into a story about how much he loved his ex-wife. (Chris would later say that he was this close to asking, “So what happened there?”)
It came my turn to order. I told the homeless guy (no, I never bothered to ask his name, my bad) to pick out what he wanted. He stared at the menu on the wall, and finally asked the cashier if there was only one kind of soup. She said, “No, there’s three,” and pointed them out.
He smiled, and admitted, “I’m not seeing very well tonight.” Eventually my new friend picked chicken noodle soup. I asked him if he’d like a drink, and he said yes, so I ordered two cups for the soda fountain.
By this time he’d wandered over to the display of juice (Izzes, Nantucket Farms) and cookies (gingersnap and rice krispie), and I was feeling pretty swell about my good deed and was about to ask if he’d like a cookie too when he asked, “Can I get one of these drinks?”
“Sure,” I replied, thinking he was looking at a nice, healthy bottle of orange juice. Chicken noodle soup and orange juice – very nutritious choices, homeless guy. Way to defy stereotypes.
“Because I’ve never tried that one before,” homeless guy said, tapping a bottle of raspberry wheat beer I hadn’t noticed before.
That’s when I remembered Noodles and Company also sells $8 beers and $10 glasses of wine. And they too were located on the juice-and-cookies shelf. Damnit-town …
The cashier looked at me – Are you sure? And before I could think of a better excuse, I said, “Yeah, ring it up,” meanwhile mentally kicking myself for A) buying a homeless guy a beer; B) buying a homeless guy an EIGHT DOLLAR beer; and C) buying a homeless guy who has already confessed to “not seeing well tonight” a beer.
* Not her real name. I have been guilted by family members for revealing personal information online.