“Good Afternoon, Young Man! How are you today?”
That was how he greeted me when I got out of my car to pump some gas. I saw him when I was driving into the gas station. My estimation is that he is in his late fifties. I remember thinking to myself, “I don’t have time to deal with pan handlers today. I am on a schedule.”
Still, I needed gas, and I knew there was no way to avoid it. In Milwaukee, any time you have to stop and get gas, you’re almost always guaranteed that a pan handler is going to approach you. And while it’s true that almost to a person, they’ll have a story to tell to get your sympathy, the fact of the matter remains that whether the story is true or not, they have hit hard times of some sort.
“My name’s Lawrence,” he said, and then switched to third person. “You see,” he continued, “Lawrence is homeless. Now, before you go judging Lawrence, you should know that up until March, Lawrence had a job. Lawrence isn’t interested in money for nothing. Lawrence needs money and will only take money if he earns it. So, Lawrence can pump your gas or he can clean your windows. Lawrence can recite you some of his poetry or tell you a joke. But Lawrence doesn’t want your money for doing nothing.”
He was well spoken and despite the fact that you could tell that he had lived a hard life, he was surprisingly upbeat. Almost from the minute he referred to me as “young man,” I found myself with a smile on my face that didn’t go away the whole time he was speaking.
He got through his rehearsed pitch and he could see I was still smiling. I admit, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided that despite being on a “schedule” I would talk to Lawrence for a few minutes. Lawrence had intrigued me.
“Where are you sleeping, Lawrence?”
(back to First Person)
“I sleep on the streets. There’s a community of homeless people across from one of the shelters. We don’t like to talk about it too much and I generally keep to myself.”
“What did you do before you lost your job?”
“I was a butcher.”
“Is that what you want to do now?”
“No. I enjoy writing poetry and telling jokes. I am hoping to do some standup at the local club, but they just changed staff and so now I have to wait some more.”
“Did you grow up in Milwaukee?”
“No,” he said. “I grew up in Iowa but I was in foster care my whole life and got moved from house to house. I’ve never really had a home for long. I lived just south of Chicago for a while and then I made my way up here.”
“Lawrence,” I said, “I really wish that I could give you a job. I can’t, but I am going to give you a few bucks so you can find yourself something to eat.”
“No,” he replied. “You are not going to give me any money. Let me tell you a couple of jokes that you can tell your kids. These are some that I used to tell my kids when they were little and I’m sure your kids will love them.”
“I would love that,” I said.
“Joke Number 1,” he started with the gravitas of one making a big announcement.
“Two ponies are walking down the street. One pony says to the other, ‘what’s wrong? Do you have the flu?’
‘No,’ said the other pony.
‘Is it a cold?’
‘No,’ replied the pony.
‘Well, what is it? Is it hay fever?’
‘No,’ was the response. ‘I’m ok. I’m just a little hoarse.'”
I chuckled and opened my mouth to say something.
“JOKE NUMBER 2,” he interrupted, making an even bigger announcement.
“Why don’t zombies ever eat clowns?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t they ever eat clowns?”
“Because they taste funny!”
I laughed (I liked that joke even better). We chatted a bit more and, as he earned it, I gave him a few bucks and was on my way.