Kung Pao Chicken… and humility

Today I had lunch with someone who lives in the woods.

Stop for a minute, think about what I just said. He lives in the woods…all of his possessions, everything he owns is either on him or stuffed next to a tree under a blue tarp. He isn’t camping. He isn’t there because he wants to be. Look around right now where you are…pull YOUR eyes off your phone or your computer screen now. I’ll wait. What did YOU see? If you are anything like the majority of people reading this, you probably saw your “stuff”.  Stuff you take for granted, physical things that can be taken from you at a moment’s notice…things that simply do not matter but may make you feel good.

He has none of that.

You may be thinking by now, “Who the heck has lunch with a stranger, much less one that stands at an intersection begging for money?”.  Well, the answer is no one on purpose.  Certainly not me. While I try to be polite, I don’t even like to look at the homeless.  Accidentally make eye contact and then I feel obligated to interact. Very carefully inch up past them at the intersection so they don’t stop by my car.  Sure, sometimes I’ll say, “Hello” or “No, I don’t have any change”, even though I know damn well, I have a couple dollars I could share…if I HAD to. If I were to bet, many of you are just like me. You have probably seen the investigative reports about panhandlers who ask for money all day, then walk to their car only to drive home when the day is over.  Maybe wondering what stupid thing they have done to end up on the street. Or maybe this thought has crossed your mind, “I’m not going to give them money because they will use it for drugs or drinking”.  If you haven’t thought something like that, please stop now, get off your phone or your computer, and step down off your high horse, princess.

Enough of what I was thinking, let’s talk about Chris.  Yep, he has a name…maybe you know a Chris? Stinks this “homeless person” has a name now, doesn’t it?  Chris is 25 years old. He’s not a drug addict, not a scumbag, not a criminal. He is someone who simply wants to work. WHAT? You mean he doesn’t like to stand all day long at an intersection and beg strangers to get enough money to eat? No…he wants to get back on his feet, get back into society, and out of the woods where last month a man froze to death next to him.

Chris has only been on the streets for 8 months. You should have seen his face when he was telling me his story, when he was proud, and when he didn’t have to beg simply to eat. Sitting across from me, at the Hunan House restaurant, was a gaunt but smiling young man with a thin reddish beard and unkempt mustache complete with straggly hair poking out from under his black stocking cap (a toque for my Canadian friends). Even though we were inside out of the cold, he kept his one and only winter coat on. It’s the kind of coat with a faux fur lined hood and big outside pockets.  His coat certainly looked and smelled like it was the only thing protecting him from the elements. Chris had a job and got laid off. Previously, he worked at a mortgage company doing data entry. He was telling me, over his Kung Pao chicken, that he even had a nice car and some savings. Because of his savings, he didn’t want to apply for unemployment and by the time his savings ran out so did the deadline to get assistance.

Three months later, he was evicted and living in his dark red 2011 Ford Focus. As you can guess, when it came to paying for his car note or eating, he fell behind and eventually lost his car which had been his only home.  The only family he has is in Florida where his mom and stepfather live. His stepfather told Chris that he has to “work it out on his own” and doesn’t allow his mother to speak to him even though she tries. His “family” is in sunny Florida and as I type this, it is 18 degrees and freezing rain outside Baltimore where Chris “lives” in the woods.

I assume most people, as well as myself, are under the impression that there were resources, assistance, and places for him to go. Well, it turns out it’s not all that easy. Sure, there are shelters but with a 6 to 12 month waiting list, he may not even make it through the winter to get a space on a cot. He could get some pasta or a little bigger meal but he would have to take light rail downtown and fight his way into a feeding line at the mission. Instead, he tries to conserve his money and energy, especially on those days when he only gets a couple dollars from passing strangers. He uses those dollars at the local McDonald’s where he can get a $1 cheeseburger and a booth to sit out of the cold until he gets run off.

I didn’t wake up today thinking I was going to meet someone so destitute that his big dream is to get $30 for a hotel room for a night at an establishment no one in their right mind would consider. I woke up in my own little safe bubble of a life with a roof over my head in my home, a beautiful family, and stuff.  My lunch plan today was to drive to Giant, get a frozen meal, and maybe some kind of snack. But when I turned into the shopping center,  I saw that guy standing in the intersection holding his sign.  I thought, “I’m going to see if this dude wants some Chinese”.  I wasn’t on drugs but was simply moved for some random reason to do something so bizarre I still don’t understand it.  I am so glad I did.

We spent the next hour and a half just hanging out, eating Chinese, and talking about the world.  One thing, as we left, struck me like a ton of bricks.  He was clearly happy that I paid for his meal and happy that he didn’t have to worry about where he was sleeping through the storm.  But what he said once he finally made eye contact with me was, “Thank you for talking to me.”  He has been reduced to someone perceived as a sore on society, a scumbag that doesn’t work, a possible drug addict, someone who only leaches off the kindness of others, and is so beaten down that he actually thanked me for talking to him. I was dumbfounded and my only response was to just shake his hand and say that he was welcome. He walked away with his carryout food; I returned to my car. I sat down and wondered what it must be like to live in the woods and only try to survive.

I don’t know what the answer is to this problem but I know what you can do right now…or maybe even tomorrow.  I am fully aware of the enormous amount of terrible things that happen in this world and that his story is one of many.  I’m not asking you to start picking up homeless people and forcing them to eat Chinese with you. But do this for me, next time you see a “Chris” on the street and want to avoid eye contact and question his or her motives,  just don’t.  Simply realize for a second, you are looking at another human being, no better and no worse, than you. Consider making eye contact, consider smiling, and maybe go crazy and give them that dollar you would spend on something stupid anyway. If that doesn’t make you feel a tiny bit better, then send me an email to let me know how much you gave and I will reimburse you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  Thank you for being the kind of person who wants to make the world a better place. More than anything, do something.




5 Reasons to Avoid The Red Fruit of Death

  1. hazardous-tomato1Botanically the tomato is a fruit… That right there is cause for concern. What kind of witchcraft was involved to make us all think its a vegetable? Strike one tomato, strike one.

  2. Solanine – Whats that you say? Never heard of this? Well, solanine is a toxic alkaloid. Even if you dont know what a toxic alkaloid is it sounds scary doesn’t it? While at first glance you would think its something that goes into the production of batteries but the truth is far more sinister. This little naturally occurring ingredient in the leaves of the tomato plant has been linked to at least one death when some unsuspecting fool used the leaves of the tomato plant in a tea. You may be thinking that one death isnt a big deal, but what if that person owed you money, or knew what actually rhymed with orange. Ill wait here while you try and rhyme it…. stinks right?

  3. Its nickname is the Poison Apple. You dont get that kind of nickname for nothing. Nicknames are sacred and you just dont go throwing around names for nothing. Aristocrats DIED after eating the “poison apple”. Well, it was probably the pewter plates they used that killed them off by leaching lead into their systems but it was the acidity in the tomato that caused it in the first place.

  4. In the late 1700s, a large percentage of Europeans feared the tomato. A LARGE PERCENTAGE. If someone tells you a large percentage of people are doing something its probably true. Granted most people are morons but this is my article and I cant post unsubstantiated claims all day long. If you dont agree with me its probably from too much tomato consumption.

  5. If my irrefutable facts numbered one through four above havent shed light on this epidemic let me leave you with this thought. Tomatoes have a terrible texture no matter what anyone may try and tell you to the contrary.

The Face of Need

This is one of those studies that if you haven’t read by now you really need to. Read the study and think about the end-user and what they are experiencing as they move through the donation experience. Have that “read more” link or explanation of why your donation form is secure? Check those abandon rates and consider what may be affecting that key metric that you need to be watching.


Emotion expression on charitable appeals may be an important variable affecting donations. Expression is likely to cause contagion in observers, thus influencing observers’ emotional states automatically and outside of awareness. When a person catches sadness, his or her emotional state converges with the victim’s negative emotional state, resulting in greater sympathy and prosocial behavior.

However, the emotional bond may be disrupted when examining detailed information about the victim’s plight. This is not to say that information cannot induce sympathy but rather that it dilutes or even overrides the impact of emotional contagion.

The Face of Need: Facial Emotion Expression on Charity Advertisements (Download the PDF)