Blatant Honesty

lincolnI saw one of the most ridiculous things this afternoon as I was walking from work to the train station.  There, at the corner of Causeway and Canal Streets on Boston’s north end was a  raggedy man sitting on the sidewalk in front of The Fours bar with a sign that said, “Help A Drunk Get Drunker – Thank You.”

He had a Dunkin’ Donuts cup set up next to him anticipating donations from the various levels of idiots walking by.  He wore a Red Sox hat, an old, crappy looking jacket and he had a long, gray beard.  My educated guess says he probably had four or five teeth.

Yes, here was one of the true entrepreneurs you can find almost anywhere in downtown Boston.  My initial thought was he should be hanging out in the financial district to maximize his cash income potential.  On second thought, his Dunkin’ Donuts cup was probably better suited for collecting spare coins instead of paper money.  Paperless money rules Boston’s financial district, not old-fashioned coinage.  His location decision was most likely based off some carefully crafted algorithm rather than the proximity of any store where he might buy his next coveted beverage.  You never really know when it comes to these people – some of them are actually geniuses.

You see these types all over downtown Boston but most don’t have the balls to advertise they are drunks seeking more money to continue being drunk.  Most are homeless and hopeless people bound to the streets because of state and local budget cuts and a lack of homeless shelters.  Boston is no different from all larger cities in that regard.  I’ve seen these people on the streets of Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities.  Boston does seem to have an unusually higher number of these street people per capita for some reason.

While walking around Boston on my lunch “hour” I am constantly exposed to them.  I try my best to treat them with some form of respect.  For the guy that’s always perched outside the Subway sub place I’ll occasionally buy him a sandwich instead of giving him money.  I know he can use the food and I’m not about to give him money so he can go blow it on a high of some sort.  If any of them ask me for something other than money I’ll give it if I’ve got it.  Working where I work has helped me to better understand these people.  Some are in the shape they’re in because of their own addictions and emotional problems, some are out there because of situations they have no control over.  Either way it doesn’t matter. 

What matters is they are out there and to some extent, they do need us.  It’s our responsibility as fellow humans to assist them if we can.  If we can’t, we owe it to them to at least respect them and treat them with dignity though that can be a challenge for many of us.

Back to the guy with the sign asking for beer money…I have to give him credit for being honest.  He is what he is and he’s not pulling any wool over anybody’s eyes.  In some ways he’s more honest than a lot of people.  When was the last time you read the fine print on an investment opportunity and it said, “Give us your hard-earned money and we will rip you off and steal your entire retirement out from underneath you.”  Or a politician stating proudly in a campaign speech, “My head is so deeply up the asses of special interest groups that I can’t hear myself talk!”

Honesty and integrity, folks.  It’s so hard to come by these days that when you do see or experience it you have to sit up and take notice.  Today I was struggling to come up with a topic for my next blog post and this guy sitting there with his sign actually inspired me to write a piece about honesty and integrity.  The dude inspired me!  It makes me want to examine all those who cheat us, lie to us and get us to do things we shouldn’t do just because we’re vulnerable, flawed humans ready to take any shortcut we can find to get to where we want to be.

But that examination would be almost infinite.  From the car salesman to the politician to your doctor to your manager at work to the calibration of gas pumps to what really goes on in the cockpit of an airplane while you’re 35,000 feet off the ground, it really is quite shocking to think of all the swindling going on.  Yet here on the sidewalk in downtown Boston sits a guy asking strangers for beer money.  I’m sure he’s not proud and I’m almost certain he’s not necessarily happy about how he has to get cash for his habit, but he’s out there being honest and working for his change.

In several ways, he has more going for him than many people who get up and go to work everyday and bring home a paycheck.  The term dysfunctional doesn’t apply only to the homeless or helpless.  It applies to most if not all of us.  It’s just that some of us are better at hiding it than others.  I would rather give $100 to some guy on a street corner holding a sign than give a professional reference to a guy who goes home and beats his wife every night.  I’d rather help out someone who really needs it than waste my time on a hypocrite that tells us what we want to hear and then turns around and rips us off or stabs us in the back with something comparable to a dull butter knife.

Trust me, the latter types of people are everywhere, and they disguise themselves cleverly as your friend, your neighbor, your banker, your boss, and even your minister.  They are masters of deceit, their lies breed more lies, their morality sinks to the lowest of depths, and usually you don’t realize it until it’s too late.  That’s why almost every time someone is arrested for some gruesome crime, the first things you hear are the guy’s neighbors saying how nice he was, how quiet and polite he was, and how shocked they are to learn they’ve been living next door to a mass-murdering rapist for the past fifteen years.

So for my friend on that street corner I opened my wallet and to my disappointment all I had in there were two one dollar bills.  I wanted to give him more but I gave him my last two dollars in my pocket.  Sure, I knew he was going to use it to buy something to help him get drunk, but I just had to give him the money just to thank him for his honesty.  And I made sure to tell him that.  He probably didn’t care, but in my world I find honesty and integrity to be far more important than the clothes you wear, how big the house is you live in, or what kind of job you have.

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