I write a lot about the subway. I spend a lot of time there. It can be a depressing place. It can be a fascinating place.
The train was not full today. I left for work quite a bit later than usual and missed all the rush. I sat down in my favorite seat on the end near the door. A man got on the train and began to panhandle for change.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen… My name is John… I am homeless… Can you spare some change so I can get something to eat…?”
This is a daily event. There is always someone who gets on the train asking for money. As a rule, I do not give out money in the subway. I just don’t. I don’t often have money readily accessible and getting one’s wallet out in public in New York City is one of those things you try not to do.
John was nicely dressed in comparison to some of the other panhandlers. He was young and wearing clean clothes.
When John got to the other end of the train, he said,
“Thank you, God bless, have a nice day…”
This is typical – but I always thought it was at least somewhat polite.
At this point, a middle-aged man sitting at the other end of the car spoke to John,
“Are those ROCKPORTS you are wearing on your feet…?”
John replied, “Rock WHAT…?”
Man, “Those are $200 shoes… and you are here begging in the subway… why are you begging…”
John, “WHAT? $200? Hell no! If that’s true, I’ll sell them to you for $100 right now!”
Then there was more conversation back and forth… the self-righteous comments from the man; and John’s replies… it was pretty clear John was a bit off balance…
As I listened to this unfold, the anger in me began to grow, and grow, and grow…
Finally I walked over to them. I spoke to the man –
“What gives you the right to pass a judgment on him? What do you know?”
The man laughed uncomfortably and mumbled something about begging and handouts…
I said, “Would you like me to pass a judgment against you…? Well… I think you are an ASSHOLE”
At this point I pulled out my wallet, gave John $20 and returned to my seat.
You could have heard a pin drop.
John got off the train and as we pulled into the next stop, a man across from me said, “I really respect that…”
He and another man across from him were talking about it – and there was a LOT of love coming my way this morning on the subway… People were smiling at me and nodding their heads in approval.
I just felt shaken. I still feel shaken – out of breath and a little sick to my stomach.
I’m not sure I believe in Karma or rewards anymore. That wasn’t why I did it. I fully expected nobody would say a thing to me. I did it because I was angry. I did it because somebody needed to say SOMETHING.
Nobody has a right to sit in judgment. Nobody knew what John’s situation was. Maybe he’s an addict, maybe not. Maybe he is schizophrenic and lives on a substinance income from the government. Maybe this is just his way of getting a little extra coin – for whatever he needs it for. Maybe he can’t work. Maybe he really is homeless.
If you don’t want to give people money in the subway, don’t. That is a perfectly acceptable choice. In fact, the MTA asks that you do not.
Just don’t make judgments against people. You don’t have the right.