This morning I popped into Rite Aid for a Mother's Day card. I was going to use the transaction to get cash, but the store's satellite wasn't working. As I approached Sargent's for a coffee, I was greeted by a man in blue jeans, white sneakers and a hooded sweatshirt-- hood up. He told me he "wasn't a bum or anything." I stopped him, saying I had no cash. He whirled in midstep and muttered "bitch!" under his breath.
Two things occurred to me about this encounter, that individuals in similar situations might consider. First, if one is truly not a bum, and in need of cash for some reason or other, then accosting people in an area known to be frequented by transients is probably not a good idea. I have been consistently approached by "bums" at this spot for years, so statistically speaking, my response was not unwarranted. (Probably not the best idea to insult me, either.) Second, I was troubled by the divide between this man and myself. Depending on perspective, the guy probably needed help, whether he needed cash for gas, food, drugs, alcohol, etc. Socially speaking, we've been conditioned to assume the worst, and to denigrate anyone who finds themselves in such straits. On the other hand, he seemed a little menacing, not helped by his insult, and thus I think part of my conditioned response has more to do with fear of engaging than any overt hostility or lack of compassion.