Yesterday, I became a cigarette smoker and here’s why and nothing I did that day made me particularly good. It was just an act and I passed it off as a good deed when in fact, there was nothing good about the things that circulated in my head during the act.
Well, let me start from the beginning here. Right after work, I did a lot of thinking on my way home and then realized I haven’t done anything special for my mom for awhile. I took my mom out to downtown Binghamton and suggested we eat at Galaxy’s, Zona, Lost Dog, Chris’s Diner, or anything good and local. We strolled up and down Court Street and State Street until she came across China One at the corner. “Mom, you had their food a few times already. Don’t you want to try something new?” She still insisted on going there. I mean, I wanted it to be her day, so I obviously wasn’t going to argue. She claimed that China One is the only delivery place in the area that serves proper pork and that’s what she wanted. Their proper pork drenched in their now diluted sauce and overbearing amount of mushrooms. I ordered two small plates (our stomach tells us they’re equivalent to a medium-large size). We both sat by the window—not that we had any other options considering the space only allowed for tables to line up against the glass panes.
Well, my friendly mother had accidentally allowed herself a generous, but quick exchange of eye contact with this homeless man who was just walking outside. My back was facing where he was coming from and as soon as he appeared in my sight, I had a very bad feeling he was going to turn the corner and go straight for the entrance. No surprise, he did what I had imagined. The door opened, I was still facing down on my plate, when a foul smell wafted towards our table and then his legs caught up to the smell. A very raspy voice greeted us. I looked up. The man on the other side of the glass had now appeared on our side of the glass…infront of me. Mom and I greeted him back and at the moment, I already knew I was going to have to get my wallet out and give him spare change.
However, it wasn’t spare change or a buck or two that he wanted. He asked me to buy him the biggest plate of food I could get for him. Problem was, I didn’t have enough cash to cover such expense. I took a quick glimpse outside the window and the first thing that I saw was the ATM sign. Okay, what an obvious signal. I walked across the street and withdrew 40 bucks and then estimated that I would still have 30 left after treating him (thanks China delivery shops for not accepting cards unless if I buy food enough to feed like three people). When I walked back in, I generously asked him if he’s decided what he wanted for dinner. Anything plentiful was all he wanted, so I ordered the same food that I was eating: pork and mushrooms, but large to satiate the man’s water filled tummy.
The woman at the counter awkwardly avoided eye contact with me. Wasn’t sure if she felt bad for him, or me, or both, or thought I was too vulnerable to avoid this charitable act. Before the arrival of his meal, he asked if he could join our table. Well, I’ve eaten food and had drinks with a few homeless folks, and it’s not bad at all. I gestured him to our table thinking that this was his last request. Turns out I was wrong; as the lady carefully placed his food on his table, he turned to me and asked me to help him pay for his percocet because some dude robbed him a while back and butchered his thumb. I looked down at his thumb and yup, the man wasn’t fibbing. Thirty bucks still sits in my wallet I thought, another 10 wouldn’t hurt.
He accepted the money and regaled (tragically) us with his life story. I had to decipher the words that escape through the many teeth gaps in his mouth, but from what I’ve gathered, it appears that he’s the one to blame for this current situation. Selfishness had threw him into the American poverty (honestly, even I’m not too far off from the ledge). His family sounds pretty well-off, and it’s pretty apparent as to why they had neglected him, but regardless of how much of an ass he may have made himself into, I feel like the family should still help clean up his mess. Or not? They’re humans with emotional limitations afterall.
He was a point shooter at Syracuse University back in the 70s and that is all you need to know about this man. His wife and daughter are doing well, thanks for wondering.
Then the story ended with his mother’s death last week. He teared up a bit, but then the first bite of the food seemed to have flicked that part of the memory away. At the same time, I was wolfing down on my food because I was worried that he would beg me for more money if I didn’t scoop myself away from the place soon enough. Unfortunately, I had enough left on my plate for him to ask me another favor. A pack of cigarettes. The “good kind” he said. Frustration had started to boil my veins a bit, but I maintained self composure on the surface. However, mom picked up on the frustration through my facade and constantly whispered “don’t be frustrated with this man” in Japanese to me.
Yesterday was my mother’s day and I wanted to devote my time and money for her. The homeless man basically took that away from me and there I was…with my mom asking me not to get frustrated. Of course, it was her day, I had promised to do exactly what I’m told. I buried this frustration to the very core of my mind, which had later bursted out when I lit my first store bought cigarette at my friend’s fire party that night.
CVS was a few stores down from us. I got up and made another errand for this despondent man. On my way there, a friend called and gave me an earful about her event that wasn’t coming together quite well. Multiple things occupied my brain at the front counter that I don’t remember how I picked the pack. I looked down at the box in my hand after when I had already made the exit and immediately cringed when I realized that I bought the menthol kind. No man I know smokes a fucking menthol, but then I told myself, “he can’t complain. HE CANNOT COMPLAIN” but just as I thought, this unkempt mendicant sends me back for the right pack. Mom came with me and we clearly had a chance to ditch and run off, but guess what?! I found myself back to CVS and back out with a Malboro light in my hand—marched back to the restaurant, pretended to brush off my frustration and then walked back in. I placed the pack next to him, patted his back and left.
She’s such a good woman. Despite the actual deed I’ve done, the magnitude of her kindness is far greater than mine. She’s cold to me half of the time and it’s evident where she expends her kind energy: downtrodden strangers.
What was I left with? Down 30 bucks, and a pack of menthol cigarettes. What am I going to do with this pack? Smoke it all, of course. This experience birthed the smoker within me. I went to my friend’s fire fest in the backyard. Watched the guys jump over the fire while I stood with my friends, staring right at the fire with a glass of Black Velvet in my hand and a freshly lit cigarette lightly wedged between my lips.
Frustration sweeps off the “good” in good deeds and the action becomes meaningless. Yesterday evening, a few hours before I headed out to my friend’s backyard Fire Festival, I spent $30 on a homeless man knowing that I’m pretty damn broke, but I’m still not a good person because frustration consumed me in the end.
Homeless man: 1
PS - I figured Maverick would help me not get addicted to smoking as I’ve heard they’re truly cheap and disgusting. Quite frankly, smoking in general doesn’t appeal to me, so why does it matter which brand I get? I’m done after this pack.