I never do that. And I probably never will again.
I had the day off work so I decided to do Adult Life Things: buying groceries, cleaning the kitchen, and doing laundry. I’ve been cutting out unnecessary expenses lately because I’m probably going to have to move at the end of the summer and you never know what unexpected costs will arise. So, I actually did my laundry myself! Usually the nice laundry people do it for me and fold it up all nice and such, but I dragged my hamper to the laundromat all by myself.
I was loading my clothes into the washer when this lady started talking to me about the news story on television.
OK. ::sigh:: I hate that.
I hate when I have on my BIG-ASS OBNOXIOUS HIPSTER HEADPHONES and someone starts talking to me. What part of having my ears completely covered says “please start a conversations with me”? Usually, I just pretend I don’t hear them and go on about my life, but she was so nice—middle-aged black lady nice, filling in some type of paperwork while she waited on her laundry. I took off my headphones and talked to her.
You already know that was a mistake.
Five minutes after I finished loading my clothes into the machine, I was sitting near her staring at my phone, trying to read some more of A Feast For Crows (which I’m never going to finish because it’s so boring). I had put my headphones back on so I could read in peace but I could still her saying, “Hi, excuse me, hi.”
I turned to look at her, but with my headphones still on. I’d hoped that would be a non-verbal signal that I didn’t want to talk. Apparently it wasn’t.
“Hi, can you hear me?”
“So I’m having a dilemma. Maybe you can help me with it.”
I thought this would be one of those things where she’d present a problem with a few viable solutions and I’d give my opinion. Why did I think that? Clearly she was about to ask me for some money. Nobody in NYC wants your opinion about ANYTHING. But I was having a momentary bout of Southern Hospitality and I said, “Oh? What’s up?”
She launched into a story about how she had a job interview all the way out in Queens tomorrow that she just couldn’t miss. The problem was, the state had cut off her unemployment benefits so she didn’t have any money for a Metro Card. ”I have some value left on my food assistance card though. So maybe we could trade?”
“What do you need? Just a metro card to go to Queens and back? So like, $5?”
“Yeah. Maybe we could go to the store or something and I could buy you a sandwich or something with my EBT card to pay you back?”
Honestly, I wasn’t trying to take somebody’s food stamp money that she so clearly needed if she couldn’t even afford a $5 metro card. That’s assuming I actually believed her. Most people who ask for money in this city who bother to come up with elaborate stories are telling a bold faced lie. If you give them money, it’s basically just a reward for being creative. Her story wasn’t creative, but if she was lying, it was just $5. And if she was being honest, then maybe I helped her get a job. So, I told her that I was going to the grocery store after I put my clothes in the dryer and I’d bring her back a metro card. She thanked me and I went back to my book.
Fast forward half an hour or so, and I had gone to the grocery store, taken the bags to my apartment, gotten a metrocard, and made it back to the laundromat.
I gave the card to the lady and she thanked me profusely again, saying she would sleep so much easier tonight knowing she wouldn’t have to beg for change in the morning. ”I wish you would let me get you a soda or something.”
“No, that’s OK. I’m fine. Really. Good luck on your job interview. I hope you nail it.”
“Thank you.” She paused for a second, then continued. ”Hey, do you live around here?”
Wondering what she was up to now, I answered honestly “yeah, this is my neighborhood.”
“Well, you should stop by 116th and Park sometime.”
“Oh?” I have no idea what’s at 116th and Park. I’ve never been over there in my life.
“Yeah, would you like to come to church with me?”
“Oh no,” I chuckled a little. ”I grew up in the church and it’s not for me.”
“Maybe you haven’t found the right congregation.”
“Unless it’s a congregation of atheists somewhere, I think I’ll pass on all churches. But thanks though.”
Her demeanor went from Nice Middle Aged Black Lady to Voldemort. ”You really shouldn’t take the Lord so lightly.”
“It’s no big deal, I’m not worried. Hey, if he turns out to be real and tries to send me to hell, I can just be like ‘remember that time I gave one of your people a metro card to get to a job interview?’ I think your god would be OK with me as long as I’m a good person.”
“I’m going to ask my church to pray for you young man. You clearly have the devil in you.”
“The devil gives money to strangers? I didn’t know that. Maybe he wasn’t so bad after all. You can give it back if you don’t want my devil money.”
“My god gives me the strength to stand in the face of evil, but the flesh is weak, and I don’t want to hurt your feelings, so I’ma just pray for you and be on my way.”
I told her to have a nice day. And she left. But I’ll be damned if she didn’t keep that Metro Card.
Lady, I just gave you money out of the goodness of my heart. I clearly need the money. I made barely any money between December and April and I’m pinching pennies right now to move. Still, I bought you a metro card because I’m a nice person, but according to you, I’m going to hell because I don’t subscribe to your particular brand of fables and make-believe.
I oughta go to her church just to make her think her proselytizing had some effect on me. And then tell her I just came to see if her choir was any good and to find out if they serve fried chicken after the service.
If anybody would like to go to Harlem with me to make that happen, get in touch. We can decorate our Church Hats with metro cards.