I’ve been angry all my life. Everyone was always out to take from me. I’ve never had any friends. Even when I was in high school, the other kids would go out to lunch together while I sat by myself, just off the school grounds, and felt the loneliness that had become my life.
On Saturdays nights, the other kids would go out on dates or pile into a car for a night of adventure. I would hitchhike to the main drag, plant myself on a bus bench, and watch the world go by, wishing I was a part of it.
Things didn’t get much better after I became an adult. I existed in the world, but was not a part of it. I had no use for anybody. My loneliness had long ago morphed into hatred. Hatred for the whole damn human race.
Then one day, I saw a dirty beggar down on 8th Street, by the 7-Eleven. I took great joy in his miserableness. At least someone was worse off than me. There was no way that he could have any friends. He was both lonely and homeless. I, on the other hand, had a roof over my head.
I tarried to revel in the spectacle. I was enjoying myself.
He held out a plastic cup, imploring me to contribute. Was he joking? Could he not tell from my sneer what I thought of him?
I was turning to leave, when a well-dressed man came up to the beggar and grabbed his filthy hand. He shook it vigorously while saying, “How ya doing, Tim?”
“Not too bad, Jim. Not too bad,” answered the tramp.
“You know, me and the wife still have that room for you. It would do you good to get off the streets and have a decent meal every day. If you’d ever accept one of my invitations to dinner, you’d see what a good cook Ruth is.”
“Thanks. But I’m doing just fine … for now. Let me take a rain check on that. Okay?”
“Sure, Tim. Sure.”
Before he left, the man took out his wallet, extracted a five-dollar bill, and put it into the cracked plastic cup held by the beggar.
I just shook my head in disbelief, turned, and walked into the 7-Eleven to get my cigarettes and a few scratch-offs.
When I came out, the beggar was in an animated conversation with a well-dressed, good-looking woman. I figured that he was harassing her and decided right then and there to go to her aid, if for no other reason than to harass the tramp.
“Excuse me, ma’am. But is this man bothering you?”
She looked at me as though I had two heads. Then she started to laugh.
“My God, no! It’s the other way around.” She turned to the beggar and said, “Tim, would you like this gentleman to intercede on your behalf?”
The beggar smiled and answered, “It’s alright. He’s a friend of mine. And he knows how I get around beautiful women. He was just trying to protect you from my lustful ways.”
It took a moment, but finally the woman broke into a big grin and said, “Tim McCarthy, if you aren’t the living end. Okay, we’ll finish this discussion later. But I’m going to get you into a decent place to live if it’s the last thing I ever do.” She dug into her purse and came out with a twenty and into the cup it went. She then wrapped her arms around that disgusting person and gave him a long, tight hug. She patted my hand before she left, saying, “You make sure to take care of our Timmy.”
I have to admit, as she strutted away, I was thinking what a great-looking ass she had.
I was brought out of my thoughts by, “She really knows how to swing that thing to hold a man’s interest.”
It was the beggar.
Okay. Hold the goddamn train. Apply the brakes. What the hell was going on? I tore my eyes away from the rapidly retreating woman and confronted the beggar.
“Please tell me … what is it with you? Why do those people associate with you?”
The tramp smiled and asked if I minded if we walked as we talked. He had an engagement and did not want to be late. I shrugged. As long as he didn’t get too close to me as we walked, I had nothing else to do. I was glad I was not on the lee as we walked. The wind kept the stench at bay.
I opened the conversation by asking, “Why did you tell that woman I was a friend of yours? I’ve never seen you before.”
He winked at me, took a few dollars out of his cup, and handed them to a homeless man as we passed by. Not a word was spoken by either man.
Finally, he said, “Even though we have never met, I consider you a friend. I mean, here you are, accompanying me to my luncheon appointment.”
“I’m walking with you to get an answer to my question. I’m no friend of yours. So, tell me. Why do these well-off citizens treat you like a long-lost friend?”
We passed another homeless person and, again, he dipped into his cup and shared his bounty.
I had to know. “Why are you giving away the money that you spent hours begging for?”
“It’s only paper with green ink on it. It doesn’t mean that much to me.”
“Then why do you stand on the street and beg for it?” I had him there. Or so I thought.
“I do it to meet people. Like I met you this morning. I think we’re going to be good friends.”
“You do, do you? I can’t stand your smell, I can’t stand being around you. I think I’ve gone as far as I want with you. I don’t care why people like you. It has no bearing on my life. Forget that I even asked why. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a life to live.”
“What kind of life?”
That stopped me in my tracks. I turned back and took stock of the slight, skinny, disheveled man who stood before me. With contempt in every syllable, I said, “A hell of a better life than you’re living or are ever apt to live.” I was so proud of myself.
He smiled. “Please have lunch with me. It’s my treat.”
I was taken aback. “What restaurant is gonna let you in?” I mocked.
He held up his right index finger and simply said, “I got a place.”
Strange as it seems, I was starting to warm to the guy. I had hit him with my best insults and none of them bothered him. At the moment, I was unemployed and had the entire day to kill before my nighttime TV shows came on, so for the second time since I met the dude, I shrugged my shoulders and decided to go with the flow.
“Okay. As long as you can find a restaurant that will seat you—and you’re paying—I’ll have lunch with you.” I thought it a safe bet. No one was going to let him through the front doors of any establishment, let alone a restaurant.
I’d never noticed before, but times must have been rough. Well, I was unemployed, but that was my fault. I just couldn’t get along with people. But what I mean is, there were beggars at almost every corner. And every time we passed a homeless person, the little guy passed out money from his cup.
After his last spurt of generosity, I sneaked a peak into his cup; there were only a few bills left and none of them were a twenty. He must have given it away.
At last we came to a restaurant, and I must admit, it was pretty fancy. I doubt if they would have let me in. But my new-found friend walked past the front door and around the corner. Did I say “friend”? That sounded strange coming from me.
“Follow me,” he said.
We went down an alley and stopped at a door. Obviously the back door to the place. A slight knock on the door and we were granted entry. We walked down a short hallway that came out into the main kitchen. The head chef, when he saw us, yelled across the room, “I’m a little busy right now. Your table is ready. We’ll talk if things slow down before you’re ready to leave.”
Tim (I might as well call him by his rightful name; after all, I was going to break bread with the guy) yelled back over the clamor of the hectic kitchen, “I’ve brought a friend. Is that okay?”
The chef smiled a broad smile and waved the large knife he was holding. Indicating it was just fine and dandy with him.
Tim steered me to a table over in a corner. Before we could get situated, a busboy came out of nowhere with two glasses of water and a basket of rolls. A minute later, he was back with two glasses of white wine that he placed on the table. He said not a word. But his smile bespoke many words. He was also a friend of Tim’s.
As we sipped our wine, Tim apologized. “I hope you don’t mind, but we won’t be ordering off of menus. My friend over there,” he said, pointing at the chef, “likes to feed me his special of the day. He’s always quite proud of what he comes up with.”
“No problem. I’m impressed. But now that we have a few minutes, please tell me why everyone loves you. I’m almost as old as you. I’m certainly a lot more presentable and cleaner, no offense, but I’ve never had a friend in my entire life.”
“No offense taken. I do have a secret and I will tell you what it is, but first I want to hear about you and your life.”
This was all new to me. Someone cared enough to want to know about me? I took a deep breath and then let out everything I’d been holding in for years. I held back nothing. I told of all the rejections and hurt I had endured. I told that man all my deepest, darkest secrets—all my disappointments.
And when I had finished, I was crying. Nothing loud or out of place, but the tears were streaming down my face. Tim handed me a linen napkin and pretended not to notice.
By the time the food arrived, I was composed and kind of hungry. The plates were garnished, and the presentation was like any of the plates going out the swing doors and into the dining room. Maybe ours were even a little bit better looking. The food was wonderful. It was some kind of French dish and probably the best meal I have ever eaten.
We didn’t speak much during the meal, but as I was mopping up the last of the sauce with a piece of bread, Tim cleared his throat and began to speak.
“You wanted to know what my secret is for having so many friends. Well, it comes down to one word.”
In anticipation, I leaned forward a little. But no secrets were forthcoming. “Hold on a minute. This is better said with some spirits in hand.” He held up his empty wine glass and a busboy, a different one this time, but still with a wide smile, filled our glasses.
After draining his glass, Tim spoke these words.
“The one single word that you have to know … that you have to live by … is love. It’s so goddamn simple. Love every person you meet as you would want to be loved. The more love you put out there, the more love you’ll get in return.”
I waited for more. And after a minute, Tim looked at me as if to ask, Are you waiting for something else? “I’m sorry, but that’s it, my friend. Just one simple word, Love … Love with a capital ‘L’ .”
I leaned back in my chair, disillusioned. So there was no secret after all. Well, at least I’d had a good meal.
Tim saw my disappointment and said, “Why don’t you meet me tomorrow at the 7-Eleven. I’ll take you to the park and introduce you around. You’ll meet all sorts of people, and I guarantee you’ll like every one of them. And in time they’ll be your friends too.”
Long story short … I took him up on his offer. Today I have a new job and I am one of the most liked persons in the office—and it’s a big office. I have a girlfriend, and on the weekends, we help out down at one of the food banks, or just take long walks in the park and say hello to our many friends.
And when I see Tim on the street with his cup, I always put in a twenty and shake his hand. I don’t offer him a place to stay because I know that’s not in his cards. He has to be out on the streets … meeting new people and saving lonely souls.