I’ve been working at cafes lately, since working at home doesn’t work out so well. It’s cold, and there’s so much non-paying-work stuff to do, and I get frustrated by our limited snack options.
Cafes help me focus. Plus, they can make for amusing status updates on Facebook, such as the day the cafe owner left to go buy toilet paper. As in, he left. He left me alone at the cafe for a good 15 minutes. (I should have used the time to brew a fresh pot of coffee, since the one he’d served me was tepid.)
Or yesterday, at Starbucks (I know, I know, but I get a lot of work done here). It was crawling with plainclothes detectives taking pictures related to a recent secret-camera-in-the-bathroom incident (sometimes a bathroom flowerpot is so much more than decor!).
Today, back at Starbucks, I noticed an older man picking his nose. With two fingers, even. He was a least using a napkin, but he was piling them up on his table. I posted about this to Facebook, of course.
And then he lifted a bloated, purplish foot and began picking at a bloody toenail, placing the scabs carefully on a napkin on the table.
Yes, I had probably the same reaction you might be having as you read that. Gross! Ewww! Shouldn’t he be kicked out per Board of Health regulations?
Then I noticed that his shoes were flip-flops. It is December in Massachusetts, and it is snowing lightly. An old backpack was on the floor, and a plastic bag overflowing with stuff was parked on the chair.
Again the urgent thought: What should I do?, but not in terms of reporting him to management. I wanted to buy him a cup of coffee, but I didn’t want to be intrusive. I thought about giving him a preloaded Starbucks gift card, so he could buy himself some food or coffee. An online friend suggested I buy him some socks at the nearby CVS, but that felt too obvious, like I was saying, “I saw your feet, and that was gross.”
I deleted my earlier Facebook post. Then I decided to do something I read about once, which can really spare a person’s dignity: As I walked past his chair, I pretended to pick something up off the floor.
“Here, sir, I think you dropped this,” I said, offering a folded bill. His eyes met mine as he reached for it. “It was under your chair. You must have dropped it.” I nodded to confirm this was true. He nodded back. I wished him a good day and returned to my laptop.
He didn’t budge. But about half an hour later, he got up and went to the counter, returning with a hot drink and a breakfast sandwich.
I felt so, so happy.
Even better? About an hour after that, a woman walked up to his table and handed him some money. “Here, please use this to get yourself something to eat today.”
The snow is falling more heavily outside, and he’s dozing in his chair. He may or may not be someone’s brother, father, uncle. He was definitely someone’s child once. He might or might not own warm boots and a nice house; I sure don’t know.
But rather than mock him on Facebook, I found I still have a shred of compassion, and for that I am grateful to him.
So thank you, sir. I hope you have a good day and stay warm.