Monday, March 16, 2009

Sharing wealth

Dorchester is a warren of streets, a labyrinth, a maze in which rats seek cheese and innocent pedestrians lose thier way. The tangled streets of Dorchester, Mass. lead out into the rest of greater Boston in one direction and into a horn of plenty in the other. Dorchester is shaped like a tortured gall bladder but its stones are not calcifications cemented with hardened bile. They are not pyrite either. They are the real thing, nuggets of pocket change to be spread around willy-nilly, for good cause.

I was at the Fields Corner Shopping Center this afternoon, picking up carrots and a bottle of hot sauce. A well dressed man approached me in the parking lot. "Excuse me sir, I have a flat tire and Auto Zone up the road charges $13.95 for a plug kit. My son is sleeping in the car, you can see him, can you help me out?"

I am usually dubious of such things, but this was a well dressed man, one gentleman to another, with a plausible story. I was admiring his outfit of light pants, navy jacket, woven leather loafers, crisp, white shirt and red tie sporting a tasteful green seahorse motif, as he walked from Dot Ave to my position. I thought it was a little early in the season for such an ensemble but he wore it well. As a person who travels on two wheels and doesn't carry a spare, I felt his pain. He said, "I work for Verizon, across from South Station. I pass people every day asking for money and now I'm one of them. I guess sometimes bad things happen to good people." I wasn't about to pass judgement on his goodness but I was inclined to help someone with a flat tire, having been in the same straits more than once.

The man had a Carribean accent. When I handed him fourteen dollars he said, "I'm sorry. You misheard me. A plug kit costs $30.95. That sounded more believable since the plug kit for my motorcyle cost $45. I emptied my wallet. He said, "You can take my cell phone number. I work for Verizon." I said I didn't want to be bothered with a lot of follow-up. I gave him my address and told him to mail me what he owed me. "I will," he said, "You'll have faith that there are honest people in the world,"

Perhaps I will. I'm out thirty-five bucks and while I'll miss them, I won't miss them overly much. It is better to waste money with good intentions on a confidence scheme than to squander it on loose women and booze.

I don't go to church. If I did, I would be making donations to give help the needy. I figure I'm cutting out the middleman by giving it to those who have the nerve and need to ask directly. I won't be fishing in my mailbox for reimbursement, but I will be contentedly surprised to find my trust in humankind rewarded with a payback plus an extra five-spot tacked on for my troubles.

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