I kept hearing sirens all morning long from my office near the Convention Center. There was yet another fatal shooting early today and the violence seems to be on everyone’s mind.

I ate lunch at my desk and then realized I needed some air and to walk around for a minute. Once outside, I saw five squad cars pulled over on Grand Ave, and one even up on the sidewalk. There were a bunch of cops on the MAX platform, and it looked like they had someone in handcuffs. I got closer.

Some of the officers’ uniforms had Sheriff badges, and there was a Portland cop there, too. I saw they were taking the handcuffs off and heard one of them say, “You’re free to go.” The  guy was just a kid, probably in his 20’s, and about my size (small). He shuffled away, then got on the train that pulled into the station.

I saw a Trimet employee on the platform. “All those cops for that one little guy?” I asked. She cocked her head toward the squad cars. “Those are cause there was a shoplifter. They got her.” She turned away without saying what the kid had done.

People were still getting off the train. A man in a bright pink polo shirt walked by. He had a dour expression and a painfully slow gait. I just stood there for a few minutes, watching the cops milling about their squad cars, laughing and joking.

I looked up the street and saw the pink shirt about a block ahead. I decided to follow the guy, but not to run after him. If I could catch him, walking, I would approach. He was moving very slowly, so it seemed a pretty good bet. Then he stopped.

He was standing bent in front of a newspaper box, peering at the front page of USA Today, when I came up next to him. “Any good news in there?” I asked him. “Hmmm,” he said. “Let’s see.” He read aloud the headline, which was about Florida as a pivotal battleground for the Republican primary.

“No, nothing of consequence,” he concluded.

We proceeded to have a rather startling conversation. I remember this part verbatim.

Me: So much bad news these days. And another shooting this morning.

Him: Okay, so are you counting how many shootings there’ve been?

Me: Well, no, but it’s dozens this year. It’s awful.

Him: Okay, what are you going to do about it?

Me: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know what I could do about it.

Him: Okay, then.

Me: What do you think? Does it bother you?

Him: Bother me. Now, what do you mean by that?

Me: Well, does it weigh on your mind. You know, make you feel bad?

Him: Okay. Now that brings me back to my point. What am I going to do about it? Cause if you’re not going to do anything about it, you’re just complaining and doing nothing. And you feel good about that.

According to him, there will always be shootings and gangs; that’s just the way it is. He doesn’t dwell on the things he can’t change. His demeanor was serious and somewhat stern. He peered at me unsmilingly through dark glasses. “Wow,” I said. “You’ve given me a lot to think about. And now I want to give you something.”

I explained about my mother and the gift she had left me when she died. “Okay,” he said. How I was passing it along little by little as a way of honoring her and healing myself. “Okay,” he said again. Then, “You’re going to give me a gift?”

I said I was and I held out the folded hundred. He looked at it for a long time, then reached out and took it. “Well, this is very interesting,” he said. “That’s a hundred dollar bill. I’ll accept it. It’s really very interesting. And I definitely can use it.”

I asked what he thought he might do with it and he said, “I’ll spend it.” I chuckled and said that was good. “I hope you spend it on…” He interrupted me mid-sentence. “Oh, you don’t care what I spend it on.” “Well, I do care,” I argued. He said he wasn’t going to buy wine with it and I protested. “I don’t care about that! Buy wine if you want! I’m just nosy, just curious after talking with you what you might want to do with it.”

He smiled for the first time, just a little tiny smile. “You messed me up. You messed me up real bad,” he said.

Ward and I agreed he looked like a Hollywood movie star.

He said his name was Ward and he let me take his picture. He said people were going to think he made up this crazy story about a woman handing him a hundred dollar bill. I told him about the blog and how he could find it.

“I have to thank you. I really do,” he said, shaking his head. He took my hand, just for a minute, before we said goodbye. I have to admit, I felt pretty messed up myself.

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8 Responses to Messed Up

  1. Wow! Ward sounds like a very interesting man. His attitude at least as you present it is rather intriguing..Thanks from bringing people like Ward forward to give us something to think about.

  2. Sharetta Butcher says:

    Wow what was a great article.

  3. Jana says:

    Hi Jill! I’m not sure if you remember me, but I came to meet you/hear you speak at First Baptist Church a couple weeks ago. I wish I would have stayed for lunch to chat with you and Louise further, but I felt a bit out of my element in a church. I wanted to say that reading your stories always makes my day! Times are tough for me and my partner right now, and reading about your latest C-note recipient seems to help keep everything in perspective. You are an excellent writer, and I think you should look into publishing an e-book if you decide you wish to pursue writing a book. It is much easier and inexpensive than going the traditional route. Just an idea! 🙂

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      I absolutely remember you and your sweet concern over Patches (who is feisty as ever!). Thank you for being such a faithful reader and for your kind words. I hope things ease up for you and your partner soon, and that you are able to take heart in knowing that there are good people all around. With warm best wishes- Jill

  4. DJan says:

    Yes, I believe you have really messed up his cynical outlook, all right. I loved this one, but I usually do love all these stories, right out of the Pay It Forward handbook you’re writing every week… 🙂

  5. andrea gehrke says:

    Another great meeting with a stranger who you and we would never have known about had you not randomly chosen him.

  6. Berta says:

    Did you ever read Ask Me Why I Hurt?

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