It was a day to give away a hundred dollars! A special sparkly kind of day. I love those days (the perfect weather doesn’t hurt either. Nor does having the day off).

We were almost out of milk, and walking to Fred Meyer seemed like a great idea. I’ve given away quite a few hundreds there (here, here, here and here), including this one way at the beginning of this journey.

We go through a lot of milk and needed a gallon. But by the time I finished the rest of my shopping I knew my bags would be so heavy I doubted my ability to make it the three blocks home. I ended up with a pint of milk, which seriously offended my sense of frugality by costing about the same as a half gallon.

As I was leaving the store, I saw something I have never seen before: a one-legged bicyclist. He was headed for the area in front of the store and was going to pass right by me.

“Wow,” I said as he approached. “That’s amazing!” “Yup, it’s front wheel drive,” he answered. “I pedal it with my arms.” I got a look at his prosthetic leg; very high tech looking. “Your leg is pretty fancy, too,” I observed. He shrugged and then gave a little chuckle. “It comes with the bike!”

He maneuvered his bike over to the rack and I stepped closer. “I’m wondering if you can help me out with something,” I said. “How?” He looked entirely skeptical and I felt my determination waver. Even though I’ve done this dozens of times, I was at a loss for what to say. “It’s kind of a pay it forward thing. I’m passing along a gift and I’d like to pass some of it on to you.” My presentation was not convincing.

“No, thanks,” he said. “I don’t want it.” I was taken aback. “Why not?” I asked him. He paused for a second and shook his head. “I just don’t want to get involved in any complicated transactions. No, thank you.”

“Really?” I said. “If I handed you a hundred dollars, you wouldn’t accept it?” “I don’t need it!” he announced. Then he turned away. I watched him pull his bike up to the rack and then get off. It didn’t look easy.

I went back to my groceries, feeling pretty deflated. I sat down on the ledge and contemplated my walk home. It occurred to me to call Elijah and have him come help me carry the stuff, then I realized I had left my phone at home. By now the guy had gotten off his bike and was standing there, collecting himself. He looked exhausted.

He was only a few feet away and before I knew it I found myself standing in front of him. We just stood there for a minute, eye to eye. The dynamic had shifted and we were friends somehow, even though I suspected he still didn’t want what I was selling. “You know,” I said. “I’ve done this a few dozen times and not many people have turned me down flat.”

“Well,” he said. “There’s no such thing as ‘no strings attached’. It doesn’t exist. Believe me; I’ve been there, done that.” “Really,” I promised. “It’s really true.” I was still holding the hundred. He softened further and asked, “Why do you want to give that to me?” I started explaining a little about my mother, the cheapskate in me, the journey I’ve been on.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll take it.” I felt grateful and mildly victorious. I said thank you. He told me his name was Charlie. He glanced around like he was about to move along, then he turned his gaze to me full on.

“Wouldn’t it be better if you actually tried to help people instead of giving this money away? You could be a lot more effective that way.” I told him that I did believe in helping people. And that what I was doing has a lot to do with helping me.

“Hmmm,” he said. “What’s so damaged that it’s gotta cost you a hundred bucks a pop?” I stared at him, hardly believing what he had said. I mumbled something about my mother… the war… the Holocaust… scarcity…

“My parents are survivors, too,” he told me. “From Poland and Russia. But I don’t carry it around with me every day. You gotta let it go.”

I gave him a card and told him about the blog. He let me take his picture. I think maybe we shook hands. As we said goodbye, he said he was going to buy a nice bottle of wine with the money and think of me as he drank it. I said that sounded great.

My bags were really heavy but I did make it home.


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16 Responses to A Complicated Transaction

  1. Haralee says:

    Charlie was a tough one for you , but you did it!
    Maybe after he drinks his wine he will pay it forward or
    Maybe he just doesn’t get it.

  2. Hmmm..I don’t quite get Charlie but hopefully upon reflection you did something FOR him well beyond the money..You may never really know but I like to think that’s the case..

    Keep up the good work. I love it.

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      Thank you! Charlie was sure an interesting fellow. We kind of understood each other somehow, in spite of the argumentative tone. I wish I had learned more of his story.

  3. Sheena says:

    Wow. My Dad used to say “If you can’t say ‘amen’ say ‘ouch’!” This sounds like an ouch, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If nothing else, I hope it gave you room to reflect on the fact that you’re not so ‘broken’ (as he put it) as you might have thought or that you once were. And maybe this process is how you are ‘getting over it’. Grace to you (and I hope grace for yourself) as you process all that this conversation touched. Thank you for sharing it with the rest of us and giving us food for thought as well.

  4. DJan says:

    Still reading, Jill, just want to say that many of us are learning from your journey. I certainly am!

  5. Mara says:

    This is one of my favorite exchanges yet. Not for what he may have gotten out of it, but because it sounds like it was so thought provoking for you. Your generous journey is a process that does have to do with damage from the Holocaust, the scars of scarcity. Charlie just zeroed in on that so bluntly. Trauma like he’s surely suffered (leg, parents also being in the Holocaust) tends to do that to people. But it must have come as a shock. He may not have been very warm and fuzzy – but what a character! I too wish we’d heard more of his story.
    And his use of the funds is so fitting – a toast to you. Lovely. Kudos for all you do.

    • Betsy says:

      I like Charlie. He doesn’t pull his punches. And sometimes people tell us things which seem uncongenial but which can be a real favor. Seems like he and you made a fair trade, Jill, and just what each of you got may take a while to accrue.

  6. andrea gehrke says:

    I am glad you found the courage to speak to Charlie again after you’d been rebuffed. Otherwise you might have been left wondering why. Charlie has his own way of viewing life as do we all. He is “one in a million”.

  7. SkippyMom says:

    I think Charlie has a point. Everything has strings.

    The $100 was in exchange for your sense of self satisfaction [not saying that is a bad thing] plus his story and his picture on your blog.

    If you think about it – he is right. I wonder if you could give the $100s away without writing the blog and still have the same experience.

    Please do not misunderstand me. I do like the idea behind what you are doing [your Mom] and your blog. It is just a thought.

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      Thanks for the comment. The writing is a really important part of this process for me. It keeps me going and helps me reflect. The photo is always optional, as is the conversation.

  8. Sharon Martinelli says:

    All of the stories inspire me and today was especially inviting as a gateway to many conversations. I fall back on the words of Don Miguel Ruiz who says”never take it personally”. We could all make up a bunch of stories about Charlie and never get it right. As to what you are doing – I love it and love that you are willing to share the journey with all of us as an inspiration and as an invitation to step outside of ourselves and get to know others who we might pass by.

  9. Jill Ginsberg says:

    Thank you so much! Thank you for reading and for taking my journey and these stories to heart.

  10. Tracy says:

    I think what you are doing is interesting but I don’t understand why you are not giving the money to starving people or people without health insurance or something. If I had money to give away it would go to people desparately in need. I mean think of all the kids that aren’t even going to get a Christmas present this year. Just saying.

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      Tracy- Thank you for your comment. One of the biggest lessons for me during the past year has been that I cannot tell people’s situation just by looking at them. It’s hard to stop making assumptions but I am working on it. I hope you enjoy the stories; thank you for stopping by!

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