I was walking around the neighborhood today and noticed a stroller piled with blankets parked outside a grocery store. I recognized the blankets, which were a colorful polar fleece, along with the cardboard signs propped up against the wall. “Homeless family. Need help.” They belonged to Crystal and the Alexies I met a few weeks ago.
The family was nowhere to be seen. A woman and her young daughter came out of the store and saw me standing near the stuff. “A family has been out here for the last three days. It’s really sad,” she explained. I nodded and said that I had met them. “Do you think they’ll find this?” she asked, stuffing a bill into a glove that was tucked under the stroller. “It’s only five dollars, but it’ll be a nice surprise.”
As they walked away, the young girl turned and looked back for a long time. I stood by the store entrance, thinking maybe Crystal and the guys would show up. I watched as people came out of the store, then stopped to study the situation. One woman left a bag of groceries. A man put down a gallon of milk next to the stroller. I noticed that there were some other packages already there and marveled at the kindness of strangers. Had this been happening over and over for the last few days?
I thought about trying to find Crystal and her husband and giving them the hundred I had in my pocket. Was this what I was “meant” to do? I decided to stroll around a little and see what happened. I told myself that if I ran into them, I would do it.
The streets were kind of empty and it felt much later than 3:00 on a Saturday. I poked my head in the laundromat I have visited many times in these pages (also here and here). There was a hush in the air, like before a snowstorm.
Then I saw this guy waiting at the bus stop. He was pacing back and forth while talking on his cell phone. I listened in as hard as I could. “Yeah, it was good. I won the last game, 173 to 171. It was really good.”
I’ve always been a sucker for men in stripes. I followed him as he paced a few yards up the block, then back again. He was talking about the games in a lot of detail. “Excuse me,” I said. “Yes?” he held the phone out a few inches from his mouth.
“Can you hang up? Maybe call them back in a minute?” I asked. “Why is that?” he wondered. “I want to talk to you for a sec,” I explained. He turned back to the phone. “Hey, I’ll call you right back, okay?” and he hung up.
He looked me right in the eye, clearly wondering what was coming. I started blabbering on about overhearing his conversation and how it sounded like it was his lucky day. He said he had been playing a game called Heroclix and showed me some little figurines he had won in the game. “So, you’re just kind of a big kid!” I decided. He laughed and said that was true.
I told him I had something I wanted to give to him and I reached into my pocket. “It’s a brand new, crisp hundred dollar bill!” I announced, handing it to him. “Wow! Why is that?” he asked. I think I explained about my New Year’s resolution and he said thank you. Then he asked how my day was going so far.
His name was Dylan and he works at PSU in the School of Business. He said he spends most of his time on campus except for these weekend games at the hobby shop. He lets go of all his worries and just enjoys himself.
Dylan said he believes in luck, and that if you have a positive attitude things will work out. “Thank you,” he said a few more times.
A few blocks away I ran into Crystal and Alexie Jr. He recognized me right away and told me he still has the toy dog I got for him. She said they have enough money to stay at a hostel downtown for a few days. I asked about all the stuff that people were leaving for her and she smiled a tired smile. “Yeah, it’s amazing. I give a lot of it away because we can’t use it all.”
Next time I go for a walk I’m going to bring a little extra money, just in case.
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