Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Social Commentary

Something interesting happened at a restaurant yesterday. I am facing the front door when a homeless woman, about 50 years old, walks into the restaurant. The woman is very dirty, wearing a mound of winter clothes that barely show her face. She is carrying a large shopping bag. The young server, who was standing behind the counter, comes out to meet her, shaking her hands out in front of her as if to say, “No, not today. No.” The homeless woman mumbles something to the server, who then audibly says, “No” while continuing to move her hands. This seemed like a typical exchange you see in NYC- homeless people wanting to come inside where it is warm and the establishment keeping it from happening because of “no loitering” rules. But here is where the story takes the “interesting” turn: The homeless woman pulls out a wad of $1 bills and says, “Can I get a sandwich?” The server points to the homeless woman’s bag and there is an inaudible exchange, presumably about the bag. The homeless woman then shrugs and leaves. I sat in a sort of awe- having first agreed that the homeless person should not be loitering, I was stunned to find the woman turned away when she showed money and asked to be served. I know that businesses “reserve the right to refuse business to anyone“ but the situation still struck me as incredibly wrong...

Until she walks out the door. The hinge swings the door back to the frame that creates a vacuum seal keeping the cold out while and pushing in the air that had just surrounded the homeless woman. In a matter of seconds the restaurant takes on the most rank odor of urine and dirt and it hangs, like a cloud, for the next few minutes. It became clear to me why, in the face of a few crumpled bills, the homeless woman would still be turned away. Surely that odor would drive away many a customer and keep new customers from entering. But it made me so sad to think that even with money, that thing that makes the world go ‘round, she could not get a bite to eat. I asked myself- Was it possible for the server to accept her money but ask her to wait outside while the sandwich was made? Or is it just easier in society to say no to someone for a ”very good reason“ and leave it at that?

I left the restaurant soon after and headed home. A few doors down from my building I see the homeless woman sitting on the steps of a brownstone, eating a jelly donut that she had gotten from the bakery on the corner. She had jelly sauce dripping down her face, but that didn’t stop her from smiling and holding out an empty cup. She said something inaudible through the chewing while shaking the cup at me gingerly. I think she wanted money. Despite the previous scene, I said no and kept walking.

1 comment:

  1. A comment:

    Courts said...

    That is funny that happened to you because yesterday at my server job a woman came in and told us there was another woman passed out cold on our bench outside. I went to take a look and she was sitting up. The woman inside said "she's on heroin." And I was like, huh? I don't know what that looks like. Anyway, the heroin woman came in and sat at a table and said that she was waiting for someone, but then she started nodding off (as I guess it is with heroin users). Luckily my boss was there and gave her some water and escorted her out of the restaurant. What a bummer. The heroin lady had a chic headband on and some fashionable jeans and pointy shoes too! Huh.


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