I didn’t really notice him until we were about to pass each other on the sidewalk. Tall, skinny, straight blond hair. Wearing a windbreaker with a logo for some trucking company. A ball cap. Jeans. Sneakers.
It’s a uniform in some parts of this city. Many parts, actually. Winnipeg is a strange place. White collar, blue collar. Rich, poor. Refined, rejected. We’re all mashed together by history and geography and extreme climate.
He was already behind me when I heard him say something.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Can you spare a dollar?” he repeated.
I reached into my pocket. I just do it. It’s easier that way.
“Or maybe two dollars? You can’t buy much for a dollar.”
He wasn’t aggressive. He was just asking.
I pulled out a handful of change, mostly quarters and dimes.
While I did so, he looked me up and down.
“I guess you don’t have to worry about money.”
I was wearing a Jets T-shirt. A grey hoodie. Jeans. Not much different from his uniform.
How did he know?
“Everybody worries about money,” I told him. I looked at my handful of change. There might have been two dollars there. Certainly not much more. Certainly nothing for me to worry about. I handed it to him.
“If I see you again…” he started to say. He was trying to tell me he would pay me back. If he could.
“It’s alright,” I said. Then I went my way. He went his.
I don’t have to worry about money? No, I guess I don’t. I’m not gonna starve. I’ve got a nice house.
And yet I do.
I worry about money way more now than when I was young; when I had very little.
I worry about other things, too. What I’ve done. What I’ve not done. What I should have done. It all clatters around me like tin cans on a string.
Right after university, I took a job driving a Coke truck while I looked for the job I really wanted to do. All I needed to do was get a job with a newspaper and everything would be great. It would be amazing.
When that finally happened, it was amazing. So I thought.
But then, a few years in, a person I’d been developing a friendship with said, “If I asked you to tell me about yourself, what would you say first?”
“I’d say I’m a journalist.”
“I thought so,” she said. “I find that kind of sad.”
I didn’t think it was so sad at the time. I was a little bit offended.
Now, when my journalism career is on the endangered list, I see what she meant.
So lately, when people say, “tell me about yourself,” I try to come up with a different answer.
It’s funny. The jobs I had before I started my so-called career? My interim jobs? I think that is when I was happiest. An orderly in a hospital during university. A Coke truck driver after grad. Because those jobs weren’t me.
Back then a friend, a different friend, wanted me to read a book called Be Here Now. It was written by Western-born yogi Ram Das.
I took it, but I was never going to read it. It was a self-help kind of book. I don’t like self-help books.
The title stuck with me, though, because lately I find myself repeating it.
Be here now.
I repeat it as I walk to my car to go to my endangered journalism job. Bicycles are chained to signposts. Grit is piled up beside the curb. Last fall’s Tim Hortons cups are still waiting to be put in a recycling bin. Some leaves have popped out on the scrawny downtown trees between last walk and this one. The smell of Brazilian barbecue wafts from one direction, the smell of Dumpsters behind a condo conversion wafts from another.
Be here now.
I repeat it as I stand on my balcony and feel the wind. From the north. From the south. From the north and south all at once. It’s warmer than it was yesterday. The sun won’t shine today, but that’s OK. The rain will clean things up a bit.
Be here now.
The river is a little lower than it was last week, but my favourite path is still submerged. Ducks paddle there.
Be here now.
That’s what I am trying to do.
What does this have to do with the guy I met on the sidewalk?
I don’t know. But sometimes I wonder why I’m the guy who has a pocketful of change, and he’s the guy who wants some.
I’m not religious, but I’ve heard this text: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.”
It’s from Matthew, Chapter 6, if you are wondering. I Googled it.
I’m not entirely sure what it means. It could be seen as a justification for the status quo. There are the haves. There are the have nots. If you’re a lily, you’re lucky. If not… too bad.
It could be saying that all of man’s striving is futile and meaningless.
Or maybe it’s saying who we are is more important than what we do. Or what we have. Or what we want. Or what we worry about.
It’s something to think about.
A friend, yet another friend, posted on Facebook a quote by Stephen Jay Gould: “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
That’s something to think about, too.
I remind myself to make sure I have change in my pocket in case I see that guy again.
What’s two bucks? Not much to me.
Probably a whole lot to him — even if he does just use it to buy a beer.