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Fighting the conflict between beliefs and actions

FIRST-PERSON

Posted: December 1, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 1, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

It was just after 7:30 a.m. in downtown Los Angeles. I came down for a friend’s film shoot but I was early so I walked down the block to the Carl’s Jr./KFC on Broadway and 7th St. to get some breakfast.

It was a big fast food restaurant, with entrances on both sides of the street; and a likely manager standing at the counter in sight of the two doors, watching. In the short time I was there, I could tell most of his day was deterring homeless and other downtown characters from coming into the restaurant.

I ordered a Bacon Bacon Biscuit Combo; the sandwich very similar to a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit but with an extra layer of Bacon; Canadian Bacon.

My order came up and I was surprised to find, instead of my sandwich, two sandwiches: two Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuits. I’m not sure if that was an unspoken “sorry” for running out of Canadian Bacon or if it was just a mistake, but somehow I had two sandwiches. I sat down to eat at the Carl’s Jr.

After finishing one sandwich I popped a few hash brown tots into my mouth and was just generally enjoying my breakfast when a woman came in. She had on a puffy, dingy white jacket; likely she was homeless. She walked by rows of empty booths on her way straight to me.

She immediately stopped near me and in a weak, slightly raspy voice she asked if she could have a dollar.

From the counter, the likely manager yelled something to the effect of, “Hey, get out of here!” I was pretty sure it he was speaking to the woman, but my back was turned to him so I could never be sure.

I lied and told her I didn’t have any money; I really didn’t want to be pulling out my wallet at that moment, with this woman hovering close to me.

She didn’t leave per the employee’s request and he stopped yelling out after the first time; perhaps because I engaged her. Instead, she asked for the second sandwich on my tray, which was still wrapped, untouched.

I counter-offered with the mostly full box of hash brown tots, which she accepted. At this point, I felt as if I was done, I had given her something she wanted. But, instead, she persisted, asking again for the sandwich. Her tone remained soft but she was pressing the issue and I found myself getting angry inside.

I just wanted to say “no;” thinking to myself ‘you’ve got what you want, please let me finish my meal in peace.” But I’m not the kind of guy to be that forthright with anyone, even if they are homeless; since they are still human beings like myself.

Silently yet begrudgingly, I handed over my unopened breakfast sandwich. I thought I was done at that point but the woman spotted about five hash brown tots that were dropped onto the tray during my meal. She asked for me to collect them into the box of hash browns I gave her.

At this point, I was very angry and uncomfortable. I refused to look at her while I put the hash browns into the box for her. I kept looking away, despite the fact that she was mere feet away from me before she left the fast food restaurant.

I find myself conflicted by this experience.

This woman, likely hungry and/or homeless, is just doing what she needs to survive. And yet, I felt ‘burdened’ by her; I’m the one with all the blessings and good support in my life; and I feel burdened by this woman from the street.

It’s wrong. I know it’s wrong. I know I want better rights for the homeless. On the popular meme about there being more foreclosed homes than homeless people; I think it makes sense to put the homeless in those homes. I don’t necessarily understand the logistics of that but I know, on a human level, it’s the right thing to do.

But in this moment, in this trial by fire, I found myself having a visceral reaction; angry and feeling harassed by this woman. And I know I’m being selfish. I had, what even I considered, an ‘extra’ sandwich and yet I didn’t want to pass it up.

I felt like I had done enough in the face of this persistent homeless woman. But she persisted and I gave in - that’s her daily job is to survive. To do what she can to make it another day.

Just because I am a pathetic doormat, has no bearing on her, as she must be aggressive to get what she needs to live everyday on the streets. I’m not removed from her; I realize, with looming bad times, I could be in her place.

I feel bad for reacting the way I did. I realize you can’t always be exactly who you want to be in the moment, sometimes your patience and kindness are tested; but if you can take the time to reflect and learn, hopefully you can reach and react from a place of better acceptance and calm.

Raj Jawa is an actor, filmmaker, and a longtime Saugus resident.

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