I’ve never been big on ceremony, traditions and resolutions that kick off on a calendar date (though I am considering three New Year’s Resolutions: to take up smoking, gain a little weight and exercise absolute authority at the expense of others; it just takes willpower). But I’ve discovered one of my own.
On Christmas Day, I give a $20 bill to the first homeless person I find. Usually it’s in front of the 7-11, though I’m finding the Circle K to be a bigger catch basin of the city’s human jetsam.
It started out of guilt. I was buying a Big Gulp with a $20 several years ago outside the 7-11 in Westwood. It was particularly cold (at least for California — I’ve become so wussified I don’t know cold anymore), and a homeless guy asked if I had change. I had a ton. I told him I had none.
When I got back to the car, I reached in my jacket pocket and fumbled through all the change and bills as I felt for the keys. Heard the wrong song when I turned on the car — April Comes She Will — and decided to give him all the change in my jacket. When I reached him, I decided everything in my jacket. He was so surprised he shook my hand with both hands, a gesture I’ll never forget. The only Christmas embrace that day, and one initialed on the wet cement of of my brain.
So every year, there is that. Never again the reaction I had that day. Once the guy just nodded, no thanks. But it makes me feel the day. And what’s more important than recognizing the day, than feeling it?
It was reinforced a couple years ago, when I had to walk home from getting my motorcycle fixed, a mile away. I didn’t want to haul the helmet and heavy jacket, so I piled them into an abandoned shopping cart left on Sherman Way, and began the trek home.
Despite holding at least $600 worth of motorcycle gear in my cart and an iPhone in my hand, no one on the walk home looked me in the eye. One neighbor stood on his porch til I passed to cross the sidewalk and get his mail. A young couple walked on the lawn instead of passing on the same pavement strip. Not one nod. Not one look in the eye. And I realized: maybe poverty has nothing to do with items. It has to do with acknowledgement. Am I ever so poor, afraid or simply circling our own orbit we are not flush with that, holiday or no?
So yes, I guess I am one for tradition, though I’ve had it recognized by several friends as a likely flush of cash. You know, they say, that money is going straight to the liquor store.
They are all probably right. To which I say, to them and all the Secret Santas I can look in the eye:
Happy Holidays. This drink’s on me.