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Where's A Homeless Person When You Need One?

My own personal lesson in giving.

Okay, so I'm a mom, right?

Always looking for an opportunity to enrich my daughter's life. To expand her knowledge. To enlighten her in the ways of the world. To teach her whatever I can.

It was 4th of July weekend and we had just had a serious barbeque. I mean, we had two grills going (okay, one was a mini cooker and the other was a George Foreman burner -- but they were rocking it!).

We had condiments at every turn, patty's, buns, sodas, wine, corn, chicken, cakes... and the food kept rolling in. With every new guest there came new deliveries.  My fault because I made it a potluck event for fear I might not have enough to go around. As it would turn out, I had too much.

When the party ended, and the last guest left I looked at the aftermath of the food hurricane and wondered what was a single mom—with little girl who, between the two of them, barely finished a complete meal—going to do with all this food?! 

So, I had a brilliant thought. I will use this disgusting display of glutony as an opportunity to teach Hannah how to give to those in need.

"Honey, we're going to pack up this food and deliver it to a homeless person,"  I boldly announced.

I marched off to the kitchen all full of my thoughtful self and began wrapping, and packing and carving, and piling, and by the end of it I was like Santa Claus with a sack of food and wine that would surely be a Christmas feast for one lucky homeless person on this hot 4th of July weekend. We loaded up the car and off we went.

Now, in Studio City there are certain spots that you can always depend on there being a homeless person. There's the 101 off-ramp at Laurel Canyon, the bus stop near Coldwater, pretty much anywhere on Ventura between Whitsett and Tujunga, and Moorpark Park near the swings. 

So,  I knew this would be a quick delivery.

Mission: find our person, give them the feast, wish them a happy holiday and show my girl a little something about generousity and compassion.  Ah, yes, Susan was feeling the sprirt.

"Hannah, there are people not as fortunate as us and what we're doing is a really good thing."

I headed for the 101 off ramp first because I liked the guy that always stood there holding the sign. But, as we reached our destination much to my surprise... he wasn't there. Bummer. Hmm... where could he be? 

Hannah said, "maybe he found a home, mommy."  Maybe... no worries, off to the next spot.

But, again, no homeless person. Where was she? The one who we never could tell if she was a she or he but we always gave a few bucks to whenever we saw her/him. 

Onward we went... and went, and went. For the next hour-and-a-half, as my car was now stinking of greesy burgers and Hannah was starting to fall asleep, I drove and drove, depserate to find a homeless person.

Dammit, I had a delivery to make and a beautiful lesson to teach, now where the hell is a homeless person when you need one!?

Hannah thought maybe they all found homes and now she was ready to go home too.

"Mommy, I'm tired, please let's go home."  Now I was irritable and impatient.

"No! We have a home, but someone SOMEONE out here doesn't! Now, we are going to do a good deed! We're not quitting until we drop this food off  to someone less fortunate! Now, stay awake, have some corn on the cob, grab a soda, baby! Mommy's no quitter!"

Driving, driving... and, honestly, I was now forgetting the spirit completely and just sort've pissed off that it wasn't going how I pictured.  And then... I found her.

There she was. Our girl. Our special homeless woman who was about to be in for a wonderful surprise. She was a little old woman, white crazy hair, a hand-knitted cap and a row of filled shopping carts chained together next to her... and she was alseep. I mean, it was perfect.

"Oh, baby, look at her. So sweet. Wasn't it worth all the driving to find her?  I won't wake her. I will simply place our amazing picnic basket of food and wine next to her and when she wakes up it truly will be like Christmas morning for her." 

Hannah beamed. I beamed. It was beaming time. I pulled over, put on my hazzards, told Hannah to stay in the car as I tiptoed to our lucky lady, carrying the bag and gently placing it next to her purple, swollen ankles.

I looked at Hannah who, from the backseat, I could see through the window giving me the biggest smile ever.  I gave her the thumbs up. We did it... we did it!  And as I began to walk proudly toward the car, finally ready to go home, tuck my girl into bed and talk about this day I...

"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING TO ME, LADY!!!? YOU GET THIS AWAY FROM ME! YOU PICKED THE WRONG LADY!" 

I turned in terror. That baritone scream couldn't possibly be coming from... oh, but it was. Running toward me with my just-delivered groceries was little old lady with fire in her eyes.

"YOU GET THIS BOMB AWAY FROM ME! YOU PICKED THE WRONG LADY, BITCH! YOU HEAR ME?! YOU PICKED THE WRONG LADY!"

And now I was running from her, running from my food, running  into my car and as I fumbled with the keys, trying to start the car up, telling Hannah to lock the doors suddenly a rainfall of burgers and corn and cake and wine and chicken and macaroni came pouring down on my car. Showering my car. Every single item I had taken the time to cook, pack, wrap and deliver she dumped all over my car and was now dripping off the windows.

And the old woman was screaming at me to go, GO GO GO! Go I did.  

I pulled away as fast as I could as little knitted cap woman was still waving her arms at me screaming.

Silence. The only sound was the windshield wipers trying to wash the Jello mold off my windshield, but was really only spreading and smearing it around.

From the back seat my daughter finally spoke, "Mommy... was it supposed to happen like that?" 

I took a long breath,  "No, honey. Not like that."

And as I later drove us through the car wash, now Hannah fast asleep in the back seat, I wondered... what was supposed to happen? Did I think I could just orchestrate a lesson and have it play out like some Hallmark commercial? Where had my humility gone? In my desire to give to the needy... it became all about my needs.

It's funny being a mom. So often when I think I'm teaching the lesson... the lesson is taught to me.

franck September 27, 2010 at 03:27 PM
I'm sure she kept the wine.
DeeDee September 27, 2010 at 06:03 PM
Sue, I've been reading each of your postings and love hearing your musings. Having worked with the homeless people who have mental health issues, for 12 years, my interest was particularly piqued by this latest entry. Greg and I often offer our party food to the less fortunate. And yes, I learned quickly not to sneak up on them when they are sleeping...just as you would be surprised if someone snuck into your space while you were asleep. (Particularly given that people are typically hostile toward the homeless and they rarely feel safe.) I also learned not to assume that they will want what ever I offer, so have learned to ask if they like what I'm offering. Greg and I were particularly touched by how fair minded and grateful many homeless people are. When offering a whole tray of food, they often would take what they needed and ask that we give the rest to someone else who needed it! So my dear, try not to let your fright of an experience dissuade you! Your heart and spirit were in the right place! Thank you for brining attention to such a charitable act and cause. Warmly, DeeDee
elizabeth rose September 28, 2010 at 12:58 AM
My son and I were leaving a restaurant with half of our meal in a take out bag when we passed a man on the street I had seen many times before. "Let's give him our leftovers," I said to my son. He agreed it would be a great idea. So we walked on over and offered our fare. "What is it?" the man asked. "Steak and salad" No thanks, I'm a vegetarian... Took us by surprise. I also once tried to share my M&M's but that guy said he didn't eat sugar. How quick we are sometimes to think that anything we give is in some way better .....
Mike Szymanski September 28, 2010 at 05:23 AM
One poignant moment I remember was when interviewing a woman downtown who was homeless and our photog was going to take pictures and she paused first to put on lipstick and comb her hair...yeah, there's pride in everyone that we should acknowledge
Joy A. Kennelly February 07, 2011 at 06:50 PM
I've noticed a few as I'm walking around town lately. Just saw a guy hiding out behind the electrical box near Weddington Park and thought at least he's safely out of harm's way. Kinda surprises me to see them over here though to be honest. I'm used to seeing so many over in Santa Monica, but perhaps with the economy the way it is there's bound to be more and more. Really liked this column and the following discussions. Interesting perspectives...
Marlena June 07, 2011 at 10:23 PM
My boyfriend and I were returning a video at Odyssey on Lankershim one evening when we saw a very old woman who looked lost and who seemed to have alzheimers. She was barefoot and her toenails were very very long. We tried to comfort her and get some information but she couldn't communicate at all, just gibberish. We called the police and we stayed with her for over an hour as she tried to talk but nothing she tried to say made sense. My grandmother had alzheimers and I learned that patience and compassion were key in that time. The police took forever to arrive, and the sun was going down, it was gettign cold. My boyfriend gave her his sweatshirt. We don't know where they ended up taking her, but we think we heard she was from a home down the street. She would not survive a night alone we knew for sure so she must have been staying somewhere, but her toenails told a different story. There's a retirement home on Franklin and Beachwood that leaves their gate open and residents who can barely walk are out wandering in front and walking down the street, waiting for the bus, some can't stand up straight. It's a dangerous area at night, and the traffic is bustling all day. Does anyone else see a problem/solution to this. How can this place that's supposed to care and protect our elders just let them wander around by themselves, and they usually are alone. Anything can happen to them.
Susan McMartin September 10, 2012 at 11:00 PM
helen, thank you so much for you comment and for sharing your video with me.

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