The First Lunch

A middle-aged Hispanic man is walking past the car where I pull up to the light. He sits down on the curb two cars behind us. He has a sign, but I don’t read it. I take a deep breath, my heart pounding, having anticipated this moment.  For the first time, I’m not going to stare ahead at some imaginary, interesting thing on the horizon, or fiddle with my cell phone, or turn around to face my children instead of the presence outside my car making me uncomfortable.  This time will be different.

I roll down the window and call out, “Sir?” He jumps up with smile revealing that he is missing a front tooth. I hold out the bag and say, ”I have a lunch here,  if you haven’t eaten already.”

For a blazing split-second, I panic.  What if my offering is rejected?  Will he be disappointed or angry I’m not offering cash?  Will he be disgusted that I choose not to trust him with money?  Will I seem stingy?

But, his face brightens. “Thank you so much, ma’am!”   He takes the bag from me as the traffic light changes.

We drive up Freedom Parkway. The children have been watching quietly.  My four-year old daughter offers, matter-of-factly,  to the five-year old boy in our carpool, “We made yunches for da homeless people.”

“What’s in the lunch?” is his obvious first question- it is lunchtime, after all.  I tell him.

“What did the sign say?” is the second question.  I say that I didn’t read all of it, but the last part was “Please Help.”

This little boy has been working on learning to read in kindergarten and had tried to read the sign.  “One of the words was ‘on.’  Or, maybe ‘no.’”I considered that perhaps I had conditioned myself not to read the signs as part of the “looking away.”

Like a reader mentioned in another post this week, one of my earliest memories of reading is reading signs- street signs, billboards, stop signs.  I remember my mother and I having a game finding typos and grammatical errors in signs- “Ethnic Grocerys” or “Cigaretts.”  It takes a special effort for me to NOT read the signs.

Recently, on a nearby corner where lunches #4, #6, #7, #11 and #12 were given away, I noticed several of these signs laying on the ground among the long weeds and empty cups.  One was woven between two branches in a scraggly tree.  I wondered if, like many other items that make up the daily life of a homeless person, the signs were salvaged and reused.  I was tempted to get out of the car and read them, examine them, to document them in some way, but it was rush hour.  I figured I’d come back at a less busy time, but the next time I waited at that light, the city crews had come by and mowed down all the weeds and removed the signs, along with the detritus.