Outstretched Hand

I see him through the window, hovering next to one of the outdoor tables. I quickly offer up a silent prayer.

"Please do not let him come in here."

My eyes are riveted on the scene on the other side of the glass.

He is shirtless and pantless. As he leans over the table, his hand extended, a brief flash of aged brown penis pokes its way through the slit in his only attire, a pair of stained boxer shorts. The blonde woman he's beseeching recoils, dropping the change she was about to deposit into his outstretched hand. She covers her mouth to suppress a scream. Her friend is less successful, uttering a loud, "Oh shit!"

Too busy scraping the ground for stray nickels and dimes, he doesn't notice their horror. Are those hospital ID bracelets on his wrists? He bows in thanks and turns toward the door. He is coming inside.

He stops two tables up from me. I am staring. Everyone else is blithely tapping away on their computers, sipping their venti soy chai's with a shot of valencia, purposely avoiding eye-contact. He is bowing in thanks again. Now only one table away. Now approaching.

"Excuse me, miss. I just got out of the hospital."

His hand is outstretched in front of my face. If I turn my head, the slit in the boxer shorts is...yep, it's right there. This was more than I needed to see up close. Way more.

"I don't have any money to get home."

What am I supposed to do? I do not, as a rule, usually give money to folks begging on the street. I do contribute to organizations that provide resources to homeless folks, but what am I supposed to tell this man? How does that help him?

The hospital ID bracelets slide along his wrist. I focus my eyes there. He probably just got released from Kaiser Sunset and wandered his way up Vermont to Starbucks. Kaiser came under scrutiny this spring for alleged dumping of homeless patients on skid row in downtown LA. I suppose he must have declined the ride downtown in order to explore the friendly-looking environs of Los Feliz Village.

The outstretched hand is still waiting.

"Excuse me, Sir. You're going to have to leave." The Starbucks employee looks uncomfortable. Everyone is alert now, waiting to see what's going to happen. Will there be a showdown of some sort or not?

"Oh. ok. Thank you though." He looks at me briefly, turns away and begins to shuffle toward the door. The employee trails behind him and sees him out the door. Once outside, the man walks across the street to the Bank of America.

I'm sure this man, when he was young, didn't see this in his future. Who would? We don't see it in our future either. We are all too smart, too educated, too talented, too beautiful and too stylish to ever be reduced to such a level. Or so we tell ourselves as our heads lower to laptops again, bouncing gently to the barely audible melodies of the latest indie-hip tunes.


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