I was staying down in Las Vegas the last couple months, toiling to run that failing business I told you about. At the end of a very long day working an exhibition booth, while trying my best not to think about how colossally bad things were shaping up for me financially down there, I flopped into the driver’s seat of my car. It was astounding just how hot it was inside that car even hours after the summer sun had made its final retreat.
I was parked outside of the Rio Convention center, where amateur and professional poker players were still hustling to and from the main entrance of the World Series of Poker.
It had been one hell of a day, stacked on top of a string of hellish days before that. As it turns out, a great deal of the poker players who pass by in the halls of that place are total turd sticks. There was a constant stream of people popping into the booth with literally no other reason except to tell me that my product sucked, and that their lives were amazing, all while still wanting me to care that “their luck was so bad at the tables.” Hearing the same thing on repeat was getting really old, really quickly. I was selling luxury seat cushions, by the way, which definitely didn’t suck; people are just weird when it comes to salespeople.
I had signed a contract for this booth with the casino, which meant I had to stick it through to the end. I sighed as I thought about it a little more than I should, then turned the AC up full blast. I leaned my chair back ever so slightly, closed my eyes, and just breathed deeply for a few moments while the car cooled. Things will be alright, I told myself. I then fantasized (for the twentieth time, at least) about packing up and leaving town in a hurry, but reminded myself that casinos are known for breaking legs and burying bodies 8 miles out in the desert. It was probably better to not tango on that particular dance floor.
I cranked up a relaxing playlist and just kept my eyes closed for a while before leaving, forcing myself to envision better things to start happening.
There was a sudden loud slap against my driver’s side window. I jumped in my seat, my heart suddenly on the verge of exploding from the rush of adrenaline such a thing always induces.
Outside the window was what looked to be an emaciated and homeless man, motioning for me to roll down the window. I took it down just a crack and looked at him with annoyance. “Maybe a light knock would be better next time,” I said. “You scared me. Is there something you need?” There wasn’t any pleasantry in my voice.
He held out a dirty paper cup from McDonald’s. “I hear you, man. You got a quarter you can give me? A dollar? Anything to help, brother. God bless you. Anything at all.”
My heart was still reminding me of just how intrusive this guy had been to start our little interaction out. I forced myself not to roll my eyes at this man, and instead I gave him a good look up and down.
Underneath the thick layer of grime that covered his skin, the man was Caucasian. I think. His t-shirt was stained up and down, a huge hole ripped under one armpit. His jeans had more asphalt smeared across them than the asphalt did. A matted and short pony tail was tied behind his head. I’m guessing he was between the age of 35 and 60, again it was hard to tell. A large, rotten-toothed smile never left his heavily bearded face. It looked like starvation was his bedfellow.
I thought about doing the easy thing, saying no, and rolling up the window. Instead I found myself reaching into my console where I dug out the only bill left: a twenty dollar bill. “Take it easy. Stay safe,” I said, as I rolled the window down fully and handed him the bill.
Yeah. I gave him money. I’m no hero or great humanitarian for this act, by the way. I am definitely not tooting my own horn for it. At that point, I admit I was doing it much more for my well-being than for his. I silently said a prayer to the universe to help me with things in my own life and business in return. Heaven knows I could use it right about then.
The man reached out and took the bill from me, pinching it between his thumb and index finger then looked it over as if he had a decision to make. “No, brother. I can’t take this from you,” he said as he tried to hand it back.
I instinctively laughed, at what I’m not even partially sure. “Why not? Of course you can.”
He continued holding it out to me. “Brother, I only need to eat tonight, and I don’t need to eat a steak dinner or nothing like that.”
I suddenly wished I had found more to hand him. He was being so sincere, and I wasn’t expecting such a refusal. I laughed again. “Just take it,” I instructed. “I need good things to happen in my life right now.”
Again, he refused and kept it held out to me. “Maybe you have a few dollars or five dollars or something in there,” he said. “I just need to eat, brother. I just need to eat.”
I didn’t really know what to say. I had a couple bucks in my wallet, and that was it. I certainly wasn’t going to switch him out for them at this point, so all I did was laugh again. “Buy a few meals with it then,” I told him.
“God bless you, sir. God bless you,” he said. And still he kept the money held out to me, refusing to pocket it. “But it’s too much.”
“If you don’t take it, I’m just going to give you more,” I said in a joking way.
He laughed. “Okay, okay. At least let me earn it,” he said.
“And how will you do that at 11PM in a parking lot? Don’t worry about it. It’s yours. I don’t need anything.”
He thought for a moment. “Sure you do. What do you need most in life right now, brother?”
“Put it in your pocket and I’ll tell you,” I replied. He did so. “Okay. I need my business to start working before I lose even more money with it,” I said.
Now it was this man who laughed. “Look at this car man. You doing alright. What do you really need most in life? Come on. You’re an honest man. Be honest.”
I felt sheepish. “You want the truth?” I asked.
“Yeah brother, always the truth.”
“I need to find myself again. I’m feeling a bit lost lately.”
He rested one hand on my car door and leaned in. “If I tell you something you find valuable, brother, do you think I earned this money? Because I won’t take it if you don’t think that what I tell you is worth something.”
“Yeah, that’s fair.”
“I’m not fucking with you, brother. You’re a good man and an honest man, right? You tell me if you think it’s valuable and if it’s not, then you promise to take this money back,” he said.
I nodded. “Yeah, you’ve got a deal. Let’s hear it.”
“You wanna find yourself?”
“You feeling lost?”
“Brother,” he said. “If you wanna find yourself, you gotta learn to let go of the idea that you deserve or need anything and any sort of life at all. That’s all you gotta do.”
“I really like that,” I said. “Thank you. You’ve earned your money.”
“Good. I guess I am eating stake tonight!” he said as he laughed and patted his pocket. He then got real serious again. “Listen brother, it don’t matter if you have a million dollars or if you just got a dollar left in your pocket. Let go of it all, man. You and I, come on now… We don’t deserve nothing. Not one thing. Just let it all go, brother. If you think you deserve it, you will only be worried all the time that you don’t have it. Just let it go and keep being a good man. God bless you, brother. Thank you for this money. It means a lot.”
In my romantic memory, this beggar vanished into a misty darkness after that, but he just walked away after thanking me one more time, I rolled up my window, and I drove home deep in introspection. Had that interaction really just happened? Had such simple yet profound advice really just dropped in my lap the moment I needed it most from a homeless guy?
It did happen, and it was that night that I decided that when this Vegas venture was done with, it was time to start blogging again. It was time to start simplifying my life. It was time to start sharing more with the rest of the world. And more than anything, it was time to stop believing that I deserved anything at all.
Dan Pearce | The Single Dad Laughing Blog