He didn't look very much like a panhandler. He was clean and cleancut, with nicely groomed gray hair, a polo shirt, bluejeans and jogging shoes. Nothing to set him apart from all the other Saturday shoppers in the parking lot at Home Depot. Except he was asking for money.
It didn't appear that he'd had much practice at it. Kind of like I'd be if I had to ask someone for spare change as they walked to their car in front of Home Depot.
"Excuse me sir," he said. "Do you think you could help me with some gas money for that van over there so I can get back to Arkansas?"
I don't know if that actually was his van or if he'd ever been anywhere near Arkansas, and I didn't want to know what chain of events had led him to this circumstance, trying to beg money from strangers. But I felt a tug of sympathy for him.
Linda and I had just finished picking out hundreds of dollars worth of bathroom equipment for a remodeling project. Right then, while millions were suffering through job losses, foreclosures, bankruptcies and other problems, we had the good fortune of being able to think about doing some work on our house.
But the truth was, I didn't have any cash on me to give him. I could have given him my credit card or debit card, but that of course would have been crazy.
"I'm sorry, I don't have any money," I told him.
He nodded, with a "that's okay" smile. Perhaps it was relief. At least I hadn't snarled at him or threatened to tell the management.
If I were in his shoes -- and who knows that I won't be someday, the way things are going -- that's about the best I could hope for in that situation. Maybe people at least won't be nasty to me when I ask them for help.