Christmas Monkeys

Friday, December 12, 2008

I went to the grocery store to get a few boxes of Kraft macs & cheese for an easy (and somewhat cheapish) dinner tonight. Because this is the 'boxed dinners' isle, I noticed that the Chef Boyardee was on sale, 10 cans for $10; so I also grabbed 10 of those & headed to the checkout.

Now, I've always been fascinated by the purchases being made in front of me in the checkout lane. I can't help but make up stories about it -- their shopping list a set of ingredients for my imagination. One time it was a guy with canned cat food, one orange, and a huge bottle of vodka. I couldn't help myself. So I told him he should remember to feed the cat before he passed out. He laughed -- politely, if not actually amused.

Today the man ahead of me at the checkout had exactly 8 bunches of ripe bananas. I know because I counted them. He had nothing else, just the bananas. So I said, "Someone's getting a Christmas monkey."

He laughed. I think. Maybe he just flinched. Anyway, there was a quick facial movement (partially obscured by the huge collar on his winter jacket) and then he turned away from me -- literally turning his back on me.

No sense of humor.

But who buys 8 bunches of yellow, ripe bananas? You just have to wonder. Or at least I do.

Sorry for the guy with no sense of humor, I took my bags to the van, got gas, and then headed home. As I approached the stop sign, I saw a man holding the now-too-familiar cardboard sign of homelessness. The timing was perfect, what with me slowed to nearly a stop, preparing to turn at his corner and all; so I rolled down the window, reached for the bag and grabbed a can, and held it out with a, "Sir?"

He blessed me and I said it's the only thing I had with me. I felt embarrassed about that. I once used to drive around with apples and blocks of cheese in my car for cases just like this. It's nutritional food, easy to carry, requires no heating or utensils, and has a relatively long shelf life as far as perishables go. But here I was handing this man a canned food item. Sure, it's been cooked and he can eat it cold if he has to -- and thankfully it has a pull-top lid so he doesn't need an opener -- but no matter what variety I handed him (spaghetti, ravioli, the 'huge' ravioli, or that Beefy Mac stuff), a utensil would be a good idea. A humanizing thing.

I tried to console myself that I'd done good -- it was food and at least there was some meat in there. (But when I got home I realized my quick grab had resulted in giving the man a can of beefy mac -- to me, the lesser of the meals.)

Having worked for a homeless shelter, I knew that food was both needed and wasn't (at least as directly) enabling to those with addiction issues. That's why I used to stock my car with apples and cheese. I stopped doing it because as we creep closer and closer to homelessness ourselves, every bit of apple & cheese needs to go to my kids. But I just couldn't see that man freezing on the corner while I had bags of food right next to me & do nothing.

The gift of his bright smile (and "Bless you") nearly made me cry. I managed to hold the tears in until I got to our driveway. Then a salty mixture of happiness, gratitude, embarrassment and fear trickled down my cold cheeks.

Then I thought about the guy with the bananas; maybe he kept those in his car for the homeless. If so, bless him. He is the Christmas Monkey, handing out gifts of food to the homeless.

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