I was loading a couple of items into my car in the lot at the Midtown Home Depot when a man approached with a bucket filled with what appeared to be a spray bottle, wadded newspapers, and rags.
"Excuse me, sir," he said. "I'm not begging, but if you'll let me, I can clean your car windows for you. I'll make 'em look like new."
I hesitated, debating whether to give him a buck and wish him the best or let him clean my windows, which were admittedly pretty gross, thanks to my dogs drooling as they rode along, noses to the wind.
"I used to do detail at Bud Davis Cadillac," he said, closing the deal. "I'll make 'em look good."
I was in no real hurry, so I opted to let him do his thing.
It became apparent that this guy took his trade seriously. He sprayed each window inside and out and wiped them down until they were showroom clean. It took him a minute or two to do each window. He didn't miss a spot, not even the corners.
As he worked, we talked. He told me he'd had his bag stolen two nights earlier while he was sleeping outside. "They took my ID and my extra clothes and my tennis shoes," he said. "I'm trying to make enough today to eat and get back into a shelter tonight. And get some clothes."
He was wearing flip-flops, an old T-shirt, and a pair of too-large shorts belted with a rope. He was hard and thin as bone.
"I don't usually dress like this," he said. And I believed him, though I know I'm not supposed to believe homeless people's stories. I know I'm supposed to be cynical, and I'm supposed to know that all they're really doing is hustling money from me so they can go buy a drink.
I don't care, honestly. I'd want a drink, too, if I lived on the street and made my living wiping down people's car windows in parking lots. I'd want a lot of drinks.
That said, I don't pay much attention to the rotating cadre of sign-holding folks at various stoplights around town. There's something fishy about that situation — something suspiciously entrepreneurial. And I don't have a problem blowing off the young, healthy looking guy who stands in front of Walgreens and hits everyone up for change on the regular. I mean, c'mon, man. Again?
But if I think I might be in the presence of a human being who is genuinely down and out, I'll usually listen and I'll usually learn something — and more often than not, I'll give them money. Yeah, I'm a sucker, right? Like I said, I don't care. Life is short. Help somebody out. It won't kill you.
The man at Home Depot cleaned my windows like it meant something to him, like he was proud of his work, like it wasn't a tired hustle. When he finished, I looked in my wallet and saw two twenties and three ones. I gave him a twenty and his eyes went soft, and he said, "Thank you. You don't know how much I appreciate this," and I believed him.
He shook my hand and I got in my nice car with its shiny, clean windows and drove off feeling some kind of way — maybe sad, maybe grateful, maybe a little of both.
There are a lot of folks out there who are hurting, broke, homeless — lost souls in the high weeds of life. At a time when many of us are contributing money and food and supplies to help the victims of the recent hurricanes in Florida and Texas, it's good to remember that there are other people, just down the street in Memphis, Tennessee — blowing in the wind.