Monday, July 13, 2009

Of course I'm still going to burn in hell when I die!

This afternoon, I had another one of those moments where circumstance put me in the position of going out of my way to help a complete stranger. And of course, I couldn't help but go through with it.

Around 2:30, feeling a little sleepy-headed at my desk, I decided to go across the street to Cosi and get my usual iced mocha with soy. As I normally do, I went down to the concourse below street level and emerged on the other side, at 48th and 6th. As I was ascending the stairs to street level, I saw a woman on the sidewalk above look down and then call out to a group of people who had just walked by, "Excuse me, did one of you drop an ATM card!"

I emerged onto the sidewalk at that moment. One young African-American woman came over to take a look just as I reached down for it. I read off the name, which was clearly a Korean name, though I could not determine the gender, and the woman turned around and went back the way she was going, knowing that it was not hers.

It was a Citibank debit card with a toll free number on the back. I decided I would get my iced mocha and then call the number when I got back to my desk. Naturally, I botched the number at first, because Citibank, like so many other companies, uses letters instead of numbers (which is something that really fucking annoys me!), and I wrote down one of the numbers wrong. After realizing my error upon encountering numerous busy signals, I dialed the correct number and spoke to a customer service representative. I gave her my work and telephone number so that the cardholder could call me.

To my surprise, the cardholder must have gotten the message rather swiftly, as I received a call from an outside line around 4 p.m., with the voice of a heavily accented Korean lady on the other line. In addition to her accent, she must have been in a rather cavernous room, as there was a tremendous echo that made it difficult to understand her. She acknowledged the echo and told me that she would call me back. Several minutes later she called again, and we made arrangements to meet at the corner of 6th and 47th.

To wrap this story up, I met her at the appointed location and returned her ATM debit card to her. After the exchange of the usual pleasantries in situations like this, we went our separate ways.

So what are the lessons to be learned from this? First, ducking away from your desk to grab an iced coffee drink can become the catalyst for doing a good deed. Second, for religious people reading this who like to diss' on atheists, someday a total stranger will go out of his or her way to help you, and that stranger might turn out to be an atheist.


RedFerret said...

Ah, but God moved you to return the card, so you see, it's not your heathen-ness that prompted this good deed, just the love of Jesus! (ahem)

Sorry fella, couldn't resist.


mikespeir said...

Yer a regular saint.

Sparrowhawk said...

Ahhh....TRF beat me to it.

I do random stuff like this all the time, from picking up ATM cards to picking up stray dogs and calling Animal control. I am such a softy for dogs for some reason...I picked up a little rat terrier on the highway once. Sweetest little thing I'd ever met. Spent about 30 minutes with her in the car and almost cried when they took her. I even followed her adoption page on the shelter's website to make sure someone got her. Actually, if you go look at my blog I even wrote about it on there.

The odd thing, though is...I'm not big on giving money to panhandlers. Is that horrible of me? That I'm more willing to help a stray dog than a stray person? I just, I dunno...I don't like handing people money, not to mention the fact that I don't have much of it at all anyway. I would almost rather give people food, but then again...same problem, I hardly have enough to eat out cheaply more than once every week and a half anyway. Ah well, I try to help whatever needs helping when I can.

Tommykey said...

Sparrowhawk, that reminds me of a day last winter after a major snowstorm. I was coming back from my doctor's office and I saw this sad looking dog wandering around on the street. I pulled over and got out of my car and the dog trotted over to me. I could see that the dog had some kind of diaper tapes to its body. I checked its collar for any kind of ID tag to indicate how to contact the owner, but there was none. I was mad that someone would just leave a dog alone like that with a diaper taped on to it. I wanted so much to help the dog, but I wasn't prepared to bring it home and announce to my wife "Hey honey! Look what I found!"

When I drove down that street later that afternoon, I kept an eye out for the dog but didn't see it. I can only hope that it was reunited with its owner.

Tommykey said...

As for the panhandlers, I know what you mean. There's that burning suspicion that they will just use the money you give them to buy alcohol.

One night when I was walking to Penn Station in Manhattan from my office and I encountered a woman on the sidewalk asking for help. I stopped to listen to her and she motioned to her children and said that she had no money for food. I saw a delicatessen the next block over and told her "Alright, let's go over there and get you something to eat" and I paid for whatever it was she ordered for herself and her family.

Sparrowhawk said...


Yeah, I've been tempted to go buy people food instead of give them money, but ...and this is going to make me sound like a snot, but...

If it were in an area I walked past a lot, I'd still be reluctant...I mean I'd want to help but what if I saw that person every day and they pressured me into doing that? I'd hate to become known as the free food guy or something. Maybe that's asshole-ish of me, I dunno.

Again with the dog thing...but I always get a little irritated when I see homeless people with dogs. Almost seems like they're using the dog to get some sympathy or something. I know I know...the companionship for a homeless person is probably very important but man...the poor dog!

Tommykey said...

I think I have seen that same woman a couple of times since then, but I doubt she would recognize me from all the people who pass her by on 7th Avenue.

One I do see a lot is this disabled African American man in a wheelchair near Penn Station who shouts out every five seconds or so "Guys, can you please get me something to eat!" I haven't given to him yet. The other circumstance I described because there were children involved.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

I've been burned by panhandlers. Had one give me a real good story, something about locking himself out of his car, yada, yada and he actually gave me his real name. Long story short, I reported him to the cops, and about three years later I got a call from the court to come down, because he was being arraigned on charges of theft by deception. Turns out he needed it for drugs. Go figure. I dropped the charges in return for the money back. He said he was clean. Who knows?

Another time I had a guy hit me up for money coming out of a convenience store. Gave me a sob story, and I gave him all my pocket change. About a week later, he showed up a few miles away under different circumstances, and didn't recognize me, and tried to give me another, different sob story. I threatened to call the cops on him and he flew out of there.

I don't give anyone anything anymore. I feel bad, but I've become jaded to the sob story.

Anonymous said...

You said, "So what are the lessons to be learned from this? First, ducking away from your desk to grab an iced coffee drink can become the catalyst for doing a good deed."

Well, this actually is a minor quibble, but I wouldn't say going for the iced coffee was the catalyst for the good deed, because that would ascribe causality where there is not necessarily a justifiable evidential connection. OTOH, if I were to talk to somebody who's known you for your whole life and is likely a reliable judge of your character, I'm willing to bet they'd say you're a good, generous, compassionate person. I'm willing to bet they'd also say you're no sucker. On that, I would say your moral disposition was a more likely catalyst for your behavior.

"Second, for religious people reading this who like to diss' on atheists, someday a total stranger will go out of his or her way to help you, and that stranger might turn out to be an atheist."

True, and ironically, the Bible makes almost the same exact argument in the parable of the Good Samaritan. IMO, the Jews' attitude towards Samaritans in Jesus' time certainly parallels the Fundamentalists' attitude towards atheists in our times. Jesus condemned the arrogance that results from superfluous religious pride, as you yourself did here.

I say bravo to both of you.

Sparrowhawk said...

Uhm, cl, I think the thing about the coffee being the catalyst was sort of tongue-in-cheek. And also, you mentioning the Samaritan thing reminds me of this video. Good stuff.

tina FCD said...

Good video Sparrowhawk! LOL!

Tommy, I stopped to pick up two elderly people in a snow storm and had a guy walk by just as they were getting in the truck. He handed us two bibles, I tried to give mine to the couple but they declined, said they had several at home, I kept my mouth shut. Turns out, there was a $25.00 gift certificates stuck in them and of course a little card with scripture on it. Pays to be nice I guess. :)

Anonymous said...


I wasn't trying to bust your balls on the "catalyst" thing - it was as tongue-in-cheek as the original sentence, lest anyone read too much into things.

I'm like you also in that I feel a strong inner resistance towards the indiscriminate handing out of money to whoever asks for it. Like you said, that "burning suspicion." Half the drunk, too-stoned or too-high people that hit me up on Haight St. are younger than I am with working limbs and a mind at least coherent enough to think up some pretty savvy approaches. Why would we be down to fuel their habits when we've got our own? Some of these people are natural born entertainers that need to catch the first bus to Hollywood. Some of these people are marks that have jumped friends of mine. Some of them are dangerous criminals, straigt-up. OTOH, some of them are dejected girls from Ohio with dogs that look like they haven't eaten in weeks. That's why although I don't just give money out as a policy, every approach is different.

There are plenty of ways to help people without giving them money - for example food like you said, some smoke if they smoke, or even simple interaction or eye contact - and sometimes a little money is the best help a person can get.

Point was, I dug your post.

Stardust said...

Tommy, you are a good guy.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the creative kick in the ass.