22 Seconds

thHe sits underneath the traffic light at 76 and Capitol (Milwaukee) on my drive home.  He’s been there six or seven times over the past two years.  The cardboard sign he holds says, “Homeless, will work” or something like that, I don’t remember.  The same spot as he squats in front of the 22 second red traffic light.  (Squatters rights?)

He looks at me as I look at him but then I look away but I see he’s between 18-22 years old and I wonder what his story is.  Is he truly homeless or a millionaire seeking to past the time or a college student writing a paper on “real life”?  People must respond to his sad sitting posture or why would he continue to return?  But it’s not everyday or week so someone must be assisting him.  (I’m sure colder weather brings better results.  He’s praying for a cold front and I’m praying for a miraculous Wisconsin heat wave.)

Would throwing $20.00 out my car window help him?  (I’d need a receipt.)  Calling the police would mean my really getting involved and who’s to say he’d stay for interrogation and interview, or me for that matter.  (I watch TV, I know how this is done with the one way window and the good/bad cop routine.)  It’s a sad look he gives me as I pretend not to see it but I do see it clearly.  “He could add a few pounds,” I think to myself as I light a cigarette pretending not seeing him.

Thankfully the red traffic light is only 22 seconds so my life has only been interrupted by less than 30 seconds.  22 of them.  22 of wondering if Obama is the culprit.  He lowered gas prices, why can’t he get this kid away from this traffic light and into some warmth?  Awful president.

“Ohhhhhh, that’s it, he’s a free loader who does this for a living!”  While in the sixth grade he dreamed this up and decided it would be a life’s career.  He’d beg with a cardboard sign whose message I can’t recall but one that clearly seeks shelter, help, job or two Packer tickets (50 yard line) for next season’s games.  I truly cannot remember what his cardboard message read.

“He’ll drink the money I give him,” I conclude during the red light’s 22 which seems longer than waiting for paint to dry. “Or, gamble” is my other choice when I’m considering scenarios wonderfully seated in a comfortably heated car and in 22 of those seconds have weighed/judged/evaluated someone.  Since I’ve seen him more than once I have the added advantage of heaping even more judgments upon my red-traffic-light-cold-sitting friend.

I could take him home with me which years ago would have been welcomed by a priest but now with the priest abuse policies I can barely have my 72 year old sister with me alone without her suing me for brushing her shoulder.  (“The policy is to protect the individual,” we are told when we all know it’s too protect the institution.)

“Lazy, that’s it,” I conclude after 19 of my 22 second passes.   “He must be a student who couldn’t cut it and now he comes here to bother my 22 second wait.”  Monies dried up?  Parents said, “No more!”  “Girlfriend rejection.”  (You’d be surprised how much thinking can go on in 22 seconds.)

If you want two evil words these days, just thing “government programs.”  We’ve grown or been inducted to reject and despise those two words most often because we don’t benefit from them and we know few, if any, who do?  So why have them?

Just think.  My $20.00 thrown out of my warm window to salve my 22 second guilt or a system to aid and assist someone with a cardboard sign I can’t remember because I don’t know him.

But there he is couched down in front of my traffic light at 76th and Capitol in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on cold winter night.  He did not ask me for anything.  He looked at me and I looked back.  I had 22 seconds to read his cardboard sign but I don’t remember what it said but I think it was something about helping him.

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About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). www.Salvatorians.com. He is associate pastor of partnering parishes, Christ King and St. Bernard parishes in Wauwatosa, WI.
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