I once passed out, drunk, resting my head on the curb outside a gas station. I was kicked awake by a Sheriff’s deputy. He sent me home after I explained that I was just waiting for the store to open so I could buy a pack of cigarettes.
He could have bundled me into the back of his cruiser and I would have spent the night in jail.
Or there was the time I took a shortcut to my parked car through a massive road construction site in Philly, after drinking all night around South Street. I sank in the mud to my waist. It was an early winter night. I was wearing a suit and an overcoat and it took me an hour to escape. All I was missing was a shoe.
Or the time I hit the side of the George Washington Bridge and blew out a tire. Or the inexplicable bruises on my neck and body after a fuzzy night in Chicago.
Or the time I awoke naked on my on my cabin sole, not remembering falling off the launch the night before. My jeans, shirt, and underwear, were outside, dangling from the boom as if hanging to dry.
Somehow, I survived and stayed employed. But I know, at any point, my coin could have turned up tails and my life would have looked entirely different. And I am also sure my coin was always weighted in favor of heads.
Walking through Penn Station in New York recently, a barefoot man flipped a balled pair of socks ahead of him, alternately kicking with each foot and tossing it forward with the tip of his cane. Even at 10 feet, the blanket over his shoulders boasted urine and feces and liquor.
I rushed past him minutes before my train left for Baltimore. The man mumbled and shouted incoherently. Those rushing from one rail system to the next turned away their eyes and wrinkled their noses. I did too.
This was a man kicked to the curb many years ago. Who could know what happened to him, but I suspect his coin was always weighted in favor of tails.
I have known many drunks and addicts, myself included. People who have managed great success despite shaking hands; folks who are protected by a weighted coin. How close have we been to those smelly, grumbling men and women we walk past every day?
So I try not judge. I usually will give them a buck, maybe five. Sometimes, we’ll exchange a few words. Sometimes not even a glance. Sure, it will probably go to booze or worse. But maybe it will inch them closer to a meal or shelter. And maybe it also will weigh their coin slightly away from tails.
For me, those maybes add up to more than the probablies and probably would even if there were no maybes. And that’s plenty enough for me.