The Barometer was leaving a church meeting when a bearded, hard-looking, rail-thin, snaggle-toothed man approached on a bicycle.Â HeÂ dismounted his bike so quickly that he had to run with itÂ until he eventually brought it to a halt.Â He said, “I’m a Vet, I need $17 to make my rent.Â I’ve got $12.32, so all I need is $4.64.”Â The Barometer is a whiz with mental math, owing largely to years of homework with children who are addicted to calculators and can’t estimate worth a dime (or so). With that kind of figuring small wonder he’s short on rent.Â The Barometer inquired, “Have you been to the VA Center?”Â Said he, “I don’t even have enough money for gas.”Â Wow — very agile withÂ an explanation even if the math skills are lacking.Â The Barometer pulled out a $5.00 bill, handed it to the Vet,Â and said, “Keep the change.”Â The Vet, clothedÂ in theÂ high-waisted, narrow Levi’s of another era said, “How can I get this back to you?”Â The Barometer was tempted: Go ahead!Â Give thisÂ VetÂ your businessÂ card from Arizona State University.Â A cooler head prevailed.Â Nay,the poor staff members at the University would then carry the lion’s share of the workÂ in dealing withÂ the Vet and his new math as he worked to reimburse me.Â The Barometer pictured the Vet playing some kind of “Paper Moon” con game with the staff usingÂ fives and tens and making changeÂ using the department counter for the fast-paced confusion his change con would create. The Barometer said, “No need.”Â The Vet said, “God bless you, Ma’am.” Still the military touch.
The Barometer’s family believes the $4.64 or so went to meth, not rent.Â The Barometer recalls the streets of Nashville where homeless beggars abound.Â There,Â the city uses ubiquitous signs to warn you not to give to beggars.Â The signs instructÂ you to put anyÂ noblesse obligeÂ that overpowers you whilst visiting there in special boxes designated for the tender-hearted who cannot stand idly by as the homeless beg.Â The city says it will use your funds to help solve the Nashville homeless problem.Â Â In Mesa, Arizona, the local paper reported that a freeway ramp beggar made $60,000 one year, and that he only winters here.Â When Arizona heats to London Broil, he goes north and does equally well in the seasonal cities and towns.Â Not bad unemployment if you can get a good ramp.Â His ramp is available for the poor dim-witted soul allowed the newspaper to snap his picture for the article.Â Cars on the ramp began aiming for him.
This feeling of being torn between, “Am IÂ fueling a drug habit?” orÂ “Am IÂ just helping a math-challenged Vet?” is powerful.Â “Am I being duped?” or “Is this guy really willing to do odd jobs (with odd being the operative word)?”Â But, even if the Barometer’s donation went to the drink or some other vice, it is irrelevant.Â Some have entertained angels unaware. The sin is on the Vet’s head if he indeed has abused the trust of those who care about strangers on bicycles.Â Â Besides, whatÂ punishment is there for being gullible?Â This trait is a negative only when the Madoffs and Stanfords of the world come calling and do indeed fleece you.Â They have their math down to a science; they know exactly how much they want to take you for.Â Â And they are easy to spot:Â No Levi’s, cashmere socks, and matching sweaters.Â The world can turn youÂ into a cynic,Â but pity theÂ heart so hardenedÂ thatÂ it cannot beÂ tickled by a weather-worn man who offers a great story and several alibis for the rock-bott.0om price ofÂ $5.Â Even if you are duped, this is great theater.