There is a man who comes to my door asking for work on a regular basis. He’s about 29, strong, intelligent – and manipulative. He reminds me of my friend Jerry.
Jerry and I bonded in our youth over drugs, rock music, and literature, and we stayed in touch through the years. One Christmas when I called him, his wife said he didn’t live there any longer. She gave me his new phone number.
Jerry was in a halfway house. “They’re going to send me to prison if I can’t raise $2300,” he explained. “I’m a junkie.”
I wired him the money the next day.
A compassionate synagogue had hired him to teach the Talmud, but his best friends were still his dealers. Another call came in from Jerry: he needed $600, fast.
“Jerry,” I said, “your working me.”
“Oh. OK,” he said. And the phone went dead.
That was two years ago. I still feel guilty.
Now this fellow comes to my door. I can tell he is “working” our middle-class neighborhood. The first time he knocked, I got his story: he was waiting for low-cost housing and sleeping in his car. He just needed to make it through one more week. That was a year ago.
One time I agreed to let him rake my leaves and, feeling generous, overpaid him by $20. Then I discovered he had piled the leaves in with the recycling, and it took me an hour to sort the mess out. Lately he’s started ringing my doorbell at night, and when I answer, he’s lying prostrate on the porch, asking for food and money.
I’m not the only one whose door bell he rings.
“When I offered him a bagel with cream cheese,” one neighbor said, “he told me he would prefer a meat sandwich. And then he borrowed – and lost – our lawnmower.”
I’ve been taught you should give without questioning, never expecting anything in return, but I’ve started to ignore my doorbell. I’ve missed two friends’ visits and a UPS delivery already.
Why do I feel guilty?
(Originally published in The Sun Magazine)
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