Regular readers here know that my local 7-11 (on Quaker Lane in Alexandria, Va.) has been the site of multiple ethics dramas and lessons. Another occurred yesterday.
For about a year now, a middle-aged man and a middle-aged woman have routinely sat outside the store, trying to make eye-contact with customers and persuade them into handing over money, cigarettes, or to buy them something inside. (The two are never there at the same time: maybe they have a schedule.) We think, but it is just speculation, that they are residents of a local half-way house that is a few blocks away. Yesterday, it was the woman’s turn. She knows both me and my wife, especially Grace, who has often replied positively to her entreaties over the last 12 months, as have I, though less often. Yesterday we were in a rush, and entered the store without interacting with her. She followed my wife into the 7-11, knew I was behind her, and let the door close right in my face, nearly knocking me flat. Later she managed to beg four cigarettes off my wife.
I know. The woman is probably mentally ill. She was dealt a poor hand of whist, to use Clarence Darrow’s favorite analogy for life. Nevertheless, she is very aware that we have been kind and generous to her. I don’t ask much or expect much, but I do not like being treated as a mark or a chump. I have held the door open for her at that 7-11; I always acknowledged her existence: she received the same respect and civility that everyone does whom I encounter at that neighborhood establishment. The least she could do is hold the door open and not let it swing shut just as I am trying to enter. The message her actions conveyed was that if I am a not submitting to her charity extortion, I’m a non-person, as far as she is concerned.
Got it. She can now look elsewhere for her free hot dogs, cigarettes, and ten dollar bills. I know she doesn’t regard me as a neighbor, or a benefactor, or an ally, but as a gullible, inexhaustible resource to be taken advantage of.
The hell with that.
I’ll still hold the door open for her, however, like I do for everyone else.