When I was ten years old, I took a twenty dollar bill out of my wallet and followed my mom to the bank to change it to twenty ones. We were going to Las Vegas, and for once in my life I was going to be prepared for the homeless half-humans who speckled the streets. I was going to be a Good Person.
In Vegas, my grandparents dragged me from restaurant to museum to store in vain attempt to keep me from noticing the fact that my parents, meanwhile, were gambling. My feet felt like we had walked from one side of Nevada to the other, and beggars lined our path. To each one I gave a dollar, a crisp, shiny dollar, and I could just feel the impressed stares of passers by. A whole dollar for each, and I was only ten! My grandma held my shoulders and looked distrustfully at each one of them, so I knew how dangerous it was. I was stepping hand outstretched into the heart of peril, and a whole street of drunks and tourists were my witnesses.
I sometimes gave two dollars instead of one to those of them who looked nice and neat, who did something interesting like play the violin or do handstands. I withheld my immense generosity from the ones who were passed out, with cardboard signs that said "i just need a beer". Even to charity like my own, there were limits. Now, I still don't know what I should have done with them. If I wasn't ten, would I have taken each filthy hand and lead each stumbling path to a shelter or something, paid their stay in a hotel like good Samaritan? I'm not sure, but I'm not ten now and have yet to do such a thing.
There was one homeless woman I saw who had a cat in her lap, and I had to wake her up to put the dollar in her hand. The cat was skinnier than she was, another mouth she couldn't feed. But I could understand, I could understand even then, that it was immensely important that another heart should beat against your own every now and then. How hungry would she have to get to turn the cat away? I think she would have rather starved.
I gave out exactly nine dollars when I was ten years old, to a total of six homeless people in Vegas who are maybe dead by now. As I walked down that row I could see the praise I would get, I could see myself becoming a Good Person, but I suddenly didn't care. Was there someone in the world who had more money than me? Definitely. Enough to make sure that every person on this street had somewhere to sleep that night? Probably. Then why? Why in the world were they still there? Why didn't someone do something about it? I had my twenty dollars with me, ready to give money to anyone I saw who needed it on that street. But I gave out nine, because at the end of that street was the M&M store, and it was immensely imporatant that I should have a green M&M key chain with my name on it. And I firmly believe that that is why they're still there.