Shelby Lynne--"Life Is Bad" (mp3)
In the summer, especially, I don't like to stop here most evenings because there is usually someone who needs bus money, who is trying to get to see his sister in an Atlanta hospital, and any other number of stories that sound perfectly reasonable until the next time I buy gas here and hear the same story again. Sometimes when I need gas and would like to stop there, I'll say angrily to myself, "Why can't I just buy some gas and not be hustled?"
"Yes," I said flatly.
"It's a long walk from here, I'll tell you that," he said. "Do you think you could help me out? I swear to you I'm not a bum. I'm a welder. I been welding all day in the heat and now this happens." He looked like a welder to me.
I reached into my pockets, but I only had a dollar bill. "Let's go inside," I said. I have another mindset, and it's the one that usually kicks in when I'm leaving a tip. It's the "Hey, the world has gotten pretty tough and I'm not doing too badly so I'll leave you a little more" frame of mind, and it kicked in now.
But it's been a rough month and even though payday was a good two weeks away, I figured I'd give him ten bucks. I tried to withdraw $10, while he stood off to the side, telling me about the day he'd had. I told him we occasionally had students from Jasper, but how hard it was because of the different time zones. The ATM dispensed bills in increments of $20 dollars. So I went for $20. Plus, $2.25 in convenience fees. I figured I'd get change at the counter.
"Can you do it for ten dollars?" I asked.
"Aw, the gas can alone is going to cost me seven."
At that moment, something shifted in me, and I felt had. I handed him the twenty, switching into the mode of just wanting to leave.
"Are you sure?" he asked. "Can you do it?" It was the first time I'd been hit up for money since gas went so high, and I realized that, if true, he was was right that the $20 wouldn't go too far.
I walked out to my car. After starting the car and pulling forward, I had it in my head to take a left out of the lot and circle back so that I could see whether or not he was really buying a gas can. One time, this guy was hitting up my wife and daughter for food money at the Walgreen's just as I was coming back from Little Caesars with a pizza, and when my wife told me what was going on, I immediately gave him the pizza, thinking we'd just get another one, but when we were driving home, we saw that he'd just as immediately thrown the pizza away; it wasn't why he wanted the money.
So I looked both ways to see if I could turn, but then I took a right, not quite sure if I was putting my faith in humanity or if I just didn't want to know.
"Chin Up, Cheer Up" is from Ryan Adam's underappreciated solo album, Demolition. "Life is Bad" is from Shelby Lynne's breakthrough CD, I Am Shelby Lynne. Both are available at Itunes.