Thursday morning I went to group guitar class. I was not feeling well and it looked like a winter day, so I bundled up. I put on my trousers (with four pockets,) a white shirt (with one,) a red vest (with two false pockets,) a blue jacket (with four pockets,) a grey coat, (four pockets) and a turquoise tie (ties don’t have pockets).
Guitar class is a place where I am ahead of the class (my continual consciousness of this aspect of life disgusts me). After class I decided to go up to the library and read a book. However, I made a bargain with myself: “You can only go to the library if first you go to the Financial Aid office and ask if your application for a consortium agreement between Clark college and PCC has been approved.” At Financial aid the boss lady called me into her office and told me that I had forgotten to give my signature on my application, but that even if I had, it was submitted too late. I was a little confused as to why she had called me into her office to tell me this at first, but then she went on to gently explain how I had made a hash of my academic career so far, that I was racking up credit hours in music classes that would not help me get an AA or transfer, and that after taking a certain number of credits I would not be able to get financial aid – like the grasshopper in the Aesop’s fable who plays the fiddle all summer and then is in need in the winter, I would not be able to get financial aid for the required credits: math, social science etc. She listed off some possible math classes; she shuddered as she mentioned trigonometry. ( They use a different type of math in figuring out Financial aid grants.) She advised me to seek advice in the Advising department. I already had my own plan to go to the library. “I’ll seek advice next week,” I thought to myself.
The Ant and the Grasshopper: Illustration by Milo Winter 1919. -Project Gutenberg
I went to the library. I did not need to ask a person for help here. I looked up my book on the library catalogue computer. Upstairs. It said my book was upstairs. I started to go upstairs. “Wait a minute, I should check the call number.” I went back to the computer. Armed with the slip of paper which I had written the call number on, I remounted the stairs. I hardly needed the call number’s help. I found it, and with a feeling somewhat akin to that which Columbus felt after having dead reckoned his way to Hispaniola, I sat down to enjoy the reward.
The book was E. B. White’s ‘One Man’s Meat’ and it was engaging and witty. While sitting there, occasionally chuckling (you can’t laugh aloud in the library,) over some turn of phrase used by the author, I noticed a girl. She was bent over two books on the desk in front of her – a big open book that looked like a textbook, and a notebook. She was carefully studying the text in the textbook, and she was carefully making notes in the notebook. My thoughts turned (naturally) to myself. She looked kind of like me. Not really, but she was tall and dark with dark eyebrows. I saw in her a version of what I should be. Someone who uses his time at school not just to do what what he does anyway at home for fun, but one who takes school as an opportunity to humble himself to carefully, and with discipline, learn from books and teachers. Hers was probably a trigonometry textbook.
I took two or three notes in my notebook of quotes from my book that had caught my attention.
As I walked back to my car, I hardly needed E.B. White’s encouragement to delight in the fair earth’s beauty. Snow was falling and the wind blew it around on the sidewalk in a way reminiscent of a flock of birds or swarm of bugs who suddenly go this way and that way. I walked down from the north end of campus, down past the music building, all the way down to my car at the south end of the parking lot. I was parked about as close to Oregon and home as could be. I put my guitar in the car. I put my briefcase with my heavy load of books in the car. Where were my keys? They usually dwelt in my briefcase, but I could not see them there. I quickly checked my pockets. Not there. My briefcase again. Alas, no! I got out of the car and crouched in the swirling snow bees. Not on the pavement under the car nor next to the car. I went over it all again. I looked in the ignition. I checked my four trouser pockets, my shirt pocket, my four jacket pockets, my four coat pockets and even my two false vest pockets.
At last I decided to retrace my steps to the library. I prayed nobody would steal my guitar and headed back across the campus with my eyes scanning the ground and my hands cycling through my 13 lucky pockets. I felt my brother’s cell phone in one of them, but what I needed was the key. I stopped in at the classroom where my guitar class had been, but no key did I see. I got to the library. Now came the hard part. I had to expose my incompetence to a library worker. I did not want it to be the Russian lady who had just helped me get a library card and had checked out my book. She had seemed happy to help me then, but I had better not test our friendship by seeking help the second time. I thought I had made a reasonably good impression – why spoil it.
I do not think that a beggar really wants to become an individual person to the people he begs from. He would rather get some change from one man one day and another the next. Who wants to fill the shoes of the despicable Mr. Wimpy, an inveterate beggar among his established circle of friends- over and over again telling Popeye ” I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”? I imagine this shyness is one reason social welfare programs are popular. There is some anonymity. You do not have to look your benefactor in the face every time you want some help, (just the occasional lecture down at the financial aid office). Another side of it is that oftentimes beggars have amazing stories of extraordinary calamities and outlandish unfortunate occurrences that have struck them like lightning from out of nowhere, and, though Roy Sullivan of the National parks service was struck by lightning 7 times, in general you will have better success telling 1,000,000 different people once about your one in million likelihood lighting strike than telling one person 1,000,000 times.
Once a couple came to the church where my dad is Pastor and told us all about how they had come out from Delaware because a friend said that he could get the husband some guitar students, but that really the rascal had just wanted to make a play for the wife. They eagerly shared detail upon detail of their background with us and said they needed help getting back to Delaware. Dad helped them materially, preached the good news of Jesus to them, and made it clear to them that what he was doing or saying was not dependent upon them convincing him that they were telling him the truth. Dad’s been on the road himself and has heard a lot of stories.
It was a little awkward for me, and maybe for them too, when, a couple of months later, the wife approached me while I was serving food at the Union Gospel Mission. They had never gone to Delaware. I had served them at the mission just a few days after they came to the church for help and, I think, a few other times in the intervening time. They never seemed to recognize me. The wife came up to me and asked if I knew a Pastor who could help them. I replied that yes, my Dad was pastor of Peninsula Baptist in North Portland and they knew where to find him because (as she continued to look puzzled) they had been there before. She seemed somewhat confused and went and talked to her man. A minute later she came back and clarified what had happened concerning the plans they had told us about; they had either gone back to Delaware or part way back, I can’t remember, when he had been called by some guitar students in Oregon who wanted him back. I felt like blushing. Not only was I embarrassed for the lie she was telling, I was insulted by the insinuation therein that I look really dumb. Dad had already told them that he helped them, not based on the truth of what they told him. Still, how do you say, “What I told you last time was mostly lies.” No, she felt she had to preserve that respectable front she had tried to build- “We are not common beggars who go from door to door.”