I’ve got the day off from tutoring, so I spent the morning and afternoon writing, and after working at my desk from about 7 to 11 I walked a few blocks to my local Taco Bell where they no longer take orders at the counter, but at two touch-screen kiosks (it’s billed as a quarantine precaution, but I’m sure those screens are filthy, and the restaurant must be saving a few hundred dollars a week by shaving cashiers off the schedule), and when I walked in today, pointedly unsocial under my headphones and facemask and sunglasses, I started tapping in my order at one of the screens (gently, with a knuckle) as a dude in an undersized checkered shirt and dirty khakis, who appeared to be waiting for his order, started looking at me.
He raised a hand as if to say something, then lowered it and looked away.
Then he looked back, opened his mouth—but then closed it and looked away again.
Eventually he spoke.
I took off my headphones.
He rose from the counter and held his palms out as if to show that he was unarmed and said, “I’m not gonna ask for money I just wanna know if you can get me a taco sir please sir I haven’t eaten all day.”
I nodded and added a taco to my order and the restaurant was understaffed so while I stood there up front, waiting for my order, the guy went outside, stood in the parking lot, and approached the window of every car that pulled into the drive-thru and made what I imagine to be the same pitch he just made to me.
“I’m not gonna ask for money…”
And I huffed at the sight and thought, How many tacos does this guy want?
And then, ridiculously, I felt a little twist of…frustration. Insult? I guess it seemed a little ungrateful at the moment—but what would I have preferred? That he grovel with thanks? That he hang out and make conversation with me until the tacos were done? Would I have felt better if he stood quietly at the door, with his hands folded like a scorned choirboy, waiting for me to sally forth and bestow upon him this two-dollar treasure?
This reflex toward insult was so dumb. What do I care if he scores ten tacos before noon—and then hangs out for more? Nobody in this guy’s situation, begging strangers for tacos at 11 a.m., should have his motives scrutinized.
And maybe I shouldn’t be so thirsty for insult.
When the food was ready I was well into the process of chewing myself out for the frustration and so I took his taco outta the bag and I went outside to where he was hitting people up in the parking lot and I handed him his taco without eye contact, and he murmured his thanks like it was some kinda lowkey drug deal, and then I walked off wondering, Is it better to not make a fuss of giving it to him? To not make much eye contact and maybe spare his pride a little? Or is that a greater ding to his pride if I’m not looking at him? Cuz I have to imagine pride is a factor–why else would he have started to speak up to me two or three times before actually working up the nerve to do it?
I’m making this more complicated than it needs to be.