Two questionable characters were loitering in front on the grocery store bench. I did what all concealed handgun licensed carriers do. I slipped a small pistol in my pocket before going in.
About the time I was in front of the bench, one of the men said, “Hey brother! Why don’t you hire me?”
That’s not the first time I’ve heard that line, so I knew at some time or another he had worked or interviewed for a job with me. I looked at the man who spoke and said, “I’m sorry. I recognize your face, but your name is slipping me.”
He said, “Remember? I bruised my hand the first week I worked for y’all cause I put my hand where y’all said not to.”
That snapped my memory and I called the man by his first and last name. He was quite pleased to be remembered from 7 or 8 years ago.
He wasted no time chit chatting and got right to his point.
“Hey man, it’s like this. When you come out in a minute, can you spare a little to help out?”
I remember dropping off the former employee back then at the local Alcoholics’ Anonymous building several times after work. He was clean, then, and regularly attended meetings.
He was a very likeable guy, and overall, other than a bad lapse in judgment, he did a good job. He got back into trouble though and fell off the wagon. He never even called in to say he was quitting. He just quit coming to work, but later we found out why.
I asked if he was clean.
“Yeah. I’m clean, but I’m homeless.”
I asked him to come in the store with me. I was going to get lunch at the in-store deli and if he was legitimately hungry, he’d follow me in.
We sat down to a truly southern meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and greens. He gulped his Dr. Pepper first, then systematically ate both pieces of chicken on his plate.
He denied current drug or alcohol use, but I deeply suspect his sincerity. I asked why he quit so abruptly, even though I clearly remember. He ended up drunk in Beaumont, was arrested and spent a week in jail. He told me, however, that he just quit coming in.
I called his hand on it. He relented and then he told it the way I remembered. He only disputed the Beaumont part. Apparently, it was Port Arthur.
We visited more. He thanked me for giving him a job before, and since I do human resources work, was wondering about another chance now?
I answered directly. “I don’t give jobs. I hire employees. I don’t give opportunities. I only open the door and let people make the best of what they want to do. You chose to close an open door to you. I can’t go back and hire you again, but there will be someone else who will.”
He chewed on a bite of chicken for a minute without looking at me, like the words were registering deep inside.
He eventually looked up and asked if I was hiring him to work for the meal. I laughed and told him the meal was a gift to an old friend. He smiled, said “Thank you”, and took another bite of chicken.
We talked a little more and I told him I had to get back to work. I wished him the very best and told him he ought to go see if his old A.A. sponsor was still around. For the first time, he looked me squarely in the eyes. The corner of his eyes turned up to match the grin on his face and he said he may just do that.
We shook hands and he returned to the bench in front of the store while I hurried back to work.
This man is hungry, not so much for food, but purpose. He hungers for meaning and significance in his life. He hungers for self-confidence, self-reliance and self-respect.
He was a good worker and full of potential during his short employment, but unfortunately, he battles a liquid demon. More than once in his life he’s spit steak out of his mouth in exchange for swallows of cheap booze. Those swallows never work out.
I don’t know where the bottom of his pit is, but if life is gracious to him, he will wake up in the bottom of the pit soon. Then, and really only then, can he start to claw his way back up to take advantage of open doors.
Best wishes to you, sir. I truly hope you hit rock bottom, and soon, for your own good.