He weighs nearly 500 pounds and is wearing house shoes, sweat pants, a black pullover, and a fedora that’s seen better days. This self-proclaimed panhandler had a small cardboard sign that read, “JUST ASKING FOR GROCERIES”.
The sidewalk was busy at 6pm Friday night, especially at the corner by the light. The funny thing is that even with the hustle and bustle, we spotted each other from 1/2 a block away. He had a good (nearly toothless) grin and a five o’clock shadow.
“Hey buddy, how’s it going?” Probably a dumb question for a middle-aged hobo. “I’m doing great–just asking for money for some bread and milk.” So, off we went to Harmon’s Market, which was “just a couple of blocks away”. After crossing a few streets and several blocks later, I learned that his name was Roger Mysiano, he’s Italian (go figure with that last name!), originally from Massachusetts, spent 15 years as a cab driver in San Francisco (drove Meatloaf around once “the cheap bum wouldn’t give me a ticket!”), has been a dishwasher, worked in a prep kitchen, has an ex-wife and an adopted daughter (lost contact with both of them), and speaks to his brother every Tuesday morning.
I studied the faces and body language of passersby, both on the sidewalk and in the market, as we rolled and strolled and talked like old friends. did I mention Roger was in a wheelchair? “That’s what 15 years in a taxi will give ya.”
When we made it to Aisle One (the bread aisle), we scoured the shelves of bread, and suddenly he spotted the 9-grain bread that we have often in the Austin home. “That’s the best bread I’ve ever had! My friend Lorraine once made me a sandwich with mayo, tomatoes, and a pinch of salt. One of the best sandwiches I ever had! Is $4.69 too much for ya?” Four dollars and sixty-nine cents: that’s 1/2 the price of the glass of wine I’m having as I write this. “No, Roger, I’m thrilled to get it.” We got two. He was so humble, thankful, and surprised.
After we purchased the milk, a cup of coffee, and paid, we headed out the door. “You know what’s funny?” Roger asked. “I had just asked God if he would send someone soon, so I could go home early today.” You should have seen his face when I told him that I was trying to take a nap at the Hilton, was restless, and God told me, “Go take a homeless man to dinner.” He laughed loudly, exclaiming, “You actually thought that in your mind?!” And I replied, “No, Roger, God told me to get up.” He was ecstatic about the groceries, and after telling me all the local food joints, he was preparing to catch the bus and head back to his “neighborhood”. He was completely unassuming, when he realized that I was wanting to treat him to dinner.
Half an hour later, we made it to the Chinese buffet and he was telling me just how much I was “gonna love this place”. We barely made it through the door when the Asian hostess said, “We have no room.” I think I was just as hurt as Roger, and certainly more appalled. The sad thing is that this is what he has come to expect. “How long is the wait?” And she replied, “Very long. No room. He too fat.” He lowered his head a bit, turned toward me and said, “Fish and chips?” Yes, Roger, fish and chips.
We met three other homeless folks on the train to the restaurant and as they made small talk, Roger introduced the group to, “my friend Steve–he’s from Alabama.” My friend. Yep. We’re friends. I listened to Steve (how ironic) tell me how they had stuff thrown at them all day, been yelled and cursed at, “and do you know the only people who ever help us? POOR PEOPLE!”
Steve quoted Scripture and told me that “Rich people never help. They just drive by in their BMW’s, roll up their windows, and make terrible faces at us.” He reminded us of the story in the Good Book, where it talks about rich people, Heaven, and the Eye of the Needle. “Really tough for rich people to get there.”
Once Roger and I made it to our long-awaited fish and chips, we got settled in, and he began his John Pinette impersonation. Obviously, they favor in size and accent, but his deliver was spot-on. I laughed for the next ninety minutes.
As our time came to a close, I thanked my friend for wonderful food and great company, shook his hand for the second time, and gave him my address and phone number (as requested). I will be looking for my Portuguese sweet bread in the mail from Roger’s brother in Massachusetts.
I walked around in a daze, teary-eyed and full of gratitude. I stopped on a particularly dark portion of the sidewalk, under a tree, looked up at the sky, and said, “Thank You.” As if my perfect night wasn’t enough, Abba bent down and softly spoke into my ear, “I took care of Roger because I love him, and I will always take care of you, too.”
Thank you, Roger, for showing me a very raw and beautiful side of poverty. May I never feel secure in my stuff again.
“What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” Matthew 10:29-31
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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