The Scam

Yesterday I was walking to Whole Foods, and a lady stopped me on the street. I almost didn't stop, she had a slightly disheveled Upper West Side mom look to her and was carrying three tote bags; but I figured she was probably just asking for directions.

I stopped, and she looked at me and said, "Can you help me buy some food?". Shouldn't have stopped, I thought to myself. My reaction was oddly the same as when an old man asked for my phone number on the subway late one night, "I'm sorry, no". You can be blunt with strangers, right? This is New York City. People do that. Her face transformed. She was a toddler, and I had just taken her pacifier away. Rage eyes. I turned around and headed straight towards the grocery store, and she let me have it.

"NO!?" "YOU THINK YOU'RE BETTER THAN ME??!" "DON'T WALK AWAY, COME BACK HERE!" She yelled until I turned the corner into the store. Bat shit crazy. It reminded me of that one time in college when I was with my pledge sisters walking back from an event and a crazy homeless woman looked at me, screamed, and proceeded to chase me down the street for three blocks.

I picked up a grocery basket and started browsing through the produce section. Her voice kept echoing in my mind.  I'm justified for not buying this woman food because this is New York City, and you can't trust anyone, right?

I tried to put myself in her shoes by imagining myself in the same exact scenario, with sanity. First of all, there is no way I'd ever need three tote bags, so that's strike one for her. Second of all, if in this case my phone was dead and I was desperately hungry, I would go to an Urban Outfitters and charge my phone. Strike two. And if I was legitimately poor, hungry, and homeless and I had to beg but was still sane, I wouldn't scream at someone on the street for refusing to help. Strike three. That bitch was cray.

Is this what white guilt feels like? No. She was white. I walked past the cereal aisle and picked up a box of quinoa. Maybe this is upper-middle class guilt. I put the box of quinoa back. I thought about getting a new water bottle because I dropped my aluminum one on my foot earlier and it really hurt. Why are those glass ones twenty dollars?

Waiting in line to pay for my food, I debated buying organic gummy bears, but decided against it. I glanced behind me, and low and behold there she was. She was standing there holding a box of salad bar food having a completely normal conversation with this middle aged lady. I snapped my head back towards the front, hoping she wouldn't see me. When I got to the cash register, I looked back again and knew it was her cause she had three tote bags. This lady was buying her food.

I was worried she'd see me and start yelling, so I bolted out of there as quickly as possible. In retrospect, even if she had seen me, she wouldn't have yelled cause I would've blown her cover.

The whole walk home, I convinced myself that she was crazy and I was not a bad person for refusing to buy her food and that poor lady was being scammed and would get a call the next morning from Bank of America saying that her debit card was compromised. And then I looked at my receipt and saw that the almond butter I bought was $12. I really need to start looking at prices in the grocery store.

TWELVE dollars, guys.

This past weekend I saw a homeless man begging on the side of the street on my walk home. A girl stopped on the street and handed him a bag of food. "What is it?" he said. "A sandwich." "Got any meat in it?" "Um, yeah." She was trapped now. "Wanna give me a few bucks so I can take the train home?"

See? You can't trust anybody. And now I don't trust Whole Foods anymore. That $12 almond butter better last me six months, cause I'm not buying that again.