L. Neil Smith's

Number 27, May 1, 1997

Poverty Free

By Don L. Tiggre

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         I was starting on my way home a little later than usual tonight -- our database guru who said (last autumn) that he could whip up our new database in a couple weeks finally came around to attempt to install the damned thing, only giving up at around 8 p.m.
         As I pulled out of the parking lot into the back alley that would get me past a light that is usually red, I noticed that my windshield-wipers hadn't done much to get rid of the bug splats on the glass. I pulled over to the side of the alley, where construction workers on some new project had scraped away all the vegetation and seem to be spending a few weeks moving piles of dirt from place to place with their bulldozers. I had some paper towels with me (because I had just washed my hands before leaving the office), so I got out and held the wad in front of the wiper fluid nozzle while reaching into the car to press the wiper fluid button.
         As I was finishing with and getting ready to get back into the car, I noticed a man angling across the alley towards me. He had a plastic shopping bag with some newspapers and a brand new -- but rather small -- bottle of Windex, which he held up to show me and said, "I wash windows, would you like me to wash your windshield?"
         Perhaps because I used to live around Washington DC, the first thing that came into my mind was that this could be a ploy to find out if I had any money on me, to see if it'd be worth trying to rob me. The man's clothes were grimy and worn, yet not encrusted with decaying food or the like. I could smell him. It was not alcohol I smelled, nor even sweat; he smelled of dirt. Earth, I mean, as though he'd slept in the dust under an overpass.
         I smiled and told the man that I didn't have any cash on me (which was true, as far as my person was concerned). He said something to the effect of it being okay and turned to leave. Somewhat bemused by the appearance of a window-washer at just the moment I tried to wash my windshield, I called after him, "do you really just walk around washing windows?"
         "It's better than begging," was his reply. He kept on walking, back out of the alley and left down State Street.
         I got in my car, which I'd left running, and turned right onto State Street. I needed to go by the Murray post office. Even though the sun had set, there was enough turquoise above and fire over the mountains to the west that I could see the man shuffling away down the street behind me.
         The image wouldn't go away.
         As I drove along, looking at the bug-splats that persisted on my windshield despite my recent efforts, I kept on wondering why I had refused the man's offer to perform a service which I obviously needed. Would it have hurt me to part with a few coins? The fellow obviously needed every penny he could get... And he wasn't asking for me to give him anything! As desperate as he was, he was offering to exchange value for value, not even trying to twist my arm emotionally when I refused -- a far more honorable offer than what the bloated rabble of highwaymen in Washington offer me.
         Believing as I do that charity extracted at gun-point by the state is not charity, but robbery, it has always been important to me to extend a helping hand to the unfortunate whenever I can. I refuse to allow the state to take from me the pleasure of helping people, even though I am less well equipped to do so after Big Brother is done plundering me. I was particularly keenly aware of this tonight, as yesterday was Tax Day. Besides, being a political activist, I like to show -- by example, since logic alone never suffices -- that people will help out the destitute without being forced to do so by the Nagging Nanny State.
         So why had I passed up this opportunity to practice what I preach?
         I no longer thought about attempted robbery. I felt that I should have rewarded the man for at least trying to be enterprising instead of mooching... It certainly would have been easy enough to do!
         I dropped off the mail and turned to head back down State Street, looking for the man, hoping he had not turned aside onto another street.
         I found him about a quarter mile from where I'd seen him last and pulled a u-ie so that I ended up parallel to the traffic, on the sidewalk where there was a closed entrance to a car dealership. As he approached, I waved and he came around to my window.
         "I found some money," I told him, "would you still like to do my windows?"
         "Sure," he said, and set to work on my windshield.
         He lifted the wiper on my side, sprayed Windex generously but precisely on the half of the glass in front of me, and went to it vigorously with a wadded up piece of newspaper.
         I wanted to help the man, but not insult his industriousness, so I suggested to him, "hey, if you like this kind of work, have you thought of going to the car wash down the street and getting a job there?"
         His skin was very brown and his hands seemed ancient and weathered, like gnarled driftwood that has been worn by a very long time at sea. His face was blotchy, as though he has some kind of skin infection... or as though he had been beaten recently.
         His efforts removed all signs of the vain kamikaze deaths of Rocky Mountain insects from the glass before me. He sprayed the same precise area again and set to making double sure that no invertebrate's demise would get between me and a clear view of the road home tonight.
         "I won't work for nobody else," he continued. His voice had a slight accent, a bit like the Indian narrator in Legends Of The Fall, which fit with his long, wavy, black hair.
         "If you could do anything you wanted," I asked, "what would that be?"
         "Die." He scrubbed harder. "Die and go to heaven where I could be happy."
         I didn't know what to say.
         "I'm a licensed plumber, you know." He lowered my wiper and switched to the other side of the windshield. I rolled down the front passenger-side window. "But I'd do a great job, costing out the supplies and buying the materials, and you know, I'd only get 30% of the money I made -- the guy behind the desk, he'd take 70%. People don't treat each other well down here."
         Methodically, precisely, he finished the second half of the windshield and motioned me to roll up the passenger-side window. Buttons at my fingertips, I complied. He attacked the dried salt on this window with the same energy as he had the insect remains before, using the same precision and care. Then he started on the next window back.
         How could I help him if he wasn't interested in getting a job? What advice could I offer him?
         I thought about this furiously, as he began on the hatch-back window. With part of my mind, I wondered if the police might come along and harass me for parking where I was, or worse, harass the man for street vending without a license... And wouldn't you know it, just then a cop on the other side of the street pulled some unfortunate driver over -- no doubt for the heinous crime of doing 45 in a 40 on an almost deserted road.
         When he started on the rear windows on my side, I told him about a friend of mine who started cleaning houses for friends and how those folks told others and pretty soon she had her own cleaning business, making many thousands of dollar per year. I suggested that he might try such an approach and that way not have to work for anyone else.
         "That money don't impress me." He scratched at something with a finger-nail. "I don't need much. If I made that much money, I'd have to give it all away."
         "Yeah, well, it was her making her own business and being her own boss that impressed me," I answered.
         "That is good," he agreed. Then he stopped and looked at me. "You know what the problem with our society is?"
         "What do you think the problem with our society is?"
         "It's too many people living lives of lies. I can see it when they talk to me. I can tell that they aren't telling me the truth. They're too busy trying to pretend to be something they're not. They don't have time to be good to each other."
         "Have you considered that they might be afraid?"
         "Oh yeah. They lie because they're afraid and then they're afraid that someone will see through their lies. It don't work. I'm a simple man. I don't need to tell no lies."
         He motioned me to roll up my window.
         As he sprayed the glass beside me, I tried and tried to think of some way to help him. Was this today's Thoreau? Was this what a man would look like if he decided not to participate in the fraud and coercion so prominent in our culture? How could I help him if he not only didn't want a job, but didn't want to make much money? If his way of life was fine with him, I certainly wasn't going to tell him he should be striving for a Lexus, a Mercedes, and a house with a two car garage... In his poverty, he might be living freer than I am! But surely he could use some certainty in his life about where his next meal was coming from?
         He finished my window and started on my mirror.
         I rolled the window down and was going to say something, but he went around to the other side to get the other mirror.
         Finally, I had an idea. I fished out one of my business cards and wrote on the back 'Call On Tuesdays.' When he was done, he came around and I gave him a dollar bill and all the change I could find in the glove compartment, along with my card. "If you're going to be in the neighborhood," I told him, "why don't you call next week and see if I need my windows cleaned again?"
         "Sure," he smiled, "and if you have time, I can get 'em on the inside too."
         Then he waved and went about picking up all the wadded up newspapers he had used. As I backed onto the street and turned off my emergency flashers, I saw that he made sure to tidy up completely, carrying the trash away with him in his plastic bag.
         All the way home, I had this incredible mixture of feelings. What a strange man! I felt glad that I had gone back to look for him, even though he had taken about a half an hour to do my windows and it was going to be ten o'clock before I got home... But I also felt sad, deeply sad.
         Somehow he reminded me of all the misery in the world. It wasn't his poverty than made me sad, but that of other people. The man's willingness to work and earn a simple life -- so simple that he could support it by wandering around the streets with a bottle of Windex and some old newspapers -- contrasted so starkly with all the millions who wish someone would "give" them a job, or worse, who await a hand-out extracted from others by force.
         I doubt the man -- I never learned his name! -- will come by next week. I think he'll have wandered on by then. But I don't doubt that I just met about the most 'Noble Savage' I am ever likely to come across!

Don L. Tiggre is a grant-writer and a would-be author of fiction. He lives with his three sons, who teach him daily lessons in effective ways to resist tyranny. Having just barely survived 16 years of 'education', Mr. Tiggre is doing his best to study the human animal in it's natural habitats.

Imagine a government bent on sharing its sensitive, caring, environmentally friendly ways with an entire universe. Then imagine the army it needs. CLD - Collective Landing Detachment. Dark military SF. By Victor Milan. From AvoNova.

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