I've loved McSweeneys publications (home of The Believer and McSweeney's Quarterley) for a while. One of their new site additions is the publication of open letters: funny, poignant, sad, sweet, and some just downright weird. Here's one I particularly liked this morning:
Dear Homeless Man Who Witnessed Me Totally Lose It Last Week,
When I ignored you and kept walking down 10th street, it was inconsiderate. When I told you to fuck off after you pressed me for change, it was rude. When you followed me into the crosswalk and I took the seventy-odd cents from my pocket, threw it into the intersection, then told you to go after it, I was being... Christ, I don't think there are words for how heartless that was. I'm so sorry. You saw me at my worst. The look on your leathery face haunted me for days. If I could do it over again I would've put the change in your hand. Shit, I'd buy you lunch, too.
You probably noticed I was wearing a suit and figured I had money to spare. That was a ruse—I never wear suits, and that day I was only wearing one to impress people at a networking event I'd just left. I went in hopes of finding a job, but the event ended up being a crowded hotel ballroom full of tacky, obnoxious people who insisted on using empty phrases like "social media strategy" and "brand evangelism." It was an MBA petting zoo. I only managed to meet one HR worker while I was there, and right after she felt that I was out of visual range, she folded my business card in half and tossed it into the nearest garbage can.
I've been unemployed for the past seven months. The only reason I went to that networking event was the naive hope that someone there would save me. My ship of ambitions has been smashed against the cold, rocky coastline of corporate reality, and there were no survivors.
Defeated, I walked down 10th street back to my car and saw you in the distance. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I laughed at you. I used your misfortune as a springboard to vault myself out of unhappiness. I glared and smugly found reasons why I'm better off than you are. "I wonder if he ever interned for a P.R. company," I thought. "Or stayed up until 5 a.m. carefully sizing and aligning the text on his business card."
And then it hit me: what if you did?
What if you pursued your career goals and experienced rejection so many times that it broke you?
I pictured myself two years into the future. Unshaven and reeking of cheap whiskey, I would stand at the on-ramp of highway 85 North holding a cardboard sign with WILL USE CORPORATE JARGON FOR FOOD scrawled in Sharpie marker. I saw the future me walking Williams Street late at night, starving and broken, as a closeted businessman pulls over his hybrid Civic and calls me into the passenger seat. As I unbuckle his belt, I would catch a glimpse of his shiny new Blackberry and weep quietly about the career that left me behind. Then with the last part of my dignity completely wrecked, I would sit on the sidewalk and beg people for change. This was the exact moment you asked me for money. To have my what-if-I-become-homeless nightmare interrupted by an actual homeless person was more than I could deal with.
I saw that, with the slightest change in variables, I could be begging for quarters, too. And it drove me to hysterics.
I'm not saying this excuses my behavior, but I just want you to know why I acted the way I did. For what it's worth, I'm sorry. If I see you again I'll give you five dollars and a hug.