Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mr. NoName

Last week at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul clothing room, two homeless guys came in and asked for gloves because they had gotten jobs shoveling snow. It was their lucky day, as there were two brand new pairs of sheepskin-lined deerhide mitts in our bin. The guys were congratulating each other when they headed out the door and another man arrived. Unlike most clients, he didn't "register" as he came in, but began looking around, fingering things, and putting me off when I asked for his name so I could pull his card from our client file. He asked for a pair of those nice gloves his "buddies" just left with (if they were his buddies, why didn't he greet them at the door?) because he was working with them, he said, but I told him they got the only two pairs. He seemed a little shifty, so I followed him around a bit, listening to him talk about himself, asking for his name so I could register him. He kept evading the issue, not making eye contact.

We were having a fairly friendly chat about various paperback novels on the bookshelf when three new clients showed up. My attention was diverted from the fellow for a time as I registered the women, writing their names, addresses and phone numbers on file cards (mostly so we can be sure people aren't "shopping" too frequently). Then I walked to the men's aisle where my evasive friend had gone and said, "I really need to register you now, because that's how we keep track of the people we serve."

"I have to get going," he said. "It's too crowded to shop right now anyway." He pushed past me and went out the front door, ignoring my protests. The women who had just registered said, "What a rude guy!"  "Some people!" "It's not that crowded -- we're the only ones here." I muttered, "Next time you come back, buddy, no name, no shopping!" and the three laughed.

Guess who was back today? I didn't actually see Mr. NoName come in, but I heard his voice. He was talking to my mom about getting some food, so I walked over and stood there, listening, letting him know that I was aware of his arrival. When my mom said, "I don't think you registered when you came in, so we need to do that before you go any further," she got the same response as I did last week. "I have to get going," he said, and took off. Mom wasn't surprised when I told her about his visit the previous week. She thought he probably snuck past me and made a beeline to talk with her because they had no previous history.

I can't help but wonder why the fellow won't give us his name. He's got me curious, and my writer's mind has been mulling all afternoon, inventing different scenarios. Could he be an escaped con, afraid that we might somehow turn him in? Is he a shoplifter who gets his thrills from taking things without permission (even if they're free)? Or is he simply someone who enjoys playing outside the rules, snubbing the system? Does he tell a different story to a different volunteer at a different agency every day of the week? Does he enjoy thumbing his nose at authority of any sort? Could he have some form of mental illness that makes him paranoid? Or has he just had the kind of life that prevents him from trusting anyone?

I doubt we'll ever know, but it's guys like him who make life interesting. For a few minutes, they mess with my sense of everyone being basically honest and loveable, of life being mostly good, of the world being a generally gentle place. It's only too easy to worry or get disheartened when I think about the many people in our world who, for whatever reason, are unable to trust anyone. But even if our nameless friend registers the next time he comes in, we have no way of knowing whether he's telling us the truth, so does his telling us his name really matter in the long run?

I wouldn't want to pass any sort of judgment, I just would love to know the truth about him, being a curious person. But truth can be elusive, as is Mr. NoName.

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