I Called the Police on a Beggar Who Stalked Me, Then I Saw His Face – Story of the Day
I avoided a beggar on the street outside my building and even had the police come to take him away, then I realized who he was.
At 52, I thought I knew everything there was to know about life, about struggling and hardship, but I was wrong. I had been raised in East L.A., the son of a single mother and an absentee junkie father.My childhood was tough, my adolescence was worse, but I made it out. I scrambled my way through college on a partial athletics scholarship and menial jobs, and today I am a wealthy man. I never imagined my past would come back to haunt me.
I am one of the most successful businessmen in California, with a sprawling house in Malibu, a summer 'cottage' in the Hamptons, and a vineyard in Napa Valley. I am married to a beautiful woman and the father of three children.
The bitter boy who'd left his innocence in the streets of East L.A. was gone, or so I believed, but he was an unquiet ghost. I'd forgotten that our past is part of us until we make peace with it.
Suffering and despair can destroy any life.
My business headquarters were on the top three floors of an office building I owned in downtown L.A., a prime piece of real estate, and one of my first acquisitions. I was proud of that building.
One afternoon, I was disgusted to see that a homeless man had taken up residence by the side of the main door where the facade offered shade, protection from the blazing California sun.
The man was filthy, crouched on a sheet of cardboard, his arms wrapped around his legs. He was trembling and mumbling, stretching out his hand to the flinching passersby and some of those were my tenants or their clients.
I was indignant. I had paid a fortune for this property, and my tenants paid well for exclusivity and comfort. Having to face a whining beggar every time they stepped out of the door wasn't part of the package.
I called my building manager and asked him why that man was there. Then I picked up my phone and I called the police. I told them a vagrant had attempted to enter my office building.
Not long after, I was delighted to see two officers taking the man away in handcuffs. My delight was short-lived. The next day, the man was back. I called the police, but they said that unless the man actually committed an infraction, they couldn't arrest him.
I was furious. I'd never faced a problem I couldn't solve, and there was a filthy beggar who'd become an immovable object. I started using the back exit so I wouldn't have to see him every time I came into the office.
One day it was raining, an unusually violent downpour for L.A., and I hadn't brought an umbrella -- who the hell carries an umbrella in L.A.? -- so I stopped my car in front of the main entrance.
I threw the doorman my car keys. "George, do me a favor and take the car into the garage, will you?"
I started for the door when a voice stopped me in my tracks. "Jacky-Boy, is that you?"
I knew that voice! I turned and saw that it belonged to the beggar. He stumbled to his feet, grinning, his dirty hands stretched towards me. "Jacky! Hey, hey Jacky-Boy! Man, it's you! It's really you!"
I was staring at that ruined face, the wide grin. A slow memory stirred. I knew that face, I knew him. "Danny!" I whispered, "Danny?"
"It's me!" The grin grew impossibly wider. "Man, it's been thirty years! You look good, man, you look really good!"
I took a step forward and gripped his shoulders. Suddenly tears were burning my eyes. "Danny, what happened to you, man? What happened?"
In my eyes, the years fell away, and the face looking up at me was 12 years old, glowing with mischief and laughter, my best friend, my only friend. Danny had understood why I sometimes came out with a bruised face and shared his lunch with me when I went hungry.
It was Danny's house I sneaked into to sleep in when my mom's latest boyfriend took a strap to me. Danny had been my refuge, my brother, my friend. I pulled that ruined remnant of my best friend into my arms and sobbed.
"Danny, Danny man, what happened?" I asked again.
And he told me. Danny had joined the Army straight out of high school, and he was stationed overseas. He met a girl in the Far East and he married her. For a while, he told me, life was very good, then it all fell apart.
His wife was diagnosed with cancer, and nothing the doctors did could save her. She was just 28 when she died, and Danny started drinking. A lot. He coasted along in the service for the next few years, until his drinking got out of control.
Unfortunately, it happened at the wrong moment. Danny didn't react in time, and three men paid for it with their lives. After that, Danny resigned, came back to L.A., and carried on drinking.
He kept some sort of hold on himself until his mother passed away, and when she was gone, Danny sold the house and hit the streets. He'd stopped drinking a while back, but somehow he just couldn't find a way out.
"Danny," I whispered, "you're coming home with me, I'll take care of you." And I did.
Danny is on the road to being himself again, and best of all, he's helping others make that same difficult journey. I opened a shelter and a halfway house for other people like Danny, good people who'd stumbled and fallen down, and couldn't get up alone.
Danny heads the project. He knows the problems the people we want to help face, he speaks their language. Today I look back at the man I was, the proud arrogant man who'd sneered at a beggar huddling in the doorway.
I know I could have been that man. It was Danny but it could have been me. It could be any one of us. Remember that when you look away in judgment like I used to do. It could be you.
What can we learn from this story?
- Suffering and despair can destroy any life. Danny couldn't handle the loss of his wife and ended up living on the streets.
- The person you look away from could be someone you know. Jack was disgusted by the beggar until he realized he was his best friend.
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