Nice shiny things
â€œYou have nice, shiny shoes,â€ she said, in almost a whine.
I stop privately flexing my calves in line at the Chipotle and turn around. I sense something off almost immediately. Big fun sunglasses and lots of â€œfancyâ€ jewelry, but take a second look: sheâ€™s not wearing socks, and itâ€™s cold out. And the faux leather of her tatty purse has cracked and peeled so much itâ€™s almost all gone. Sheâ€™s thin under the coat. Sheâ€™s slumped overâ€”defeated.
I give her a big smile and say, â€œOh thanks.â€ I donâ€™t say what Iâ€™m thinking, which is: These? These are my fifteenth pair of the same exact shoe Iâ€™ve been buying since high school. Theyâ€™re nothing special. Just Adidas.
She says it again, a little louder, in an impossibly high, girly voice. â€œSuch nice, shiny, clean shoes.â€ They just arenâ€™t, honestly. So I say, â€œThanks, thanks again,â€ and try to giggle.
The line isnâ€™t moving and I just know this is going to continue to be a weird interaction. Everybody else in here is 20, 30, Iâ€™m probably the oldest at 38. But sheâ€™s a lot older, or at least sheâ€™s dressed like it. This skinny old woman could be my grandmother, no sweat. Whatâ€™s behind the sunglasses? Iâ€™m trying to monitor her behind me in the reflection of the glass so we donâ€™t have to make eye contact again. She shuffles slowly.
I go on and get my burrito. I decide to order double meat, on a whim, for the first time ever. Iâ€™ve been working out, my arms need the extra protein to get even bigger. How much is the double meat, I ask? â€œ$3.15?! Gosh. I wonâ€™t be doing that again.â€
Something is holding her up behind me, but I donâ€™t know what it is. She asks the counter help, â€œAre you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready?â€ over and over. Eventually they make a little salsa cup full of steak for her, same thing I got on mine. I hear her asking about a senior portion.
Iâ€™m getting my drink now and Iâ€™m just dawdling, because I want to hear what happens. Finally, the inevitable; they try to charge her the same $3.15 for â€œa side of steak.â€ She says, in her incredibly high voice: â€œDo I have to pay for it?â€ They tell her yes: â€œWe donâ€™t do samples like that.â€
I feel so much guilt. Iâ€™m sitting here on my laptop trying to solve my biggest problemsâ€”the online dating nightmare and how to get to Europe this summerâ€”and Iâ€™m currently eating food I didnâ€™t think twice about ordering. Meanwhile, sheâ€™s trying her best to get this same exact steak in a pathetic little plastic cup for free.
Maybe guilt isnâ€™t the right word; maybe itâ€™s sorrow, because I didnâ€™t put her here and havenâ€™t taken anything away from her either. But the scale of this problem overwhelms me. I see hungry- and desperate-looking people every day in this city. I know they still exist even when I donâ€™t see them and that some of them don’t even have shoes or faux leather purses. The rich people in this city waste so much money on their BMWs, on their dogs and their dogsâ€™ socks and their dogs’ shoes, on alcohol, on cocaine, on travel, on pleasure. And the poor beg and cajole for life, if they aren’t forced to outright steal. How is all this going to end for Chicago? I think. Thank God my life is going in the right direction.
Somehow sheâ€™s got the steak. I donâ€™t know if she paid for it or what. Sheâ€™s picking it out of the cup with a fork as fast as she can. I notice for the first time that she has nice, shiny nails, which you wouldnâ€™t expect on a desperately poor person, and now sheâ€™s sitting upright, not slumped like before. I realize Iâ€™ve been scammed, at least a bit. Sheâ€™s not that old, sheâ€™s not that desperate. When she throws the cup away, she hustles across Broadway like anybody else.