There was a knock at my door tonight. Somehow, I knew who it was. He hadn’t come around for a while and it was about due. It was Stan, (name changed for privacy). Stan comes around every so often wanting to do some small task for cash and/or a beer. My brother and I never got to cleaning out the flower beds last fall. Now, there’s still dead leaves, and some litter that blew there, covering the spring growth of daffodil and tulip stalks and already-blooming crocus and grape hyacinths.
Stan has a sharp eye and has trained himself well to spot things like that. I’ve obliged him in the past as has my brother, but did not the last few times he came around. This time I went a step further, and told him we’re just getting by here and can’t afford to pay him to do things we can do ourselves. He could tell by the resolve in my voice that I meant it and only tried again once. Normally, he’ll keep talking and try to squeeze some money out of you.
You might wonder why I would ever oblige him in the first place, or have any sympathy. Well, for one, he’s pretty good at what he does. If he put as much energy into trying to keep a job as he does in coaxing some cash out of the neighborhood denizens, he might do okay.
Also, shortly after my brother and I moved in, we had 8 tons of topsoil delivered to restore the back yard. Because of the narrow alley and a retaining wall restricting access for the dump truck, the soil had to be dumped in the abandoned part of the alley next to the yard and then distributed by shovel and wheelbarrow. I had to leave for my part time job after we were at it a while. Stan ended up helping my brother finish the job, and I got out of doing most of it. My brother was so grateful, he gave him what cash he had and asked me for some more to give him when I got home. That was fine. It was a huge job.
Unfortunately, it set the stage for repeated solicitations of odd jobs for cash or a cold one.
That was eight years ago. Stan’s methodology evolved over time. He became more engaging, sneakier, and he always had a story of why he was short on dough. That, of course, wore out, despite his efforts. Seems he always just started a job but didn’t get paid yet. His girlfriend kicked him out, at least twice. You get the picture. He also would start out saying he’d do a chore for $10, but then by the time he finished, he was suggesting $15 or $20.
Tonight, he didn’t push the issue too much with the leaf gathering, but he still asked for a cold beer. He’ll tell you he’s an alcoholic and then ask for a drink. I guess that’s supposed to make you more sympathetic or something. Well, I said I didn’t have any. I had a few, but why should I give one to him. That still costs me money. Money that I work long hours to earn. Plus, if he really is an alcoholic, which he most likely is, then I’d just be enabling him.
Stan seems like a decent guy, and at least he’s willing to do something for the money. Not just plain asking for a handout. He’s engaging to talk to, so you let your guard down. I’ve learned though, to say no, pretty much automatically, now. Neither my brother or I will give him anything anymore, but it took us a while to get to that point.
Yes, having a hard time saying no runs in the family, but it’s also because we care about others and know that life can be hard. But when that gets you taken advantage of, and enables unhealthy behavior in another, you’ve got to put your foot down.
Maybe Stan was sent here to teach me (and my brother) that lesson.