, Corbin, KY


March 6, 2014

You never know who’s asking

CORBIN — I‘m usually a pretty firm believer in taking care of your own problems — self sufficiency in others is a big deal to me.

Granted, there’s nothing wrong in asking for help — there are times when it’s necessary, it’s needed, and it’s reasonable to ask.

Such as Wednesday, when I decided to have a Monday.

When the alarm went off, everything seemed to be building for a normal day.

I crawled from the warm spot of the bed, fumbled around for the bathrobe, and aimed for the coffee maker.

My dog, Annie, appeared anxious to get to a place for her early morning “potty” visit, so I stupidly let her run outside while I tried to muster the energy for coffee.

I should have known better.

For whatever reason, Wednesday morning was the day she decided to tour the area where I stay during the week — and whistle after whistle after whistle did nothing to dissuade her from her course.

Grumbling and still, basically, pre-coffee, I slipped on a pair of boots and a coat — over my bathrobe – and began following her dog tracks through the remnants of Monday’s winter fest.

Moments after walking outside, I saw the next bomb to brighten my day — one of my tires was pancake flat.

It developed a slow leak sometime last week, but it chose Wednesday to go from slow to fast.

So after finally wrangling Annie back into the house, I began to think about the tire problem.

I have a “spare” tire, but it’s one of those doughnut things which is almost a waste of time. Further, the ice enveloping the gravel parking lot did not seem the best place for that activity.

I spent a few minutes mentally kicking myself for not bringing my portable air compressor with me this week, then decided to make a few calls to see if anyone I knew from this area could help.

On the third call, I got lucky — and the tire was temporarily repaired.

So yeah, I have no problem asking for assistance — but there’s an unseen line I think that can get crossed.

And I learned about that line somewhat when I was attending college in Albuquerque, N.M.

The campus of the University of New Mexico is spread out through an area close to the downtown section of the city — and has no walls.

Many, many times there would be non-students flitting around all over campus, often hanging out in front of the cafeteria or outside the education halls.

When I first began classes there, if I had a little extra, I would give it to these people I assumed were homeless.

But I myself was a struggling student — I was working a third-shift restaurant management job at night, and attending 15-18 hours of classes during the day.

And at the time I started, I didn’t even have a vehicle.

One day I got on the bus, and noticed one of the people I had given money to sitting a few seats in front of me.

As I watched, this guy pulled a new pair of tennis shoes out of a bag, and switched them with the ratty ones he was wearing.

Then, he emptied his pockets, and another small bag, into his lap.

And with what cash I could see, there was at least $200 there — and that was just in bills.

There was also an audible pile of change.

I was furious. And at that moment, made up my mind.

No more cash — or anything — to on-campus bums for me.

Most of my remaining time at that school I avoided those people. Other times, I would simply ignore them.

But it was when they’d try to bum a smoke from me that I’d have the most fun.

“Hey man, you gotta extra cigarette?” I’d hear.

“Nope this pack came with the usual 20,” I’d answer.

“Hey man, do you smoke?” I’d hear.

“Nope,” I’d answer, and exhale my drag.

“Hey man, can I borrow a smoke?” I’d hear.

“Borrowing implies you’re going to give it back, and I won’t want it back,” I’d answer.

Of course, I’ve heard the “I’m broke down over on this street” speech — and I’ve fallen for it before.

Once I went to visit a friend in Atlanta, Ga., and was waiting in a parking lot to meet him there because I didn’t know how to get to the house.

The first guy who approached bummed a $5 bill from me for his broken-down vehicle.

The second guy who asked got about 3 or 4 dollars — also for his “tore up” car.

The third guy took a cussing from me, because I thought I was yet again being played as a fool.

But that man said something to me that made me think.

“That’s all right son, but you never know who’s asking,” he said.

That was very profound to me, and I felt almost like I’d failed some cosmic test.

And it made me think, and continues to make me stop and think.

Yes, there are plenty of folks out there who would rather leech off a strained system than work to become self-sufficient adults.

Those people annoy me fiercely.

But there’s others who just need a hand up — and that day I slapped that hand down and stomped on it.

I’ll try to never do it again, I hope.

So when you get someone out there in the world trying to “bum” from you, take the time to think and analyze the situation — because you never know who’s asking.

John Ross is a staff writer for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at

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