Did I Mention I'm A Great Guy?
Did I mention I’m a great guy?
Did I mention I’m someone who does good deeds?
Well, let me tell you the story.
I had just done a gig in Manchester – the home of Oasis, Mick Hucknall and Gail Platt. A place famed for its culture. The Mancs know what’s good, and – as the saying goes – if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. To my delight, it went well. People laughed and eight people from the gig followed me on Instagram. I was walking around Manchester Piccadilly with a spring in my step, feeling like I had a future in this business. My inner demons and the regular commenters on my videos that say I’m not funny were once again proven incorrect.
I had half an hour to wait until my train, which, to give some perspective, is about 1/48th of a day. As a frequent user of public transport, I was no stranger to Waiting. I wasn’t exactly friends with Waiting. I didn’t necessarily like Waiting. But let’s just say, me and Waiting knew each other. If ever I encounter Waiting, I make sure to show up with my good friend Procrastination.
There’re a few things I normally do in this situation. One is to scroll through the Instagram accounts of the people who’ve just followed me and, based on their pictures, make inferences about the type of people they are. Picture of them lifting weights? Ah they must’ve really connected with my gym material. Picture of them and their father looking at each other slightly too affectionately? Ah they must’ve really connected with my incest material. It’s all good data to have.
Or I’ll scroll mindlessly through my feed in the hope that the dopamine I got from the gig can harmonise with the dopamine I get from watching the first two seconds of hundreds of podcast clips.
On this occasion, I decided I’d earned a treat. I knew full well that just outside the station was a Greggs, a chain bakery I’d frequented many times before. I had an internal debate with myself about whether it was okay to go there. I’d been eating a lot of treats recently, mainly as a reward for the many medium-to-strong gigs I was having. I was gaining weight from it. Not a substantial amount, but enough where if I look at pictures of myself from a couple of years ago, I’ll lambast myself for now being fat as fuck. Then I’ll worry about dying from a heart attack. Then I’ll worry everyone looks at me in disgust.
But then I’ll remember fat as fuck is relative to unrealistic Western standards of beauty, and by unashamedly gaining weight I was helping to break the chains that trap so many. Also, the amount of medium-to-strong laughs I’d been consistently getting was surely evidence enough that soon soon I’d be a superstar that could have a personal trainer and a nutritionist to keep me trim. If I over-indulge a bit now on my way up does it really make a difference?
I’d convinced myself. I actually already had a treat on me, in the form of a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer. They’re my favourite chocolate bar in the whole world, something I can’t go a day without and are probably mostly responsible for my weight gain. They’re great to dip in a hot drink and so I thought I’d get myself a decaf coffee and a sausage roll as my main. The train home was setting up to be a real party.
Just as I was outside the bakery, I was stopped by a homeless man.
“Can you get me a coffee please, mate?” He said.
“Yeah, go on then,” I replied.
Sounds a bit mental/embarrassing to write this, but that is a very non-standard reply for me in this situation. Normally, when a homeless person asks for change, I just say, “sorry mate” and walk along and try not to think about how sad it is. Pretty shit that, init. I mean most of the time I actually haven’t got change because I’m a digital native, but you’d seem like much more of a prick if you went, “Sorry mate, unfortunately I complete most of my transactions via Apple Pay.”
But even not having change is a pretty weak excuse, because I’ve definitely been asked within the vicinity of a cash machine before and just said sorry and moved on. I think the rationale I use is, well if I was rich I’d give every homeless person money, but I’m poor. I’m doing stand-up comedy and even though I’m getting a lot of medium-to-strong reactions at my gigs, I’m still at the stage where you don’t get paid very much for it.
But then that’s kind of bullshit, because I’m more than £10 away from homelessness. I could go to a cash machine and give a homeless person £10, and I’m still in much much better position than them. In theory I could give them all the money in my account until we have an equal amount. Even then I’m walking away from the exchange ahead of them because I have a place to live and a job.
I dunno if all this went through my head when he asked me for a coffee. I think I was just in a good mood tbh. So I said yeah and we went into Greggs together.
Immediately, he grabbed a packet of two Iced Buns, and said, “Can I have these, please?”
I wanted to laugh, but it probably wasn’t appropriate. I think it was because it was sad, and I’ll sometimes block feeling sad by laughing, or I’ve rewired my brain to find sad things funny. I dunno. It’s just he asked with such sincerity. He was probably in his forties and was talking to me like I was his dad.
“Sure thing,” I said.
I asked what drink he wanted, and he said he’d have a hot chocolate. I dunno why he said coffee and not hot chocolate outside. Maybe he was trying to seem like more of an adult. He didn’t want me to judge him for ordering such a childish drink. Maybe he really wanted a fruit shoot, but thought that was pushing it a step too far.
Actually, coffee is probably a terrible thing to have if you’re homeless. One of the hardest things to do must be to sleep in the cold. You don’t need something else to keep you up.
I got to the counter and put the iced buns down.
“Can I have these and a hot chocolate please? And also, I’ll have decaf latte and a sausage roll.”
“Can you get me a sausage roll as well, please?” he said.
“Make that two sausage rolls,” I said.
Once you’re in you’re in. I can’t go, sorry mate you’re taking the piss now. It would create a weird vibe that un-does the original good deed. Once you start ordering a homeless person food, it’s all you can eat as far as they’re concerned and I kind of respect the hustle.
We got the stuff, and it felt weird to just walk away, so I asked him how his day was.
“Terrible mate, I’ve only made a pound today,” he said, with a kind of dejected look like he’d really fucked up an Apprentice task and he was in the firing line.
He started telling me his story of how he became homeless. He said he was his Mum’s carer and then she died and he was evicted from the council house they lived in cos he wasn’t on the tenancy. He had nowhere to go, so he’d been sleeping on the streets or occasionally in a hostel for the past 6 months.
"Ah I'm sorry, that sounds so shit mate," I said.
I started thinking about the futility of it all. I’d felt good about myself about such a minor good deed. All I’d done is make his life slightly better for the next hour. It wouldn't even scratch the surface of his problems.
I think the tragic reality of being homeless is actually too much to comprehend. You know when someone is going through something and you say, "I can't even imagine what you're going through," and a lot of the time you kind of can imagine it. I literally can't imagine being homeless. The best I can do is imagine it for a day or two and it seeming like the worst thing ever. But 6 months of being homeless and trying to figure out how to eat, hoping for the occasional bit of kindness from a stranger to keep you from starving to death, is too much to compute.
That’s probably why I mostly walk straight past, treating homeless people like Non-Playable Characters in a video game – like they don’t actually exist when we’re not around them. As soon as we’re not in their vicinity they’re not rendered in the real world anymore and their suffering has vanished.
Even now, by writing this I’m kind of dehumanising him in the hope of getting some more medium-to-strong content out there. He’s just a little accessory to help me get my creative juices flowing and feed the algorithms of the social media platforms I’ll share this on. Whereas for him, exploring his creativity isn’t even his top 100 priorities.
It’s ridiculous to think anything I did came close to making me a “good guy”. I felt ashamed at even having a flicker of feeling that way. I didn’t know what it was like to go without. I’d spent a few quid in Greggs, there was no genuine sacrifice.
Surely there was something more I could do.
I stuck my hand in my pocket once more.
“Do you want this Tunnock's?”
“Yeah, sound, thanks mate.”
Anyway, that’s about it.
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