A Visit to Mannie’s

| November 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

Yesterday, at about 1:00 pm, I got a call from Mannie, my friend from ThriveDC. I used to see him each of the two days a week I volunteered at Thrive. He’s a small guy from India. His teeth are a mess. He has wisps of hair on his mostly bald head. I believe he once told me he was about 72 years old. I reconnected with him a few months ago to see how he was doing. He said he needed food because he was physically unable to get to a grocery store. So, I’ve been bringing him a Value Pack from the SHARE Food Network, for which I’m the advisory board chair and coordinator at Blessed Sacrament Church.

As I got to know him, I found him more and more interesting. He lives in an apartment near Adams Morgan. Whenever he told me something and I agreed, he immediately says, in his lilting Indian accent, “No, I am not kidding!” I always say, “I know you’re not kidding. I believe everything you say.”

I believe he comes from a wealthy family in India and why he is in this lowly state is a puzzle, but he doesn’t seem terribly unhappy about it. He has two masters degrees and a wealthy brother with a big house in Potomac. He occasionally stays in his brother’s house where he has the third floor with a private bath. He says his brother has encouraged Mannie to move in with him. When I asked why he didn’t he said, “Because Potomac is as boring as shit.”

But we really bonded around investment opportunities. He carried around small bundles of paper with hand written spreadsheets with data on the stocks he was following. Occasionally, he would recommend a stock or mutual fund. A few times, I would take his advice, just for fun. I would use the cash balance on my ETrade account and buy a small number of a stock he recommended. One crashed completely. But a few really took off. Two stocks lost about $600 and two gained about $2,500. So, I’m up $1,900 on my Mannie portfolio.

He called me because he’d made some Indian chicken dish and wanted give me some. I had something at 2 pm, but I hated to say no. So, without really thinking it through, I told him I’d be right over. As I drove over, it began to dawn on me that I was going to visit someone I met in a homeless food program in the middle of a pandemic when I’m supposed to avoid risky human contact.

I had never been to Mannie’s place, but I do know that the other tenants tried to evict him because his apartment was unsanitary. But there was no turning back now.

Sure enough, his apartment was stacked floor to ceiling with “stuff.” It reminded me of Ratso Rizzo’s place from the movie Midnight Cowboy. It was difficult for the two of us to move around the place without bumping into each other. No social distancing possible.

His bed took up most of the “living” room. There was a narrow path between the bed and the piles of books, papers and canes, leading to the kitchen, which was also piled high with stuff on every surface. While the first impression was utter chaos, on closer inspection, it was clear that there was some organization involved. Like things were with like things. Books with other books, canes all together in a corner, stacks of paper piled somewhat neatly.

Stuff was also piled on the stove, but he’d cleared away one burner where he had cooked a leg of chicken in Indian spices. As he stirred the chicken, he told me that he used to be a good cook, but stopped after he had lost his job. He tried to continue cooking, but then discovered Thrive and decided it was easier to take his meals there. I suspect he filled up with the hot breakfast and probably didn’t eat much, if anything, for the rest of the day.

He grabbed a bowl washed it out in the cluttered sink. He put the chicken into the bowl and spooned the Indian sauce over it. Then he pushed some of the clutter on the kitchen table aside to make room for the bowl. He left the spoon.

I removed my mask and began to eat. It was actually very good and I told him so. He was pleased. But all I could think about was getting out of there because the virus got me. I love Mannie…truly. But I frankly didn’t feel safe.

So, I ate as much of the chicken as I could easily break off the bone and then explained that I had a 2 o’clock call (which was true). I thanked him profusely and made my exit. I was probably in his apartment for about 7 minutes.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is, if any. I really like Mannie a lot. And I guess it makes me feel good about myself to help him. But it does suggest there is a limit to my altruism. I guess it does suggest that I’m one of those self satisfied elites who congratulate themselves on their generosity.

Mother Theresa, I’m not

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