This is about giving, taking and trying not to get played.
A couple of months ago, I was ordering breakfast at a downtown restaurant and the waitress asked if I wanted gravy with my country-fried steak.
I fell for the trick and said yes. Of course I wanted gravy on my steak. When my plate arrived, I realized that the steak already came with gravy, and that I'd unwittingly ordered a second breakfast, which was a giant bowl of gravy and a couple of additional biscuits.
This week, I went to the same restaurant and ordered the same breakfast from the same waitress. And she asked me the same question.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
Later that day, I was filling up at a downtown gas station. I kept my eyes on the ground because it's the kind of place where if you look up, somebody's going to ask you for money.
It didn't work, because I heard a man yelling, "Excuse me, sir!"
I kept looking down, and the guy kept yelling.
Finally I looked up, and he told me a story.
He was hungry and he needed $4.87 to buy a chicken dinner from a fast food joint down the street.
I thought using the exact price of the dinner was a nice touch.
But he wasn't finished. He said he was a hard-working kind of guy, but he couldn't go to work at the moment because somebody at his workplace had filed a restraining order against him.
"You know what a restraining order is, don't you?" he asked. Again, a nice touch.
"Sure," I said. "I mean, not personally."
"All I need is five dollars," he said.
"I'll give you a buck," I said, and reached for my wallet.
"I already got one dollar from another man," he said. Why ask five guys for a buck when you can ask one guy for five bucks, right?
I laughed and looked in my wallet. All I had was a five and a twenty.
This is the point where I always say I can't help and wish them good day.
This time, I handed him the five.
His eyes widened. "I'm going to hug you," he said.
"That's OK," I said.
Then he turned and ran into the convenience store. The pump handle clicked and signaled that the tank was full.
I couldn't resist. I put the handle in its holster, closed the gas cap and followed Mr. Restraining Order inside the store.
I wanted to see what kind of return I was getting on my investment. If he bought a six-pack, I could ask him for a single. More likely, he'd be getting a tall boy.
Actually, it was a big fountain soda. He paid and left the store, and I followed him out. He turned and saw me, and he raised his hand and thanked me loudly. I could hear what everybody in the parking lot was thinking about me: Sucker!
He turned and walked down the street. I thought about something my 13-year-old son told me once when he'd returned home after serving food at a homeless shelter: "We're not any better than them."
I watched the man walk down the street. He appeared headed in the direction of the chicken place, but you can never tell.
Contact Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org