In my meditation class I’m taking, I’ve been challenged to have an active generosity practice in order to build empathy. Frankly, I have actively tried to be less squishy, as I feel a natural kinship with everyone, including little kids, animals, homeless people and even crazy folks who I get in staring contests with and force myself to look away for fear of catching the craze. When I was a kid myself I used to cry when I’d see old people, simply because I knew that they would die.

In terms of generosity, I am a chronic over tipper, having been a waitress. I’ve also been unlearning my bribery tactics, as I realized that through a vast lack of confidence I had carried extra weed, picked up bar and dinner tabs before anyone even saw the waiter hand over the check, and basically I’d attempted to buy my way into peoples hearts. It’s strange to now be engaged in a generosity practice where if someone asks me for a dollar, if I can hand it over I do. It has really helped me to feel compassion and a sense of sameness, even with the dude on the side of the freeway, not just sadness, which is what I thought empathy was prior to the challenge. My teacher gives us students a dollar bill with the words “Love People and Feed Them” printed on it and then every week in class he asks us to describe the scenario in which that dollar got out of our pockets.

I felt so moved by the words printed on the dollar that for weeks I began giving away my own dollars because I coveted the printed dollar. Since I’ve changed my life, left my career and taken up as a writer, I don’t have much, but I know that I have more than the souls asking for change, so it’s not unusual for me to hand out a few bucks every day. I try to be respectful and look the person asking in the eye, not to shy away from their humanity or my own.

In an effort to be able to help out when the moment strikes, I’ve been keeping singles in the console in my car. A couple of weeks ago I was stopped at  a light by my house off Alvarado. I saw a tiny, older man, about my height, who was wearing a red hoodie, which was pulled up over his head, with a cheetah print cowboy hat on top. He had on dirty baggy pants and a a jacket and his eyes were covered in wraparound shades. Stylish hobos aren’t unusual in Los Angeles, but this guy looked particularly unique.

Approaching my car I saw that he was holding papers, and had a sign which offered ‘A story for a dollar.” I beckoned him over to my car and reached for a dollar. He shuffled over and I realized he was an older fellow, probably in his late 50’s or early 60’s, his face weathered with time and the California sun. He spread out a few bunches of paper in front of my window and I picked the story that was on top and handed him the dollar, unable to see his eyes, I said “Thank you” and he crossed back to the safety of the sidewalk.

After looking at the hand drawn cover, drawn first in ballpoint pen and filled in with colored crayons, I flipped through the stapled book. The back inside cover was a script, which he’d drawn lines of mauve crayon through, signifying this was not part of the story. Apparently he was using scrapped paper. On the following pages the dense, single spaced blocks of paragraphs were his story, along with more hand rendered drawings. I flipped back to the cover where I saw his name.

“Ronald”, I shouted and when he turned around, although he had on those wrap around shades, I could register the surprise in his eyes, surprise that somebody was shouting his name. He ambled back over to my window as quickly as he could, in his amazing red hoodie, too big pants cinched at the waste and cheetah print cowboy hat, like a Hollywood rodeo clown. I pressed another dollar into his hand explaining, “This work is too good, with your materials alone, I think you should be charging at least two bucks a story.” He looked stunned and a bit confused and he tried to offer me another story, because as he said, “but it’s a dollar per story.” I told him he’d better get back to the curb as the light was about to change.

With the story in my lap I crossed Alvarado, checking in my rearview mirror, because I honestly didn’t expect him to be there. I was shocked to see him walking back down to the corner with his stories, I’d have believed it more if he’d sprouted wings and was flying above the road. I’m still convinced that Ronald was an angel, sent to show me grace, humility and what a writer is. Once I had the chance, I maneuvered out of the flow of traffic and pulled over to the curb to read his story.

The story itself was incredible, a basic morality tale intwined with such a wonderful imagination. I was moved to tears reading Ronald’s story “Leonard the Lion”, just east of Alvarado. As a writer I get jazzed on getting published, I seek validation from friends when I ask them to read something I’ve written, I even get high or get crestfallen by how many people read this blog, and here’s Ronald, with a huge heart, a big mind, and his stories to sell on the corner of Alvarado and Berkeley, not looking for feedback, just humbly selling his work for a dollar at the light.

I imagined that each hand drawn, typed, and stapled story is one of a kind, and that Ronald doesn’t make copies, rather he draws from an inexhaustible well of creativity and sells one of a kind stories. I wish I had his grace, his confidence, his fearlessness, and I am so grateful for having been sent the Angel of Writers-Ronald.

I’ve since sent him a postcard to thank him for his lovely story and I’ve been looking for him at stoplights throughout LA. I hope to see him again, and I pray I have a twenty on me the next time.

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