Monday, December 2, 2013

Game Warden Files--Sort of...

This story transcends many years of my profession, two vastly different locations and two agencies of employment.
One afternoon when I worked Chatham PD, probably sometime in 1980 or 1981, I had a call to return to my station to assist some people. The call had come from the local telephone operator. In those "good old days" a person needing help from police, fire or the local rescue squad would find a pay phone, dial zero and the local operator would make the proper connections. It wasn't 911, but it worked out pretty well in small towns.
Parked in front of our station--the Tracy Memorial Hall--was a dilapidated old pickup truck with ramshackle living space built on the back; you couldn't call it a camper by any means. On the steps to the Tracy building was a family, a dad, a mom and a couple kids.  Putting the truck and family together was easy to do--they looked like something out of the Grapes of Wrath--disheveled, tattered clothing, unkempt appearance and a tired look in all their faces. They told me that they were travelling through the area and were about out of gas, food, money and luck. It was easy enough to believe. I had them wait in the lobby and got on the phone to the local social service worker; surely she could help, she'd always been able to help folks like this before. As I started my story, the worker interrupted me and asked if it was a family in a pickup truck and described them to me. When I told her that it was the same group, she informed me that this bunch had used up every freebie the county had to offer and had overstayed their welcome in a few private situations as well. They had even worn out the patience of local restaurateur who would gladly feed about anyone, and only asked they do a little yard work for him, which they'd not done. Armed with that information, I told this family that we had no help for them and that they'd have to move on.
Fast-forward to 1982, May 24th to be exact. I was just over a year into my job as an ECO and was assigned to Region 2, New York City. May 24th was my office duty day and I was in working on the 61st floor of #2 World Trade Center and seeing a very busy city beneath me. It was the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge and there was quite the celebration. The captain suggested that I have my wife bring the kids into the city for the afternoon and join a group of other state employees in the tower to watch the fireworks display that night.  It was a great idea! Peggy and the kids found their way in on the bus system and when I finished my office day, we hit the streets for a bite to eat. As we wandered the area below the bridge in the vicinity of the South Street Seaport, we were in something of a carnival atmosphere with street vendors of all kinds plying their wares. Suddenly I stopped short--on the sidewalk was a family of beggars and a sign "Please help a homeless, needy family." You've can guess who it was, the same group I'd dealt with in Chatham only a few years before.
There are plenty of ways to put a moral on this story, and plenty of object lessons to be taken from it. Probably the most transparent of them is the lesson from the words of Jesus:  The poor you will always have with you. This was a textbook example of that.

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