Last night I was between buses in the middle of downtown Albany. Inside the bus shelter I heard a man outside ask a woman for a favor.
"Could you help me, please, ma'am?"
"I'm looking for half a cigarette. I dropped it on the sidewalk. Could you just help me find it?"
"Why can't you find it yourself?"
"Because my eyesight's bad and I can't make it out down there in the dark."
"I'm not going to pick up garbage for you."
"Ma'am, I'll give you fifty cents if you'll just help me."
"No, pick it up yourself."
He muttered something about the woman's weight (it sounded like "Fat as fat can be.") and walked into the bus shelter. He had a bushy beard and a bit of a glazed look in his eyes that must have had to do with his poor eyesight, and a shopping bag in one hand. I was the first person in his path.
"Sir, could you possibly help me?"
"How?" I did not want to let him know that I'd heard the whole pitch already.
"I dropped half a cigarette on the sidewalk and I have bad eyesight. Could you help me find it?"
"Whereabouts did you drop it?"
He led me out of the shelter and just a few steps in front.
"There are lots of cigarette butts out here," I told him.
"This is half a cigarette."
I looked for something larger than a butt. Actually, it didn't take long to find it.
"There it is."
"Where?" His eyesight was bad. The cigarette was right between his feet. I bent down slightly and pointed it out to him. He stooped over, examined it with some care, and picked it up. He dropped it again, but this time picked it right up.
"Thank you very much, sir," he said, "At least someone's willing to help somebody out here, not like some people."
"Oh, shut up." the woman standing outside the shelter said.
"You shut up you fucking bitch!" he replied, "Thanks again, sir."
I didn't bother asking for the fifty cents, and he didn't offer it.