8:45 PM. I’m inside a convenience store. I’m standing in line about to buy four rolls of toilet paper. A young man in his early twenties purchases two 40 ounce bottles of Mickey’s and a box of toothpaste (the latter purchased so he can meet the $10.00 credit card minimum). He buys the liquor for a homeless man, who is already quite inebriated, and smiles at the clerk behind the counter and the homeless man. He tells the homeless man, “Alright, man! Time to enjoy yourself!” I’m unsure if he means anything diabolical by this. The remark seems straightforward enough.
1. Is the buyer of Mickey’s culpable of contributing to the homeless man’s inebriation? Is he helping to blot the homeless man’s mind out from the real world? Or is he committing an act of genuine philanthropy beyond my comparative ken? Will the liquor help the homeless man survive another day in the streets?
2. Is the clerk complicit by finalizing the transaction and not remarking upon its consequences? * (Corollary: Are all clerks complicit when they sell cigarettes and alcohol to troubled souls? Or does the free market dictate that a person is entitled to whatever he wants? Why is it so easy to let others, who have homes to sleep in, make bad decisions over more trivial matters and yet so troubling to me to watch this man purchase liquor for another? Further, why can I accept some young person buying another person alcohol and not this man’s actions? Why does class shape my views? What right do I have to possess these assumptions when there’s a double standard?)
3. Am I complicit in my silence? I could have voiced my dismay. I could have stepped in and bought the man a slice of pizza. If I had chosen the latter, the homeless man, his eyes widening at the malt liquor, may have refused my offer. He’d clearly prefer eighty ounces to block out the sights of his horrid world rather than nourishment which would at least settle his belly.
General Feelings: Unsettled by the philanthropist, saddened by the homeless man’s addiction, infuriated that I did not do anything. The defendant pleads guilty.
* — The great irony here is that, when the young man and the homeless man shuffled out of the store, the clerk remarked, “I don’t know why he did that,” to which I could have easily responded, “I don’t know why you did that.” It’s easy for all of us to walk this earth, unaware of our own ironies.