Jeffrey and Me

Jeffrey's flagpole Rob Madeo.jpg

Jeffrey's flagpole

By Rob Madeo

I first met Jeffrey a while ago.

He stopped me on the street and asked for some money, told me his story, and kept me much longer than I wanted. I know some of you think it's a bad idea to give money to panhandlers. You may be right, but I'm sorry, if somebody asks for a couple of bucks they're going to get it. Maybe that makes me a sucker.

So, the next time we met it was much the same. "How's things Jeffrey," I asked. He was completely blown away that I remembered his name and gave me a hug. I could have done without the hug. After that, I think he was keeping an eye out for me, knowing I was good for a donation. One time I was in a hurry to my car and dodged him.

Then one day, Jeffrey intercepted me outside my building.

"You work in here?" Oh, great. I started to imagine Jeffrey dropping in to visit at the office.

"I want you to look at something."

He led me around the front of the building onto State Street. "Look at that, that's a shame." He pointed up at the tattered American flag, frayed and torn, hanging askew from its pole. He told me that his father served in Korea, and that when he was a kid, his dad taught him to respect the flag.

"I went upstairs and told them it shouldn't be like that. They never did nothing about it. But maybe they'll listen to you."

Maybe. I stopped in at the building manager's office and suggested they fix the flag. The next day it had been taken down -- and Jeffrey was waiting to shake my hand. He was beaming, partly because they did something about the flag, but mostly because I listened to him.

"We're half way there, man," he said. "Now they just got to put up a new flag and we'll be all set."

I got another hug.

That was months ago and there's still no new flag. I guess buildings downtown have bigger problems than keeping the flag flying -- like how to fill all the empty office space with warm bodies. And it's also been a while since I saw Jeffrey. Last time, he pulled up his pants leg and showed me his swollen ankle. Said it was making it hard for him to walk.

Now I check the front of the building every day to see if the flag's been put back up. And I always keep a couple of dollars handy in case I run into Jeffrey.

You'll know him if you see him, he'll be the guy working the lunchtime crowd for spare change, inspecting the flags of downtown Albany.

Rob can be found at lunchtime in downtown Albany huddled near a wi-fi hotspot.

Rob on the Soapbox:
+ Something wicket this way comes
+ Growing where the cows come home
+ The Albany parking lot district
+ The Earl of Pearl


It not only makes you a sucker, it makes you an enabler


Wake up! Your dad fought for the idea of the American Dream and you ain't gettting none of it. He got suckered and so have you.

We ain't "halfway there man". And if you think flying the flag of the super rich and the military will get you there, than you are never gonna get there.

Sad story. But a freaking success story for the oligarchs. You have to give them credit. Homeless people wanting to have new flags on the bankers buildings? Orwell would probably have a hard time believing it.

But I must say if I was in the one percent i would love stories like this. Keep believing in the dream!

Sorry Ike, that old, tired argument just doesn't hold any water in my opinion. What exactly is being enabled in this situation? Perhaps Jeffrey has an addiction to vending machine sodas because that's all he's going to get with a couple of bucks (depending on the vending machine). I never understood this idea of turning a cold shoulder to someone in need because they may or may not make a bad choice with my dollar bill in the future. Sure, Rob's "couple of dollars" could go toward a 40oz. bottle of Big Bear that night, but it also might help Jeffrey find a meal. Do you know how down and out someone has to be to beg for money only to be degraded regularly by people who don't want to "enable" them?

Meanwhile, I know perfectly well-off people who blow money every week on the ridiculous chance that they may win the lottery. Is that a nobler way to spend hard earned cash? Perhaps we should take a look around our communities and see how people go from being our neighbors to becoming the Jeffries of the world, and invest some time or money (or both) into making a difference. This doesn't just happen. These are real people with real problems. That doesn't make them children who need to be taught a lesson, which is exactly the judgmental nonsense that your comment reeks of.

But I suppose you'll just chalk another one up under the sucker column. Happy holidays.

This post raises the obvious question of "Am I my brother's keeper?" I believe the only civilized answer is "Yes, I am." I fear it won't end well for all of us if we accept the negative answer of a social darwinist.

Nah, you're not a sucker. You're tender-hearted. If that's the worst thing somebody can say about you, I think you're doing pretty well.

And even if Jeffrey is buying booze with the money you gave him, I'm sure he thinks fondly of you for a moment before he take the first sip.

@Tim - Agreed.
@Ike - I's easy to make that assumption (that you're enabling) and maybe it's true in most cases, but certainly not in all cases. There are many people who are homeless due to any number of unfortunate events, some of which may have been beyond their control. Rob's couple of bucks isn't a big loss to him, and at the very least, it gives Jeffery a sense of humanity again, regardless of what he uses it for. I am not one to give money to people on the street (as a female, I think it's more of a safety issue) but I don't think that others who do are "suckers". If anything, they are more open-minded and generous then myself.

I think some of the commenters are missing the point in Rob's story. It's not about panhandling and whether or not you should or should not give them money or the validity of the American Dream and our politics. What I took from the story is that everyone deserves to be listened to and that sometimes a simple thing can make someone's day or in this case I think it made his month at least. I think it proves that just because someone is not in the same financial situation as you, by circumstance or by choices, they still believe in things and have something that might be worth listening to. It wasn't hard for Rob to mention the flag to the building manager but it made Jeffrey feel respected and it's probably a kindness he will never forget. I think that makes it a wonderful story.

That was a really nice story, and I was disappointed to be met with such comments. Ike, lighten up. Code Monkey- what? Seriously. Jeffrey's dad was a Korean war veteran, as is mine. Have some respect.

I'm with you Tim. Rob, nice post.

Chrissy, I so agree!
I thought it was a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it with us, Rob. And I commend you for taking the time to notice and listen to Jeffery. It likely was more important to him than the few dollars you gave him. Most of us (myself included) don't do that enough.

Everyone deserves to be heard, and Jeffrey is no different.

Great post Rob. I'm feeling so warm while reading it and then I come to Ike and Code Monkey's comments. Really? Thank God for the positive ones that followed.

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