He held out a hundred dollar bill to the old man. The old man had a dirty gray beard and he limped slightly as he walked with his knobby brown cane. His old blue coat was faded, and a bit thin-looking for the cold December air. The hundred-dollar-bill man had often heard his mother, his pastor and his teachers say, “It’s better to give than to receive.”
So he stood there, holding out the bill, and smiling a friendly smile. Then, as the old man just stared at him, he said, “Go on, take it; no strings attached. It’s my gift to you.” The light-brown eyes of the old man were shrewd and piercing as he replied in his low, level voice, “It’s better to give than to receive, so I’m not receiving.” Then he abruptly turned and hobbled off.
The hundred-dollar-bill man stood both amazed and angry. He told himself that the old man was some kind of nut, or probably a millionaire in disguise. So he headed to skid row, on the lookout for someone honestly needy and desperate. At the next corner, sitting on the step of a store which had long gone out of business, he saw a much disheveled woman with several plastic bags around her. She had just pulled the half butt of a cigarette out of a thready jacket pocket and was apparently searching for matches. She found one; it looked like the last one on a torn book.
He felt good; he felt strong. He confidently strode up to within a few feet of her. She wearily looked up at him. Then, with a big boyish grin on his face, he whipped out his hundred dollar bill and held it within a foot of her face. She eyed it for a few seconds, then turned and spat, and bawled out, “It’s better to give than to receive. Get out of here, you devil!”
He clenched his fist. He turned and marched away. He was angry; he was very angry. Pressure was building up in his brain as twilight descended on the city. He didn’t want to think; he just had an urgent need to find someone needy! “There’s got to be someone in need, there’s got to!” Then (Oh praised be the Lord!), as he passed a darkening alley, he saw a drunk reeling along. He was swinging an almost empty bottle of whiskey at the end of one arm and he was heading for a makeshift tent made out of cardboard boxes.
The hundred-dollar-bill man almost tripped in his hurry to reach the drunkard before he could get into his tent. But he was in time, and the bum even turned and saw him. The hundred-dollar-bill man blurted out, “Hey, buddy! Here’s a hundred dollars! Go and get yourself another bottle and live it up!” The drunken man pointed a wavering finger at him and slurred, “It’th better to giff than to rezeive.”
The hundred-dollar-bill man shouted, “Take it, damn you! Take it, or I’ll beat you to a pulp!” Suddenly, as if he was sober, the drunkard grabbed the hundred dollar bill, looked at it slyly, then tore it up. The hundred-dollar-bill man went crazy. He picked up a piece of wood at his feet and started beating the man. The drunkard fell, senseless, on the cold dark pavement.
The hundred-dollar-bill man ran out of the alley, ran and ran and ran, until he stopped. For a strange thing had happened, or perhaps not so strange. He no longer knew where he was or who he was or what he was doing. His self had totally disappeared.