inspired by a true event. thanks, Doug for your creative, compassionate heart!
“Corndog Angel” – David Wilson-Burns © 2010
This wasn’t the most extravagant corporate party I’d attended, but it was no small event either. We were entertained and amused by a live, tiki-carving, alternative surfer band. We were perplexed and somewhat titillated by a gaggle of seventies-inspired rollerskating girls. Beer and wine were flowing freely. And food…the food was everywhere; more food than we could possibly consume that night.
There were tables and tables of chinese food, chili dogs, mexican food, fresh fruit, and my personal favorite, corndogs; hundreds , possibly thousands, of piping hot corndogs stacked up in massive heated metal pans. It was a little nippy that night, so the corndogs also had a very pleasant warming effect. We drank beer and filled our guts until we were loud, laughing, and stuffed.
The party, however, was not exactly taking off the way we were. It’s difficult to throw thousands of software developers and database administrators together with weird surf rock and beautiful skating girls and prevent them from spending the entire time carefully documenting everything with their iPhones. No one danced and many were too shy (and too busy documenting) to even speak to each other. So, we decided to make our exit.
That’s when my buddy Doug was struck by a bolt of inspiration. He picked up a couple of paper baskets and boldly shoveled a pile of corndogs into them.
“Hey guys! Let’s give out corndogs on the street!”
Yes! Why should we let all of this good food go to waste when the streets of San Francisco are full of hungry people? I decided to follow suit. I admit that I felt a little anxious about it. What if someone questioned me? Is it rude to take so much food and then just leave? I cautiously eyed the corndog tray and the two servers who were working the buffet. Would they stop me? Even after half a dozen beers, I hadn’t lost my rule-follower mentality.
But it was time to leave and I wanted this to happen. I grabbed two paper baskets, just as Doug had done, and scooped up about ten huge corndogs and walked away. When we got to the street, I began looking for people who might be hungry. We were loud and bold as we made our way to our favorite little pub on Powell. It wasn’t long before we came upon a man sitting on the sidewalk leaning up against a building. He held out a cup, his head hung, and his spirit low. I was first up. I squatted down and held out the basket. I spoke softly and cheerfully, “Hey. Wanna corndog?” He looked up at me and laughed with a street-roughened voice. “Thanks!” he replied and grabbed one from the top.
We moved on up the street with our little gang, handing out corndogs as we walked. I wondered how someone who might not be homeless might react if I offered one. I mean, a corndog’s a corndog, no matter who you are and what your circumstances may be. A guy on a skateboard stopped beside me at the cross walk. I uncovered my pile of corny gold and held it out to him, “Dude! Wanna corndog?”
“No way! Are you serious? For free?”
“Hell yeah! Take one! They’re still warm!”
“Right on! That’s awesome!”
He grabbed one and skated off with the changing light.
As we turned onto Powell, I only had one dog left. The five of us were nearing the zenith of our evening revelry, which we would most certainly reach after a few hot irish coffees at the pub. I nearly tripped over a man sitting on the street corner. He was very nearly invisible. He wasn’t speaking, playing drums, holding a cup or a sign. He had a blanket around him. He was holding himself, trying to keep warm in the chilly night. It would only get colder. I squatted down as I had done before. I uncovered the last corndog.
It had been fun and games up till this point. Weren’t we clever, and oh so compassionate, handing out corndogs that would get a hungry man through only a few hours on the cold, hard street. Yes, we felt great. And it truly did lift our eyes to some of the harsher realities of this city that we were being given only the best of. But this was real now. This was a real man, with a real problem, on a real street. We would soon be in a warm, friendly place and would make new friends and have a few laughs, then we would crash in warm, comfortable, luxury hotel room beds for the night. But he wouldn’t, he would be sitting right here where he was right now, alone, cold, and hungry.
I picked up the corn dog by its stick and spoke to him through the haze of beer and joviality, “Hey, brother. Have a corndog.”
Something happened in that moment. Maybe it was just a trick of the street lights, maybe it was the beer. But I wasn’t the only one who saw it. The man lifted his head slowly until his eyes met mine, nothing but a corndog between us. His face melted into a smile. His eyes glistened. There was something happening in that moment that cannot be described. There was a light or an energy…a glow. It wasn’t coming from me. It emanated between us, in our brief contact. I don’t remember if he spoke, but his eyes expressed his gratitude as he accepted my humble gift, a warm corndog.
“Dude! You were like the corndog angel or something. That was weird! Did you see that?!” exclaimed one of my buddies with a tinge of awe in his slurred state.
No, I thought, I’m not the angel here. I thought of a story that I’d heard recently in church. A guest preacher, Shane Claiborne, spoke of a woman who lived on the street who said,
“I used to shine!!
I used to SHINE!!!!
but it’s a COLD
For just a moment, on a cold, dark, night on the streets of San Francisco, I wondered if I had seen an angel, who’s light was all but extinguished by our cold, dark, world.