Molnar: Cash On Demand

Sep 27, 2017

The automated teller machine or ATM turns fifty this year. And while I use it less these days, since I now pay for most things with credit, its anniversary reminds me of how a series of miscalculations and poor planning once stranded me in midtown Manhattan with less than a dollar in my bag.

I had a train ticket home, but I was some fifty blocks from the station. And I was hungry. I was really hungry and on the way to a job interview.

Showing up with a growling stomach and headache would clearly not help me get the job. I had to find a branch office of my bank and get cash, fast.

I found a phone booth with enough Yellow Pages left to offer hope, and searched until I located the bank, ignoring the folks knocking on the door.

Once at the bank I was overcome with relief and felt immensely grateful for the privilege the cash conferred.

With my newfound wealth, I bought an enormous lunch, including an outrageous milkshake, and even took a cab to the interview. I didn’t get the job, but that’s another story.

The point now is that wandering around Manhattan hungry and without means – even for just the fraction of that day – changed me. I could no longer look away from the homeless lining the sidewalks. It was as if I could hear their hunger, if not for food then for the other comforts I enjoyed. And for the next few months, I gave to all who asked, not questioning why the young and seemingly healthy were not on their way to work as I was.

Eventually, the sheer numbers defeated my good intentions. I started looking away again and supporting vetted charities instead.

A few months later, my teenaged son announced that he wouldn’t fast on the Jewish Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur - which starts tomorrow - since he no longer believed in organized religion.

But I suggested that he fast anyway – for the millions of people around the globe, including here in Vermont, who go hungry day after day, rarely knowing the ease that comes with good, plentiful food.

Just so he would know how it feels.

He did, and continues to this day.

And so will I tomorrow.