It was probably desperation heavily laced with guilt that impelled me to "adopt" a homeless man. There was nothing significant I could do for the hundreds of street people of Washington, but maybe I could extend a hand to one person.

Call him Charlie. A weathered man in a baseball cap. He could have been a farm hand or an old sea dog whose ship had long since sailed. In the late afternoon and evening, when the office people came out of the buildings, Charlie could be found sitting on a low curbing that demarked the edge of a small triangular park at 19th and H Streets. Between his feet sat a plastic cup. Charlie did not rattle the cup or entreat the passersby for help. If a man could beg with dignity, Charlie was the one.

I had passed him by many times. He always remained silent, and there was no reproach in his gaze.

Then a few weeks ago I dropped some change into his cup. He said, "Thank you. God bless you, sir. And have a wonderful evening," as though he were seeing me off to a fancy dress ball.

The small contribution became a daily ritual. The words never changed. Every time he sent me off into a wonderful evening.

Our mutual diffidence broke down after a time, and we would exchange small talk for a moment before I walked off to my "wonderful" evening. Once he told me that a man in a big Lincoln had picked him up and taken him to a mansion in the suburbs, where he worked all day cleaning up a huge yard. The man brought Charlie back to the city and handed him a roll of bills. Eighty dollars.

"Wouldn't you know," Charlie said, "I got rolled that night. Lost every dollar."

"Good Lord. Hard times." I commiserated with him, though I wasn't sure I believed the story.

One evening I looked ahead to the spot where he always sat, but there was no Charlie. Puzzling. Then as I drew closer, he came running down the walk that dissected the park.

"Sir, sir, I've got a job. Starts tomorrow. Don't you see the way I've cleaned myself up?"

It was true. He usually had three or four days' gray stubble on his face.

I yelled congratulations and pounded him on the back, while he displayed a wide, gap-toothed grin. In that single moment, Charlie gave me a lot more than I had given him.

Now I approach the spot where he sat, anxious, hoping I won't see him. Several weeks have passed by. I think now he's going to make it.

Goodbye, Charlie, God bless. And have a wonderful evening.

-- George Dorsey