Like many people raised during the Depression, my parents would let the teenage me work at any job, among any kind of people, at any hour.
So, when I was 14, I was washing dishes in a restaurant whose bar was less than savory. By the time I was in my mid-teen years, I was a janitor in a large hotel where, despite the lobby's clear glass and potted plant loveliness, the staff, minimum wagers all of us, included a number of people who couldn't read, hadn't finished high school, were unwise in their use of recreational substances and were on either probation or parole.
It was, in the gasping-for-breath old phrase, "an education."
The people I worked with could, I suppose, be referred to as "disadvantaged," but what they really were was flat-down mean poor and likely to stay that way.
The guests in our fine hotel left many items behind in their rooms. If you believe that you can check into a hotel and indulge your most repulsive fantasies free of scrutiny, let me assure you the staff will be laughing about the physical manifestations of your inner life, probably over coffee and a menthol cigarette.
In those pre-computer days, men traveling alone left a lot of pornographic magazines behind when they checked out. The maids tended to give these to the janitors, although not always. We stashed them in the linen storage closets and read them when we were hiding out from the boss. Unopened cans of beer and soda were also left behind with some regularity.
All of these items (and many more) should have been turned in to hotel security, a group of people nearly as poor as the maids and janitors. This option was seldom considered unless the item in question was a dog, cat or child. None of us would steal anything that might require feeding.
And "stealing" is just how it was defined, at least if you were bored enough and literate enough to read the employee handbook.
And one day, one of the maids, whom I remember as being in her early 40s and none too attractive, showed me a red, see-through baby doll type nightgown she'd found in some adventurer's room.
It was not a garment designed to inspire the contemplation of a woman's inner beauty. It was a cheap, gaudy, poorly made rag meant to be a servant of the noisy sweat-drenched lust.
And she wanted it, but she wasn't sure how to get it down to the locker room where she could stuff it into her purse and so get it past our indolent, but often harassing, security force.
"Give it to me," I told her. "I have to take the trash out on the dock and put it in the compactor. I'll put it in a box, put the box in the trash and take it out on the dock when nobody's around, and then I'll put the box in my car. You can pick it up when you get off."
"Put it in my car," she said.
"Gimme your car keys," I said to her.
"My car don't lock," she said.
She was very happy, She may even have pecked me on the cheek. Over the next couple of weeks, she and I exchanged a number of very non-subtle jokes about how her husband had reacted to the garment.
It was not a great act of compassion on my part, but it may have been what the nuns in my grade school would have called "a spiritual act of mercy" — a phrase that doesn't get used much during even the most local of elections.
The poor, whether they have become poor through bad choices, laziness or some kind of voter-approved oppression, are not zoo animals.
So, if you are running for office, and you wish to speak to me of your great, shining Christian faith, speak to me first of compassion, which is all there is to Christianity.
Marc Munroe Dion is the author of the new book "Between Wealth and Welfare." To learn more, visit www.sumnerbooks.com/betweenwealth.php. To learn more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.