Guy shaving on train enters the GoFundMe trap

I would call this an oddball story, but it begins on a New Jersey Transit train leaving New York City, so “oddball” is a pretty high bar to reach. Passengers on the train were shocked to observe a guy giving himself a shave in his train seat. The situation quickly went viral on Twitter.

The outcry was fast and furious in normal social media fashion. He was described as gross, disgusting and worse things which we can’t reprint here. But somebody tracked down the train shaver and learned more of his story. It turns out that Anthony Torres had been down on his luck for a while, suffering two strokes in two years and spending a period of time homeless. As NPR reports, attitudes began to change when people found out that Torres was on his way to see his brother, who he had been estranged from for a time, and wanted to look good.

Nobody knew Torres’ name. Instead they hurled insults, including “gross,” “strange” and “disgusting.” One person called him a “dumb drunk” for not using the train’s bathroom.

The subject of those insults says after learning of the video’s existence, he wanted to reveal the backstory.

Torres tells the Associated Press that when he boarded that train, he had just spent days in a New York City homeless shelter.

He says he had reached out to family and a brother gave him money for a train ticket so he could reach the home of another brother in southern New Jersey. He caught the 7 p.m. train to Trenton without having had the chance to clean up.

“I don’t want to say that I’m homeless, let everybody know,” Torres said in the interview. “That’s why I was shaving.”

He’s now staying with his brother and a GoFundMe campaign has been set up. The brother says he will “help manage the money.”

A heartwarming story, right? But let’s think this through. First of all, I’m not going to come down quite as hard on the people who were grossed out by this incident and tweeting about it. Shaving on a commuter train (complete with shaving cream) is pretty disgusting and it’s valid to ask why he didn’t use the bathroom on the train. If you watched the video, you can see him slinging the used shaving cream (along with his whiskers) toward the floor of the train car. I guess the man’s living conditions make it more understandable, but let’s not expend too much hate on his fellow riders. Many people on social media overreacted, to be sure, but don’t pretend that there’s something wrong with you if you recoil at the sight of a stranger taking care of his evening ablutions in the seat next to you.

But with all that said, does Torres now have a chance for a fresh start in life? Definitely, and I wish him the best. But the people involved in this GoFundMe campaign need to learn from the lesson of Johnny Bobbitt when it comes to managing GoFundMe contributions. First of all, the fund wasn’t set up by the brother. A stranger, who we know little to nothing about, got it started. We know this from the GoFundMe page, where they talk about reaching out to the Associated Press reporter who covered the story to get Torres’ contact information. They say that both GoFundMe and the brother are working to “manage” the dispersal of the funds.

And why is that? Because Anthony was homeless and drinking beer on the train? If the man “can’t be trusted” with the money, there should be a court order saying so. And not one dime of that money should go to anything other than Anthony’s direct needs and expenses, not “paying rent” to his brother or any other expenses. Further, how do we know that the person setting up the fund is going to be turning it all over properly? As I wrote when covering the Johnny Bobbitt story, these charitable funds set up for hard luck cases are wonderful, heartwarming stories, but we don’t always know the true intentions of their internet benefactors. It’s a relatively new area of law we’re talking about.

I sincerely hope things work out well for Anthony Torres. It sounds like the guy could really use a break. But in order for that to happen, both his brother and the person who set up the fund will have to be stand-up individuals who walk the walk. Otherwise, Torres is going to be the next one in line needing a pro bono lawyer.