Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beggars can't be choosers

I woke up early this morning to do some shopping. It was still dark when I went to the store to pick up some things that I was supposed to get over the weekend. I bought a new surge protector and a filing cabinet with some hanging folders. The surge protector was for my new tv. It doesn't make sense to buy something expensive and not get it some extra protection. I needed a filing cabinet, because the cardboard box I used to keep my records and receipts is more than full, spilling it's contents onto the floor. As I was putting the items in my trunk, I saw in the corner of my eye a man approaching me. Now living in big cities has certainly changed me. Big city life makes you more aware of things, be a little more cautious, and be wary of strangers.

He stopped a few yards from my car and asked, "Sir, do you have any spare change?"

Ah, a homeless man, I presumed. Except, he didn't look homeless--he was clean shaven, his hair trimmed, he wore clean clothes, and he didn't smell bad. But who knows? Maybe he was homeless. And I thought back to the first time I ever saw a homeless person. It was years ago. It was the summer before my last year in high school. It was my first time in the big city. San Francisco to be exact.

I was visiting my cousins, and though it was summer, it was freakin cold! We caught the train into town. My cousin and some friends were showing me around. I took a lot of pictures for the folks back home. It was the first time I had seen buildings taller than three stories. My first thought when I went into a Macy's dept store was, "Wow, is this a mall?"

My cousin laughed and said, "Nah, man! This a'int no mall! It's a department store!"

They indulged me, by taking five flights of escalators instead of the elevators. I had never been on an escalator before--they didn't have those back home! On the way out, we passed by a homeless man, holding up a sign. I was flabbergasted! We had just left a dept store full of nice things and right outside was a homeless person begging for money. It seemed unreal to see such a juxtaposition of wealth and poverty. I was going to give him some money, but my cousin said, "Don't. Just ignore him."

I was a little troubled by this, but I figured my cousin knew better than I. He was a city boy after all. Well I took a picture instead. I'd never seen a homeless person before! They do exist! We didn't have them back home, and boy will the folks back home will be surprised when I bring back photographic evidence of homeless people!

The rest of the day, we explored the city, went down to Fisherman's Wharf, and checked out the views from the top of the Bank of America building. We checked out the beach and parks before hitting Chinatown. We stopped at a McDonald's for a late lunch, and on the way out, I saw the same homeless man I had seen in front of Macy's! I was like, Wow, this guy gets around.

My cousin saw me looking at the homeless man and said, "Cuz, you're too soft! Don't give 'em any money. You've gotta be tough if you want to survive in the big city! Some of these people are con artists. They can spot an easy mark like you from a mile away! Tourists are suckers and easy to fool. These mofos will take advantage of you and easily rob you and kill you without a second thought."

Huh, I thought, that is disturbing. Later on, while waiting to cross the street, we saw a man get out of parked car, walk down to the front of a busy building, sat down and proceeded to hold up a cardboard homeless sign! We laughed when we saw that. I was like, Wow, there really are con artists in the city! *Snap* Another foto for the folks back home.

I was lucky my cousin and his friends looked out for me that summer. I learned a lot of things, gained a little street smarts, and had a lot of fun. But as much as I learned to be tougher and wiser, there have been a few times when I dropped a few coins in some beggar's cup. My cousin would've been horrified. But I think I've gotten a lot harder since then. Most times, I just ignore people standing at the street corner, holding up signs, asking for money. Truthfully, part of me thinks, Hey, if you can stand all day on a busy street corner holding up signs, you need to get a job wearing a sandwich board for ads. A little callous, I guess. But big city living has made me jaded.

My cousin was right. Experience has taught me that it's necessary to be a little hard to survive in the big city. But that doesn't mean you have to be a total jerk. I mean, I still give to charity and I still volunteer for community projects every now and then. I'd like to think that my efforts and my money are going to a good cause and not supplying some drunk or addict with the means to slowly poison himself. Of course, if you're homeless, I guess drugs and alcohol provides the escape you need from a miserable existence. Still, I couldn't bring myself to support anyone doing something so destructive to themselves.

So now I'm looking at this beggar standing next to my car, wearing his blue Nike sports jacket and shiny, unscuffed military boots. He continued, "My girlfriend and I are trying to get a motel room for the night."

I looked around. I didn't see a girlfriend nearby. But I told him, "Sorry, I don't have any spare change."

It was true. I used a credit card. Come to think of it, I rarely use or carry any cash anymore. I've gotten so used to using my bank card for everything. The beggar started to turn away, but trying to be helpful, I said, "You know, there's a shelter just across the street. You can find a place to stay there and get something to eat."

I pointed at the building, but the beggar got huffy and bristled, "I'm not going to any shelter! I just want some money!"

I wanted to say, Then get a job, you bum!

But instead, I held my tongue and watched him stomp away. I got in the car and laughed at absurdity of the situation before driving out of the parking lot.


  1. I always say I have no change if I am asked which is usually the truth and I've only given a homeless person money a few times. Once because I was so taken aback by his honesty. He said he was using it for beer.

    I once threw a Snickers bar into a homeless guys box because it said he was hungry. He picked it up and threw it at me.

  2. CP, That's a rarity! An honest beggar! Ha! I'd've given him money, too!

    How rude of that bum to throw back the candy bar! He shouldn't have put up a sign saying he was hungry if he didn't want food!

  3. I would have settled for drink and drugs meself!

  4. Mutley, I didn't have either one of those on me; not that I would've given them to that bum! If anyone deserved either one, it was me!

  5. The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco
    Mark Twain

    I watched a Pro on 20/20 talk about how he could make hundreds of dollars per diem if he had the right spot...
    it's always location, location, location.

  6. Try sprinkling fairy dust next time, CyberPoof.

  7. I once had a chat with a professional beggar at Blackfriars station; he told me he made £100 a day. You can tell the genuine ones in London though.

  8. I can't get past the fact that you hadn't been on an escalator until you were a teen. So cute!

  9. Donn, It's amazing just how smart and crafty these con artists are. I can't imagine just how much further they could get if they took on legitimate jobs! Then again, there are all ready too many crooks in gov't and big business!

    MJ, Or better yet, sprinkle some job applications!

    Scarlet B, And tax free, too! I'm amazed by the number of smart, strong people who decide to con instead of getting ahead with the usual job route.

    Snooze, The escalators were amazing! I grew up in a tiny town with mom and pop shops. I hadn't seen a mall either til that summer! One of the first places I wanted to visit was a McDonald's! We didn't get one back home til a few years after I left!

  10. I love it when a homeless guy begging for spare change offers you change when you tell him you only have a fiver.

  11. Practically Joe, Welcome! Ha! That's funny! It's like he's doing you a favor!

  12. I couldn't stop laughing. It was just too funny. He couldn't have been too hungry or was allergic to peanuts.

  13. CP, If he was allergic, he should've written that on his sign, the lying bum! I bet he didn't get any change after people saw his little tantrum. Imagine that, a diva bum!

  14. I know. You do get quite surprised when that happens.

    Then again I like the idea of diva bums. It's the kind I would be if I had to be a bum. Of course the £100 a day con artist is better.

  15. I rode on an escalator many times before I saw a beggar.
    I'm afraid I don't give to beggars, but I do give to buskers.

  16. This is precisely why on the 8th day God gave Adam a Taser!

  17. I had my first experience with the homeless when our family went downtown one year and I saw people out on the sidewalks begging. Then when I got a job in the same area there was a lady who would stop people on the street for some spare change to buy some coffee. I was tempted to give her some money, but never did.

    Oh and I hardly ever carry cash either, anymore. Like you, I just use my card. It drives my mom crazy.

  18. CP, £100 a day is a great gig--you make your own hours and you don't have to worry about filing taxes! A diva bum would be entertaining though...put on a good show and people will pay to see it!

    Kaz, I don't mind giving to street performers who put on a good show. At least they're earing it!

    Donn, Ha! There have been a few times I wish I could taser some rude street people!

    Tara, Using a card is so convenient. Although, I still have to get change for the car wash or laundry. It is kind of hard to ignore people begging, but some of them are just scamming you for your hard earned money!

  19. You just know that for 90% of these people the money will go straight into drink or drugs .So we may as well just cut out the middleman and have a good time yourself

  20. Beast, You got that right! I work hard for my money! And I damn well should party hard with it!