By A.J. Llewellyn
I was faced with an interesting dilemma a few nights ago. A kid on a skateboard zoomed up to me in a parking lot with some CDs. He's a struggling young artist. He wanted me to listen to his music - he handed it to me, than asked for a donation of $15.
"Can I hear it first?" I asked, balking at the idea of shelling out that much money without hearing a sample. He had no portable boom box and I became suspicious when his iPod (the ear phones were dangling from his neck) didn't have his own music on it.
What kind of salesmanship is this?
I wished him luck but declined to buy his CD.
"I have a MySpace page," he said. I checked when I got home. He did not.
When I first moved to this country in 1984, I was shocked by the plethora of panhandlers swirling the streets. I'd never seen anything like it...solicitors on the edges of freeways, street corners, outside supermarkets, banks, parking lots...I felt choked by the sheer numbers of people wanting to part me from my money.
I was new to the city and was taking the bus. I was a student juggling two part time jobs and often found people begging me as I got on and off the bus - sometimes, even while I was on it!
I got taken by an interesting woman my first week here. She approached me, briefcase in hand, her smart pink business suit all shiny and clean. She pointed to her car and showed me her keys stuck in the ignition.
"I locked myself out," she said. "Can you possibly give me $10 and I will call AAA?" I really didn't want to give her ten bucks but she was on the verge of hysteria about missing a meeting and I gave it to her. I didn't have AAA yet since I hadn't even bought a car. I really, really didn't want to give up $10, I was starving student but I felt bad for her. She even took my address down and promised to send me a check.
Of course, she never did.
I learned a few months later she was famously homeless in our neighborhood and lived out of her car. This was her schtick. She worked the Miracle Mile district like a whore, except she smartly peddled her tears, not her ass.
I was stunned when a few years later she turned up in a documentary called "The Hidden Homeless" and there she was. She cleaned herself daily at a restaurant restroom, held a job, kept her car in good shape, but she was homeless.
I have never forgotten her and often wonder what happened to her, but I am frankly sick to the gills not being able to shop without being accosted. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don't. I am a sucker for people who panhandle with kids and starving dogs but I usually offer to buy them food. Mostly, they say no.
The other night I was approached by a guy wanting 27 cents to get his drink on - his words, not mine. he hand a palmful of change and he stunk like mad.
He said, "I just need to sleep."
I gave him a buck and he thanked me and stumbled off to buy his sleeping aid. He was obviously homeless but more than that, HONEST.
I hate people who lie! Since the chick in the pink suit I have become perhaps a little nasty to the endless parade of people at gas stations who give me tales of woe about needing just one more buck to make bus fare to Boise. Or what about people who beg for gas money?
They approach you as you pump.They give you a story about running out of gas. I've given 'em a buck or two only to see 'em drive off. To do what? Score drugs?
What about these phony charities that solicit for donations outside supermarkets? I've checked a few out of curiosity. Some exist, some don't.
I don't know...where does it end? I am suffering from Donor Fatigue, Bullshit Fatigue, My Own Bloody Problems Fatigue...
I actually donate my physical time and some money to three different charitable organizations: my local library, a feline rescue service, and a homeless shelter. I feel I am doing a lot...
My brother is a musician and taught me early to always give musicians money. There is a talented young clarinet player outside my local market and I always give him money. At least he is willing to work for it - unlike the people who come up with stupid lies for the sake of liberating a buck or two from me.
The kid with the CDs...man, I wish he'd been legit!
But how about you? How do you feel about panhandlers? Do you give? Or do you feel the weight of fatigue as well?