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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Panhandlers

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...
But still...
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?

Aloha oe,
A.J.

6 comments:

C.R. Moss said...

having grown up in the northeast and having been subjected to those kinds of people during visits to NYC, I have to say I don't give to panhandlers anymore. I think I did a couple times when I was a teen. Until someone told me they make scores of money. Then sure enough I saw a show on TV about how some NYC panhandlers live in Jersey, drive Mercedes & BMWs, and wear suits. They'll drive across the river, change from their suits into their derilict clothes then go sit on a street corner for their '9 to 5' shift. They'll make their money then go back home. So back east no one gets my money. Here in Vegas, no one gets my money here either. I sometimes feel bad for the men who stand on the street corners with their 'I'm a Vet and need food' signs in the middle of summer (110+ heat) but with all the fast food joints around here if they really wanted food or money i'm sure they could get a job cleaning the floors or something. Okay so I'm a bit cynical but my parents taught me i should work for what i want (and I feel others should do the same) but i don't believe panhandling and deceiving people is the right kind of work.

Jambrea said...

Let me tell you...when I first moved to CA, ( I lived in Barstow for a year) I could not beleive the homeless. In the Midwest I didn't see much of it, if any at all. I was shocked.

They saw the sucker coming that's for sure. I'm a softy and the people I was living with told me that I shouldn't give, but I usually did. Heck I've always had a hard time saying no. The older I get, the eaiser it is now that I've been suckered a few times. :)

courtneybreazile said...

I don't give anymore unless i feel really strongly about the person or organization i see. I give my time, i volunteer at the animal shelter and am putting in a community garden at my dayjob office. I feel good about that and i have always had to work for what i want. Why shouldn't everyone else? It's hard not to be cynical i thinks if you have ever been jilted by a so called charity. I always support teh boyscouts and girlscouts selling their popcorn and cookies and i give to fill the boot for the firemen. I feel like that is enough.

Jambrea said...

I love Fill the Boot. I used to work for the Muscular Dystrophy Association or the MDA and I loved helping with those. It's a great organization! The best thing they do is a summer camp for all the kids with Muscular Dystrophy. It's the one week where they get to feel just like any other kid. :)

Caffey said...

Hi AJ! Sad, but I remember some that were saying they were deaf at a bus terminal (and I'm deaf) but they didn't know that. So they were pretending to sign and I signed back and they couldn't understand me. That upset me because one, they weren't deaf and two because it didn't look good on the image of deafness. Only difference is I can't hear. In college, I had to do a paper on a word and its origin and history. I picked 'Handicap' which means 'cap in hand' (image of having their cap out asking for money, image of begging) that's why many do not like to use that term but instead use person with a disability (emphasizing they are a person first). So I've always been weary of those approaching me and usually doesn't work well to approach someone but use the media to advertise. So I always give donation directly to the approved agencies etc.

Lynn Crain said...

I agree, AJ, that this is a world where many people are out to make a buck in the easiest way possible. For many of them, they schlep whatever they have including themselves.

I used to give a lot and always had change or ones until, like you, I saw a story on one guy who was making 60K a year just holding up the homeless sign. He had a home and a family. His support came from panhandling and his excuse was he didn't have an education so people wouldn't hire him. It made me sick.

After that story showed up, the off ramps became really crowded with lazy people wanting to make a quick buck. So many of them flocked to the areas off ramps that the police had to start arresting them. It was pathetic.

Yeah, it has always amazed me what people are willing to do for a buck. I don't mind the legit ones, like you said the musicians because they are giving us something back. Those that just put out their hands need to rely a little more on the person in the mirror first.

Lynn

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