If you read my post on Portsmouth, VA. You know that I’ve been to bad neighborhoods. Fallujah circa 2007 bad? Probably not. But, like the Moors of England in a Werewolf Movie, they were places you would never want to be after the sun went down. That’s when the worst of the bad stuff goes down. During the day, your worst threat of all is going to be pandhandlers.
Pandhandlers are a unique brand of scumbag. My readers with hearts-a-bleeding might say “hey Brendan, you shouldn’t look down on these people that way… there but for the grace of God go you…” and I would say to shut the hell up. The only way you discover that pandhandlers are worthless is by granting them the basic human dignity of actually letting them speak to you. You think to yourself “alright, I’m being a jerk by thinking this guy is going to ask me for money.”
So you let him speak to you.
And you find out you were right. And what’s so bad about that?
I work harder than I think I should have to to collect every penny I get (I’m a comedian, theoretically, I should be able to just make a living bringing joy to people like you, right?). What makes pandhandlers think that by standing around all day trying to get my money they are in any way inclined to get my money? Panhandlers have different ways of annoying the shit out of me.
All panhandlers have to get you to look at them before you give them money. And, rather than have a narrow waist, bountiful chest and wide hips, like other people who want you to do things you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of doing, they must attract attention other ways.
90% of these ways are “Hey man!” shouted repeatedly. For example. Imagine you’re walking out of a convenience store.
You keep walking.
“Hey man. Hey man.”
You look over your shoulder to see a guy following you.
After being asked 8 times, you finally ask what he wants, as though you are the mother to this man adapting the tactics of a three year old.
“You got 37 cents?”
Some people get creative with it. After taking a short cut through some projects, I was once flagged down by a woman. I imagined she was perhaps going to tell me that the road was out, or gang warfare was about to erupt two intersections down my path. Perhaps she was going to tell me I had a headlight out, or my car was shooting flames out of the exhaust. Maybe even that she was a time traveller from the future and was seeking a way to get me to send a message to Doc, who was currently in the future.
No, after taking too long to get to the ask (see below) she asked me if I had any spare change.
- Taking too long to get to the ask
This panhandler maneuver is where said beggar piece of shit thinks he can trick me into giving him cash by reasoning with me. This takes many forms, but is most often the “on hard times” routine. First the peasant gets your attention, should you give in, you’re typically in for a good long story…
“I’m just trying to get my life together…”
“I just got out of the hospital…”
Those are two examples of the easy ones, openers, that if you’re lucky only take about 30 seconds. Every now and then, your hobo will figure out that you’re not really in the mood to talk to someone who smells like shit, armpits and Steel Reserve breath. This was the case with the girl who flagged me down at the intersection. “Hey… hey… hold up… chill out… what you in such a rush for,” as if the urgent flagging me down was merely a greeting she gives everyone.
The worst example was when one of these stinky people in need could not decide on his opening story, causing him to drag the process further yet. His ask started off as a jumble of sad stories. Seriously, this guy opened with a montage of Portsmouth tragedies… “I’m on hard times, you see, I just, my health, jobs is hard to get…” and then flabbergasted with his own lack of indecisiveness when it came to asking me for money, he gave up on being creative, and just stated “I’m black.”
Unmoved, I simply replied “okay… I’m white” and that I didn’t have any spare change.
- Not having a clue about physical proximity
The gentleman who tried to sway me by his blackness, before talking, simply took two steps with his hand ready for a hand shake and stopped, just staring at me. When I returned his stare, he just said “oh, I thought you were going to meet my hand,” apparently hoping for a handshake. No matter what, people asking you for money always try to be as close to you as possible when doing so.
If you’re walking out of a convenience store, for some reason, panhandlers will keep a normal human distance, attempts at handshaking aside. And in most situations, if a guy is asking me for money, I have no gotten to the point where once he has finished uttering the request, I will, as a reflex, reply “don’t have any cash on me, sorry,” which usually dispells these Dementors like a full throated “expecto patronum.”
The thing is, where hobos are, you typically don’t want to be. If you have a window open, a panhandler will try to get inside, as any parasite generally does. It does not matter the degree to which your window is open. If it’s only open two inches, they’ll put their mouths up to the opening and shout in to your car. Do they think that if they can get their head in my car than they won’t get away? Or do they think that if they touch a car, they might attract some kind of peripheral wealth by association? Maybe they’re just trying to annoy me into payment.
- They’re just trying to get drunk/high/cracked out
People who want food, shelter and a new start at life go to homeless shelters and slowly work their way back into society. People who want to drink expensive booze and sit on comfortable furniture work shitty jobs that make them crave booze even more. People who want to just get shitfaced and not worry about their furniture… well they ask people who work miserable jobs for spare change.
Sure, they might ask you for change for food, or for water… but that’s not what they want. Have you ever seen the frustration in a panhandler’s eyes when you actually give them food and water? I had a fellow ask me for money across the street from a McDonalds, as he was broke and wanted a meal. I wasn’t going to give him cash, but the night before, my girlfriend had actually roasted some pumpkin seeds, seasoned them deliciously and packed some in my lunch.
“I don’t have any cash, but I have some freshly roasted pumpkin seeds.”
“Man, I don’t want no motherfuckin pumpkin seeds… god damn it…” he continued to trail off as he walked away, defeated.
Apparently some panhandlers have worked in collections, apparent from their ask techniques.
“Hey man, you got a quarter?”
“You got a cigarette.”
“Can I get a ride?”
While I respect the fellow’s desire to earn a positive response from me, seriously, if I don’t want to pay you to go away, and I don’t have a cigarette, and we know I don’t want you near me as evidenced by my rolling down the window a centimeter for you to shout through, why the fuck would I want you in my car?
These guys have no sense of time. I’ve had cats flag me down while on the phone, literally asking me to stop my conversation to see if I have any cash to give them. Most recently, I exited The Boot with my girlfriend (you know, the hot chick I live with who roasts pumpkin seeds for me), and had a guy shout the ubiquitous “hey man” from across the street. I didn’t answer. It was date night, and as if my own horrible poverty wasn’t enough delineated by meal at this expensive eatery, I didn’t need to share any cash with a stranger to prove it further.
So we walked to the car. The guy started following us down the poorly lit sidewalk.
Still following us. In a rush, we got in the car, started the car and locked the doors. As I had the car in reverse, the dude was still trying to flag me down or mug me. I didn’t know, I didn’t stop to ask him. As I drove away, the guy had this shocked look on his face, as if to say “whoa, an old crazy looking guy wearing a winter coat on an August night on the south runs across the street after a couple who obviously doesn’t want to be bothered, and this is the kind of treatment he gets?”
At any rate, I honestly hope these people can find whatever it is they’re looking for in life. I hope they can find a clean release from their addictions, relief from their fatigue, motivation where none seems to exist. So they’ll stop asking me for money.
For now, I’ll settle with the best panhandler of all time, from one of my favorite movies, UHF: