A Few Bad Apples (and Rampantly Unhygienic Ones, Too)
By Don Hall
When I first arrived in Chicago back in April of '89 after moving here on a whim, I had no job, no money to speak of, knew no one in town. The only dough I had came from an Optima card (formerly the Amex Credit Card) and whatever I could pick up from playing my trumpet at El stops.
In spite of my meager cabbage count, being new to the Big City, I was often compelled to help those in need by donating a small portion of what I had to the street's many homeless. And in three short months, I learned to stop giving.
One cat hit me up three times in three different areas with exactly the same story — the thing about his sick wife in the car with no gas and three dollars for gas was all he needed. The third time I gave him a fiver and told him that I only owed him a dollar next time. Another begged for money because he hadn't eaten so I went inside a White Hen and grabbed him a bagel, which he then stuffed into his jacket and continued to ask other passers-by for money because he hadn't eaten in three days.
In the ensuing thirty years, I rarely, if ever, spare any change for these folks. When I smoked cigarettes, I could always spare one because at least I have no doubt in my mind what they'll do with it and "Can you spare a smoke?" is at least honest. Every time I feel shitty not giving someone in need a few bucks, I'm reminded that I feel shittier if I find out my compassion has been abused.
Here in Las Vegas, panhandlers are a bit more sly and, I’d argue, more successful. It is, after all, a city built upon tourists throwing away their income on overpriced drinks and slot machines.
With the economy only soaring for the Yacht Club of America, I figure more and more Americans will resort to the street-side charity move, so here are a few lessons that might make the neophyte beggars a bit more successful.
If you're going to play an instrument or sing, have some ability, yeah?
Singing "My Girl" over and over off key or blaring barely remembered Christmas songs on an out of tune sax just irritates the fuck out of everyone. Trust me, you'll do better looking pathetic than you will annoying people. And, dude? That plastic egg shaker doesn't count as an instrument.
If you're going to lie about why you need the cash, at least have a couple of good, entertaining ones and shop them around
Put some effort into this. If you're going to panhandle, be the best damn panhandler around.
Try things outside the box instead of the obvious.
NO: I haven't eaten for three days.
YES: I'm a Juilliard trained pianist who lost his family in a bus accident and now I nobly carry my grief by giving up on life, but if you help me I can bring you a sense of fulfillment in your otherwise empty and meaningless existence.
NO: I need a place to stay.
YES: I'm in search of the Holy Grail!!
NO: My wife is sick and needs medicine (or gas for the car to get her to the hospital).
YES: My wife is an S&M freak and if I don't get enough cash together to buy her a chain of anal beads, she's gonna chop off my tool.
If you smell like piss and your fingernails are three inches long, no one will give you money
We're Americans, remember? We'll spend millions of dollars on air fresheners, deodorants, colognes and FaBreeze to avoid bad smells and poor hygiene. Take thirty minutes a day and freshen up some. A whore's bath in a 7-Eleven works wonders — try washing those pants in a toilet. Trust me, the water in there is cleaner than you standing around in your own stink. A dirty hobo just communicates that you don't care anymore.
Keep in mind that the homeless in the 1930s were sort of quaint and charming (and mostly in black and white or sepia toned). They wore suits and had dreams of rabbit farms and getting back on their feet. If you had a job, who would you give a buck to: Burl Ives or Ratso Rizzo from A Midnight Cowboy?
If you're grossly obese, don't make a sign that says you'll work for food.
Don't try to chat people up and please avoid speeches.
First, everyone is making speeches these days. Second, it just makes everyone aware of how guilty they feel that they're gonna blow $4.00 on a cup of sugary, whipped coffee and pay $170.00 to see Hamilton.
Avoid being overly religious.
If Jesus really gave a shit, don't you think you'd be watching ComCast instead of sleeping under Wacker Drive? Also, condemning people for their sins is only a way to motivate baptists to shell out some guilt money. The rest of us are being constantly shamed for our privilege, our racism, our meat-eating ways, and our use of Amazon.
Losing your job is like losing anything important to you — your marriage tanks, your kids move away, someone close to you croaks — it's like you’re suddenly living someone else's life.
You can either be a character out of a Spike Lee Joint or King of the Road.