Monday, December 17, 2007

There But For Fortune

We see them everyday. Often they stop us cold, a kind of pop-up porno in 3D. Panhandlers. Some are more creative than others but all have the same goal. Isn't it incredible how they can stir up such contradictory emotions in seconds?
We all have our favorites. Like me, you are probably inconsistent. Even if you know the score, most panhandlers are not homeless, most are probably going to use your spare change for drugs or alcohol. Probably both. Some folks I know make a habit of always saying no. They have it all figured out and just keep moving. Others, like myself are bothered by their own inability to take a position and stick with it.
Today, while putting some groceries in my truck, a guy appeared and thrust a Veteran's Administration card in my face. He said, "I'm not a bum, really, I just need to buy some gas and I have no money." Now what do you think? But who has time to research random meetings in parking lots? Something I've noticed is that people are asking for gas money lately. It happened to me last month while traveling between Portland and San Francisco. My attitude remains anchored to what I feel in the moment. Buddhist teachings remind us that when we see a beggar we are really seeing ourselves. I look carefully.
Some years ago I went to see a production of Les Miserable in downtown San Francisco. The audience was roused to thundering cheers as the play ended in a tremendous victory for the downtrodden. Minutes later I watched as many of these well dressed patrons took to the streets themselves, scrambling by the shivering homeless in the shadows, stepping on and over them to scramble for taxis.

1 comment:

ossiwessiami said...

I too am not consistent with panhandlers. In the parkinglot at Emanuel Hospital last December a black guy with few teeth approached me, as I was driving away and told me this story, that he needed gasmoney. His wife had just gotten out of the hospital and the car had no gas anymore. The hospital would drive him to a gasstation to get gas, but he needed the money urgently. I half believed it, half of me thought of course, that this is BS, but I gave him 50 c, which didn't seem to be enoug. He needed about $4 or 5, which of course I wouldn't give him. He didn't thank me and walked off to the next couple on the lot.
He was somewht sucessfull with me, because I gave him something, his urgent plea was pretty well done. A good actor. But I also fellt sorry for the guy, what if it's true? I felt bad and that was his success.