I've contributed to perhaps the best humor compilation I've ever read. Available now on Amazon!

My second chapbook, "The Second Book of Pearl: The Cats" is now available as either a paper chapbook or as a downloadable item. See below for the Pay Pal link or click on its cover just to the right of the newest blog post to download to your Kindle, iPad, or Nook. Just $3.99 for inspired tales of gin, gambling addiction and inter-feline betrayal.

My first chapbook, I Was Raised to be A Lert is in its third printing and is available both via the PayPal link below and on smashwords! Order one? Download one? It's all for you, baby!

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Like You. You Feisty.

I’ve worked in downtown Minneapolis for almost eight years.

I’m sure that beggars have been in Minneapolis for a long time, but initially I hadn’t been prepared on how to deal with them or the variations on the “beg”.

I didn’t know how to say “no” at first.

What? You need change to get home? Well, sure, honey! Everybody wants to go home, don’t they? Until they walk another 15 feet with the same story, collecting the same amount, the same “bus fare”, again and again. Even after I realized that I’d been had, if I were caught unaware and was asked for fifty cents, it just seemed easier to give it away than say no. I gave away a number of bus fares before I finally successfully said what I’d been practicing in my head for weeks. “No.”

One of the impressive things about Minneapolis is its skyway system, a system designed by our ancestors to ensure that women who refuse to wear anything lower than a three-inch heel have a warm way to get from one building to another in the winter. I think it was built by Pa Ingalls, but I might be wrong about that.


The skyways are security-guard swept on a fairly regular basis and run through the second floors of a number of lovely buildings to a number of other lovely buildings, keeping your skin free of frostbite in the winter and your purse free of being drained of change by beggars in the summer. Even so you may run into a musician playing. I don’t really see that as begging. A handful of change in an open instrument case, a chorus or two on my run to Target over the lunch hour? Some of them play very well. What the heck. I will gladly drop a dollar for a guy playing an instrument well.

But the operative word there is “well”. There’s a man that plays recorder (remember the plastic instrument we played in elementary school?) on the streets and I’m almost tempted to pay him not to play. A trilling, shrieking example of what happens when your belief in yourself surpasses your abilities, this guy spends several days a week, particularly between 7th and 9th on the Nicollet Mall, playing endless variations of Mary Had a Little Lamb; Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and the one that has me racing for something to beat him with: Three Blind Mice. He’s a virtuoso of the trill, of the dramatic flourish.

The best thing you can say about his musical abilities? He dresses nicely.

My first encounter with a beggar who actually followed me came shortly after I learned to say no to the ones that just hung out near the bus stop. A man with a furtive face and a smell like a Beef Stroganoff going bad came up to me.

“You got forty bucks?”

“What?”

“You got forty bucks?”

“Did you say forty?”

“Yeah.”

“No.”

“Well, do you have four?”

Bless his soul. While I admired how he went about it – hey! It was only four bucks, marked down from forty! – I turned down the opportunity to give him my money. The word “no” worked again.

That was in the hottest part of summer. The next memorable encounter with a beggar came around Christmas time.

“Say, Ma’am? Ma’am? You’re a Christian woman, ain’t ya?” He ran up to me, trotted next to me as I trudged toward the bus stop.

“No,” I said. “I don’t believe I am.” I picked up my pace.

He picked his pace up as well. “Heh. Heh. Well, could you spare a couple bucks?”

Oh, he shouldn’t have asked me. I’d been working 50 hours a week for over a month. It was dark when I got to work and it was dark when I got home and I’d written a check to a plumber that morning for just under the cost of a good used car.

I stopped walking.

“You see that building over there?” I pointed to the building I work in. “I work on the 48th floor. I sell them my precious time by the hour and now you want me to turn around and give the money to you. I am writing a check for more than I make in two weeks this evening to a man who's going to replace some plumbing so that we can go crazy and flush the toilet tonight. Now why would I give you my money?”

“Heh, heh,” he chuckled. “I like you. You feisty. Can I hug you?”

I smiled at him grimly. “Hug me and I’ll scream.”

“Heh, heh,” he said. And then he was gone, chasing another woman down the street: “Say, Ma’am?! Ma’am? You a Christian woman?”

You know, there are reasons for charity. I give my blood as often as I can. I donate to food shelves. But giving to random men on the street? I’ve gotten pretty good at saying my new-found word: “No.”

35 comments:

Simply Suthern said...

I hate being approached because I am a softy. I am a real sucker for a damsel in distress. Recently while on the road I was approached by a young lady needing 5 bucks for gas to get away from an abusive relationship. I didnt have cash but I finshed pumping my gas and pumped a few dollars in her car. I'm pretty sure she wernt telling the whole truth but then again what if she was.

Fragrant Liar said...

Feisty this, dude!

I know. It's hard sometimes, but for somebody like that especially, "No!" is the perfect word.

Pearl said...

Simply, I once gave a woman $13 -- $13!!!! -- because she needed to take a cab home. It was after she walked away that I wondered why she didn't take the bus. Ahh, but I was younger then, and believed what people told me...

Fragrant, I actually had to practice saying "No" long before I first said it!

ellen abbott said...

I always say no to street beggars, well mostly. I have to be pretty convinced and then they only get whatever loose change I have in my pocket or on the dashboard of the car. My friend who lives downtown and runs the gauntlet daily has a stock phrase as he walks down the street...sorry not today sir.

I believe in charity and support food banks and donate old clothes to shelters but I'm not handing out my hard earned cash to whatever open palm is stretched out in front of me.

Oilfield Trash said...

I know how you feel.

Big Fat Gini said...

You just reminded me that I am totally traumatized by the man in Houston who insisted on washing my window at the intersection around the corner from the airport while I flailed and squealed "No! I said NO! Stop it!"

Apparently, Karma needed a good window cleaning that day because on my way home from the airport, an object hit my windshield at 70+mph and shattered it.

I'm just sayin'...

Sarah said...

I've always wanted to say something similar to the bums you recognize on a regular basis. Something along the lines of, "Sure, I'll give you my loose change, but only if you agree to pay my student loan interest debt..."

...but I'm never brave enough. Good for you Pearl!

Pearl said...

ellen, you and I are in wild agreement.

Oilfield, I'm glad. :-)

BFG, I feel like there's some symbolic truth in there somewhere. I just know that that story's going to sit in the back of my brain, all day, percolating...

Elizabeth said...

I have the hardest time with the people who stand with a sign at the top of freeway exit ramps, cause you have to sit there through the entire red light trying not to make eye contact with them.

Pearl said...

Sarah, it's funny, but yes, there are the ones you see every day. I almost feel like we have some sort of relationship, that I know their face and they know mine. But then I get a grip on that. I do wish, however, that I could help in some way. There's a woman that I see that sits with all of her stuff outside the Light Rail. It's a good four stops before my own, so I see her only from the bus, but she's so skinny, so weather-beaten, always smoking a cigarette... She really looks like she could use a sandwich, but I think whipping one at her from the bus is probably silly...

Pearl said...

Elizabeth, I know what you mean, although I have to admit that once I pulled up to the exit on 94 and Dowling and there was a man standing there and the words "back pocket" came into my head. When I reached into my back pocket there was a five there, so I gave it to him. He looked at me kinda weird and I looked at him kinda weird and that was it. He and I had a moment. :-D

a Broad said...

You are feisty and I love the " see that building over there ? .... " Brilliant !

We have them here too .. boys who develop limps as soon as they see us coming, men ( I think) who are so crusted in dirt and whatever that I try to hold my breathe until we are past, mostly going a different route to avoid passing them .. I don't understand them anyway so I only get to comment on this .. no matter where you go, what country/continent/planet.. some things are always the same. I wish they weren't .. but there you have it.

vanilla said...

As a Christian gentleman, I rationalize that my "no" is helping them by encouraging them to at least think about finding another means of support. So, why do I feel lousy about it?

Eva Gallant said...

Good for you! I don't know what I would do if accosted in such a way. We don't have much of that here in my town. It sounds kind of scary!

Flea said...

I like your thought process regarding this kind of giving/highway robbery. When I was young and foolish and worked in DC there were several regulars on the street. I usually brought extra snacks in my lunch just for them. If they accepted a string cheese or box of raisins from me, I was more likely to give them pocket change at some point, y'know?

Pearl said...

a Broad, I suspect that, worldwide, human beings are very similar...

vanilla, I am nodding over here...

Eva, you have to practice! :-) After giving out a couple hands full of quarters, you start to get resentful. I mean, if they were to offer me, say, a skyway map or something useful in return, I would feel it was an exchange between us. More often than not, however, they spend the day collecting change -- and the next and the next. You burn out fast.

Flea, I know exactly what you're saying.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

My daughter was a softie, as well. She has become much more cynical-after giving away money which she could ill afford to give. She did give some man in Seattle her "doggie bag" food as we left a restaurant. She figured that if he was asking for her leftovers, it was going to be used by someone who needed it.

Ponita in Real Life said...

I just shake my head and keep walking. There was an exposé done in the paper here of a woman who sits in a specific spot. She is ratty looking, wearing worn clothes and has a dog-eared cardboard sign, but apparently she rakes in over $100 a day!!! Can you believe that! She makes more than minimum wage, even if she sits there for 10 hours! She's not homeless or mentally ill... she's just sly and has no conscience. Makes my blood boil! Probably collects welfare too. Grrrr!

It's a scam most of the time, I think. I refuse. Flat out refuse. I'll help out in legitimate ways, thanks.

Douglas said...

In West Palm Beach a few years ago, one of the TV stations followed an allegedly homeless guy from his regular corner as he carried his "Will work for food" sign to his late model Oldsmobile and then to his middle class neighborhood and his 2000 sq ft house. He declined to speak to the reporter.

The Vegetable Assassin said...

I remember on a couple of occasions being asked for money by people on the street who wanted it for "something to eat" but when I refused and offered to buy them a sandwich, they walked away.

Also, it used to be you could slam on your headphones and be left alone but nowadays I've had people actually tap me on the shoulder when I'm wearing them and when I take them off thinking it's someone asking directions or something, they're all, "can you spare five bucks?" GAH!

a Broad said...

I want to add something to my comment earlier ... I do say no ... most of the time .. but then I also do buy and give cups of coffee and pastries and sandwiches to the people who are regulars on benches in our parks and who actually try to do something for the money that they would like you to give .. so this sort of makes me feel OK about saying No, sometimes :)

Something Happened Somewhere Turning said...

The other day my wife and I passed a guy with a sign saying: Need help for car repairs. She made a comment that the guy has been out there all summer long and should be able to afford a new clunker.
I generally say, "Dude, right now you have more than I have."

Linda Medrano said...

Girl, that's hysterical! Can I hug you? Right! Or maybe you'd like to take him to the movies? Uh huh.

Sausage Fingers said...

Based on the "trilling, shrieking" comment, I am now prepared to play my bagpipes in the skyway, anything helps in this economy. $2?

Sage said...

We should thank Pa Ingalls for all those women in Minneapolis in high heels...

Cloudia said...

I walk through buildings and arcades to avoid the sun! Oh, and we have indigents too...

Great "column" today. Why not submit it to your local paper?


Aloha from Waikiki :)

Comfort Spiral

><}}(°>


<°)}}><

EcoGrrl said...

good for you chica, i always have bus tickets for those who want to ride the bus and offer a slice of pizza to those who say they need something to eat...and (shockingly) 99% of the time they are refused. my favorite is the guy who is hungry but 'doesn't like pizza'. who doesn't like pizza! what -evah. portland is a homeless mecca, it's a trip.

Tony Spunk said...

Most of the beggars here in the city of lights are either psychotic or just dudes who came out for a weekend and gambled their house or wife and lost. I tend to treat them pretty much like I would a zombie only without the bloodshed. Shrieking and running seems to work pretty good. You keep up the good work!

RawknRobynsGoneBlogWild said...

It's just such an interesting starter line: "You a Christian, ain't you?" I've never gotten that one.
I do also like you 'cuz you feisty.
xoRobyn

HermanTurnip said...

Whenever I visit downtown San Diego the one phrase which will get you past the panhandlers every time is, "Sorry, got no cash." This doesn't mean that I haven't given the odd homeless person a few bucks if it's obvious that they're in need and are not asking me for money...

...*then* I ask them if I can get a hug.

Tempo said...

I got burned for $10.00 years ago by one of the Orange People..Never since! ..and I'm not at all nice about it. F**K Off! is my usual expression, crude I know, but it succinctly carries my feelings on the matter.
Like you, I give to real charities all the time, I've done weeks of door knocking myself for worthy orginizations, but I draw the line at beggers who could easily do better.

Symdaddy said...

I once threw a five Deutschmark piece into a beggar's bowl only to have the beggar leap up and stick a microphone into my face. A camera also appeared and a series of hard questions (in German) demanding to know 'why do you encourage this kind of behaviour on our streets?'.

Never again! At least not without checking for mic's and cameras first!

Gaston Studio said...

Good on you for saying "no" but I had to laugh at the guy who called you fiesty! Still laughing...

Slamdunk said...

The recorder performer must be quite a sight--just like you said not soothing to the ears.

River said...

You've opened a door in my memory and given me tomorrow's story. Thanks.