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Friday, April 22, 2011

Gadzooks. The Boy is Right. I AM a Hippie…

Once again, we arrive at the end of the workweek, a slightly disheveled but ultimately hopeful place where the chance of sunshine matters more than it did on Thursday and we absentmindedly wonder if we should mix up a pitcher of margaritas when we get home or just hang our heads over the sink and pour the ingredients directly down our throats, Mexico-tourist style.

But what does the iPod say about the weekend or our predilection for salty, alcoholic drinks? As I’ve done for, oh, quite a while now, I consult the shuffled playlist on my morning’s commute for both my and your weekend events.

As Yul Brynner once said, as it is written, so it shall be done.

Further Complications by Jarvis Cocker
Never There by CAKE
Dance for Me by Southern Culture on the Skids
The Fear by Lily Allen
Ford Mustang by Serge Gainsbourg
Consolers of the Lonely by The Raconteurs *
I Go to Work by Us3
30 Days in the Hole by Humble Pie
Famous Blue Raincoat by Leonard Cohen

Hmm. The songs want you to get back in touch with that guy. You know the one.

It also appears that you have a long-distance admirer.

Also, as my dad would say, you’re going to want to continue to avoid the heroin.

Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, the indigent have arrived, after a six-month hiatus, no doubt in warmer climes; and the cardboard signs are out: Will Work for Food.

Can spring be far behind?

There was a time that I was susceptible to these signs. How could I not be? For a bright gal, I can be shockingly gullible. Raised by hard-working, self-sufficient types for whom asking for help is a last resort, I had little experience in how to answer the question, “Ma’am? Do you have any spare change?”

But of course, my good man! How else can I help you? You hungry? You got somewhere to stay?

It wasn’t long, however, before I noticed that, contrary to feeling good about helping someone out, I usually felt “had”. As a matter of fact, there were times when I felt downright grumpy about it.

And then came the day where I gave someone “bus fare, ma’am. If you could just give me bus fare so I could get home to my fambly…” Hey! Who doesn’t want to go home? Especially to fambly? I gave him the $2.50, wished him luck – and watched in mute, Midwestern horror as he hit up four more women for that same bus fare, watched as he climbed onto the same bus I did only to de-bus at The Moose, where there was a special on tap beers and dollar tacos…

Initially, I felt I had gotten nothing out of that exchange, but it wasn’t true.

I got wise.

This is not to say that I’ve stopped giving away my money.

I still pay my taxes, after all.

And I’ve been known to give money to the guitar player with the long hair and the incredible voice. And I give a dollar to the little accordion player and his South American polkas. And if that trumpet player that used to stand in front of the IDS shows up again this spring, I’m going to give him money, too.

But it’s not always about money.

It wasn’t long ago that I was coming home from Mary’s, exiting from 94. I was sitting at the lights, just blocks away from a paint-peelingly seedy little strip joint. Humorously, its sign, aside from the titillating “Topless Topless Topless”, also asserts that it’s been “Voted Best Pizza in Twin Cities”.

One can only shake one’s head. Voted by whom?

On this particular day, and in this lovely part of town, where free-range litter roams unencumbered by constraint and the sunlight hits the broken glass just so, there is a young woman – 20? 21? – standing at the lights and holding a sign.

Hitchhiking to California. Need Socks and Tampons.

I roll my window down.

“Hey!”

She faces me.

“Really? Socks and tampons?”

She smiles. I can’t get over how young she looks. “Really.”

I dig frantically through my purse. The light will change soon…

“Here!” I yell.

She runs over to the car, and I hand her everything I can find.

“Oh, man! Thanks so much!”

“I’d give you my socks, but I’m not wearing any.”

“Yeah, but you’re giving what you have.” She smiles, all clear skinned and bright-eyed.

The light changes.

“Have a good day!” she says, backing away.

“Say “hey” to California for me!” I yell.



Sometimes you give, and it's a burden you add to other burdens.

But sometimes you give, and the load becomes lighter...

36 comments:

Camille said...

Like we agreed yesterday...in the real world it always come down to the tampon supply. Hope she makes it safe and sound. You're a good woman Pearl. Happy Easter.

Sarah said...

I'm pretty sure I know the exact corner you're talking about...once when I was moving a friend, we were stopped at a light and there was a man who was holding a sign asking for the usual. I didn't want to give him money because you know where that goes! But we did have a box of donuts that was more than half full still so we gave that to him instead.

It was the only time that like you, I didn't feel "had" after giving to a streetster.

laughingmom said...

I have of lately become more likely to stop, roll down my window, and hand over some cash to the guys on the street. I think it is because at this point in my life I've realized that I don't know their story and how they have ended up on the street begging.

Pearl said...

Camille, honey, your comment gave birth to the post!

Sarah, I go by that corner every time I go to 94 and they get quite the little crowd there. :-)

Joshua said...

It drives The Wife nuts because I throw change when I can, and have been known to give away gloves in the colder months. Except that one time. When she was in grad school and I was the sole income, I went to the grocery story and a guy asked me if I had a dollar. I reached into my pocket, began extending a dollar, and stopped, pulling it back. I offered a trade: "You give me that $300 iPod, and you can have my dollar. Deal?" He walked away. Asshole.

Pearl said...

laughingmom, they say the average american is three paychecks away from homelessness. I don't know if that's true, but it's what they say. I am apt to give if there's some sort of exchange. Someone asking for "spare" change no longer cuts it for me, but if they're giving away skyway maps for change, writing limericks or drawing little pictures, I feel like I'm helping out by giving a dollar or two... And I'll always be a sucker for the musicians...

Pearl said...

Joshua, I've seen stuff like that. I've seen people canvass the whole bus stop: You got a dollar I can have? You got a dollar I can have? It can actually make me angry, wondering when begging became a legitimate way to make a buck. And then I chastise myself: I don't know their story. But then I remind myself, hey, you're no dummy, isn't this the same guy that gets off the bus and stands here every day, hoping to get a dollar from the commuters?

Oilfield Trash said...

I would say it is more like one paycheck away from being homeless.

powdergirl said...

"Continue to avoid the heroin." Can't go wrong on that advice.

I just love your Dad, Pearl : )

Pearl said...

OT, I know someone about to lose her house. It's absolutely not right.

powdergirl, I like that bit as well. :-)

Yandie, Goddess of Pickles. said...

I'll give change to buskers, and squeegee kids (although I'm too far north to really get many of them).. anyone who is 'doing' something. Yes, it's a 'what's in it for me'? Semi-clean windshield? A happy tune? okie doke. It's like kids who still trick-or-treat at 17.. if you're dressed up and you're still putting effort into your costume, then I'll give you some candy, even if your 3 oclock shadow is smearing your makeup. In Josh's situation, I think that's a great response. Some people don't prioritize very well.

Sometimes though, being on the low end of the income spectrum, I get frustrated.. Every year my office adopts a family for Christmas, and I remember being frustrated because that year, I was not far off from qualifying to BE one of those adopt-a-families.

becca said...

another great one

Lazarus said...

Not only a funny post, but poignant. Your fambly must be proud Pearl! My friend Jimmy wanted to help out a panhandler at 2 am in Manhattan years ago and rather than give him money for booze or drugs, he went into a deli and bought the guy an apple. He handed it to the man and bid him a good night. About ten steps later, Jimmy felt that apple drilling into the small of his back as the homeless man threw a perfect strike. I guess some people would rather have the money...

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Yeah those sham beggars have made a mockery of the art of begging for the legitimate ones, who genuinely would like a sandwich or a cup of coffee. Anything that alleviates matters for a short time. But it's kind of heart warming when you meet someone like the girl you mentioned, who wants small help and is thankful when she gets it. Everyone wins.

I also appreciate funny signs. If you have a sense of humour, your chance of a buck just rose. Although, jeeze, I know there's nothing funny about being homeless.

jenny_o said...

I live in such a small place this behavior is rarely an issue, for which I'm thankful. People of conscience should not have to sort out the truly needy from the lazy bums every time they go out.

SherilinR said...

i find myself to be a sucker for a woman begging. or anyone with an amusing sign. i guess there's something to be said for using humor as a means to an end. i also used to give away cigarette packs back when i was a smoker cuz i knew they made my life feel better for a moment, so it seemed likely it might make someone else's life better for a moment too.

Eva Gallant said...

Good post. I never know whether those guys are really homeless, or just looking for their next drink!

Douglas said...

Ok, I can grant that you being a young(ish) woman you might have tampons in your purse but socks? Really? Maybe I am assuming too much about what you found in your purse.

OTOH, I was so thankful one young lady stopped to give me a ride after my motorcycle disappointed me some 30 miles from home back in 1970.

I don't give money to anyone standing on a street corner. I'm a cynic and I'd lose my union card if I did.

jabblog said...

Thought-provoking! I know I'll see plenty of street people in London tomorrow just sitting on the pavement hoping for a few coins.

Clipped Wings said...

I'm so grateful that my husband works overseas in Afghanistan. It's hard on him, so he gets whatever he wants to survive not going crazy, only fair. We are probably more like 25 paychecks from poverty now, and it gets better as time goes on. I count my blessings everyday, as there was a time just a few years ago when I thought I would be spending old age on the street.

ThreeOldKeys said...

My FatherinLaw used to keep a tab at a tiny little burger restaurant ... if someone wanted cash for a meal, he sent them there. Sometimes they showed up, sometimes they didn't.

LeeAnn said...

I'd have given the Socks and Tampons Girl all my change too, just because the sign is perfect.
As to margaritas savored over the sink, those little things are the reason I was asked by the local gendarmes to leave Tijuana. It's hard to get kicked out of TJ, but I managed.
I am a frickin' miracle worker.

Kara said...

Pearl, your post reminded me of a really great video posted on Alfred Lives Here about pan handling and signs. You should check it out - http://www.alfredliveshere.com/2011/04/my-new-favourite-video.html

Sioux said...

One time I saw a guy with a sign at a highway exit. As I watched, he raised a cigarette up (it was hidden behind the sign) and took a puff off it. I didn't say anything, but I was tempted to say to him, "I work and I cannot afford to smoke. You're in better shape than I am!"

One sign I saw said something like, "I could tell you I want the money to buy some food, but really, all I'm gonna do is buy some booze." He probably got some money for his honest approach.

Yes, most of us are close to being homeless. And it IS impossible to discern why they got that way...

Amanda said...

"Continue to avoid the heroin" is hilarious and a line I will be putting in my everyday rotation!

Barbara Shallue said...

I've only given change to a sign-bearer once but got that 'had' feeling, too, so stopped. There are so many hanging out near my kids' college that my kids have become jaded. I hate that. Good for you for giving it to Socks and Tampons, though. I hope she made it to California.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

My daughter was approached by a guy outside a restaurant, asking for her leftover "doggie bag". That's when you know someone needs the food. She gave it to him.

Bossy Betty said...

I'll let you know when she gets here....

Jhon Baker said...

Pearl, This...
"On this particular day, and in this lovely part of town, where free-range litter roams unencumbered by constraint and the sunlight hits the broken glass just so,"
is pure fucking poetry - I really wish I had written it.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

A great post. Do you buy things from folks at your door, too? I am learning not to, but I'm a pretty soft touch. And I love the "tampons" sign so would definitely have given her something.

Symdaddy said...

Your post reminded me of the time I was cracked on the head by a cricket bat.

I was out cold for several minutes but when I woke up some thoughtful lady had bandaged my head.

People around me were in stitches laughing, which I thought rather cruel as I had suffered an horrific cut to my forehead.

It wasn't until I was in the ambulance that a para-medic said "I think we'll take that sanitary towel of your head now" that I realised what the fuss was all about.

I suppose we all go through these periods, huh?

River said...

I once had a young woman knock on my door at about 10pm one night, tearfully asking for money to buy food and nappies (diapers)for her baby. At that hour I was more than a little sceptical, so gave her half a tin of formula powder and a packet of disposable nappies from the supply I kept on hand for my grand daughter. When I went outside the next morning I found the supplies by the side fence.

The Savage said...

I've been to Topless Topless Topless in Ot 1 (it's awesome that I can say Ot 1 like some old person last century).
The pizza is okay.... But some dancer wore my hat on her boobs... I miss that hat... It was lost to a stripper in Ot 9 in Kansas...

the walking man said...

Our indigent stayed for the winter. They are not migratory. I even like how weather worn their signs have become. Those folks make more money than I do.

Nicole said...

Once when I was a wee little one, I gave the neighborhood homeless guy $10 which was a lot of money at the time. It was the most money I'd ever had at once. I told my mother, looking to be praised. Instead I got in trouble. She yelled at me to never give him any money again because he'd just spend it on booze.

Now, I'm actually broker than the homeless. They might not have any money but at least they're not in debt. I have $35,000 in student loans and a mortgage. They should be giving me money!

Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

So true about feeling "Had" and feeling good about the giving. And those "voted best in the area" awards? I've wondered the same thing--esp. for the niche areas, like "Best Plastic Surgeon" --uh, according to who? That's a category as specific as "Best Radio Station."