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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I'm Looking for a Sign

Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, the indigent have arrived, after a six-month hiatus, no doubt to 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.


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...


Shelly said...

It's always good to get a clear sign, even when it asks for socks and tampons. Your last line is a gem.

Indigo Roth said...

Waitaminute! Topless pizza? What in the name of piquant sauce and full-fat cheese is THAT all about?!

Steve said...

It is very hard to know when to give and when to ignore. We all face it.

Furry Bottoms said...

Well, that hitchhiker to California sure was bold! She wasn't asking for money after all. That is really different.

I've seen some interesting signs in my time. And I have a difficult time deciding whether its right to give at that time or not. There was a guy who had a sign saying "A buck for a Buck!" (his name was Buck) and people at first gave freely. But as he was there every day people stopped giving. It just got weird.

Another time I drove down the hill towards the freeway. There was this old burly man on the corner. Portly and bearded, At first I didn't think I wanted to contribute. He just wanted fare to cross the country but he did look like a hobo-- he could have jumped on a train so I thought the money was for a drink. But then he flipped his sign and he had a joke to tell. It was a hilarious joke, even tho I forget what it was. I just remember laughing. I left when the light changed, but when I came back hours later, he was still there. I decided, well, he earned his money. So I pulled in and gave him all the change I could find in my car. I left, knowing it was OK. Whatever he did with that money was HIS responsibility, his choice, his karma.

Busy Bee Suz said...

Loved your comment about giving away your money…by paying taxes. You are clever.
The tampon/sock sign is great. And who has the balls to hitchhike these days? Apparently she doesn't watch much dateline/20/20/48hours.
When we were in Vegas recently I saw a sign: Please help contribute to alcohol research fund. That guy had balls.
So weird, I don't usually mention balls at all…and today, twice already.

NotesFromAbroad said...

So " Topless" in front of the pizza place means just crust, no tomatoes or cheese .. :)

I do appreciate a good sign when people are mooching .. in Argentina they didn't use signs so much and the ones who were in that predicament were in such bad shape, you wanted to give them blankets, pillows and bottles of aspirin. .. and bars of soap. lots of bars of soap.

I live among the cows and sheep now, there are no people with interesting signs, other than Tools for sale or Fresh Eggs.
I miss the city ...

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari OM
In this time of multi-mid-European immigration to the UK I was taken aback when I moved here to find soooo..... many on the streets with cardboard 'signs', often with a kid or a dog on or nearby their knee. It has been established that there is a 'ring' and the money is not the beggar's. It's a tough old life.

I bought a pie one day and handed it over. The girl looked truly grateful...

Tough call. YAM xx

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

We have a lady who comes into the food bank where I volunteer and has recently been asking for food for her two cats and dog. Next week she came in for food for her two dogs and one cat. Later, I found out that she had no pets and was selling/exchanging them for drugs. It is so very sad what addiction does to people.

Delores said...

It's hard to know who to trust and it's hard to avoid judging.....it's simpler now...I don't carry cash.

Leenie B said...

Wisdom comes from many sources. (I just thought that up but it sounds like it came from a crummy fortune cookie--oh well, I think it really applies here.)

Daisy said...

It's a coin toss knowing whether what you give away ever makes a difference in someone's life or not. I am always afraid a donation will just be spent on drugs or alcohol and make that person's life worse rather than better. I'd be more likely to buy someone a sandwich than hand them money. It makes me sad not knowing what anyone's real story is and not being able to help those who really need it.

jenny_o said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jenny_o said...

Last year in our little town I was cursed at twice on main street for not giving to chronic askers. I get why people will ask, but why is it okay to curse those who don't - or can't - give ...

vanilla said...

Not always about the money. But mostly about the music, or on occasion, getting the bright young thing to California!

Dawn@Lighten Up! said...

I see how you did that: "topless topless topless" and titillating in the same sentence. Pure skill!

Mandy_Fish said...

I give. I don't even mind someone a beer once in a while. *Shrugs* Maybe I'm a sucker. I'm okay with that.

I felt that Midwestern horror once when a lady asked me for money to tow her car and she had a baby in the backseat. After I watched her get money from everyone in the parking lot, she drove away in said car.

That bummed me out. But who knows? Maybe she bought the kid some food. Or maybe she didn't. Guess you can't control what anybody does with what you give 'em.


alwaysinthebackrow said...

i saw a video about a guy who goes around and buys those signs. He tries to figure out which of them are most effective, and has much admiration for many of them.

Yes, in Mpls, it is a sign of spring....only the really desperate stand on the corners in the winter months.

Elephant's Child said...

Sucker or not, I mostly give. And try and believe in karma - theirs and mine.

Sioux said...

In the days when menopause was screwing with me, I always had a glovebox full of tampons.

I would have been glad to give her a handful. (They were OBs--the good ones.)

HermanTurnip said...

Hey, don't feel so bad. I once gave a "mute" beggar signing for money for a stupid sheet of stickers he was selling. I heard the guy talking to another grifter just minutes later. Mute my butt. *sigh*

Chicken said...

I almost always give, if I can. The job of deciding who and who is not deserving is above my pay grade. I've never been asked for Tampons, though. At my age, they would be out of luck:;-)

NanaDiana said...

Amen- I like the guy that stands with a sign that says' I want money for booze...lol Honesty at its best! xo Diana

River said...

I'm a lot more choosy about who gets my money since I read in our newspaper that some of our beggars take home $200 or more a day!
They're not at all inventive either, no signs, no stories, just "can you spare $2?"
I only give now to the man who plays saxophone so well I could cry with the beauty of it and the man who plays didgeridoo and tom-toms at the same time.

Twisted Scottish Bastard said...

Oh Pearl, you are so naive.

She was probably a tampon-smoking addict, who sold socks to feed her habit.

Sometimes I despair.

The only charity I give to is the Ex-Servicemen's. Called the Poppy Appeal in Commonwealth countries. I don't trust ANY of the others.

maurcheen said...

Pearl, you are one of the best.

I used to sing in a bar called The Moose, a seedier, low-life filled joint you would be hard pressed to find. It made me the man I am today! :¬)


the walking man said...

"have gun will not shoot you, for a dollar."

"not hungry, not homeless, won't work but need beer money"

"God Bless you...or not"

"money or address kids have to eat somewhere"

^^^ A few of my favorites. I stopped giving when I caught the guy counting his wad of cash. I don't think I earned that much in a week.

Suldog said...

Magnificent. "Said without saying" is a great writing trick. Not many can pull it off with the elan you just did. You're a wonder.

Pat Tillett said...

The main problem with panhandling where I live, is gypsies. Yes, real life gypsies. Not like Maleva (the gypsy fortune teller in the original Wolfman movie), but full-on modern day gypsies who have turned panhandling into a profitable industry.

Personally, I'd rather error on the side of giving money to people who don't really need it, than to not give it to someone who really does.

I never see any "will work for food" signs in the winter. Do these folks winter in more tropical settings?