Man in the silk suit hurries by, And as he catches the poor old lady’s eye, Just for fun he says, “Get a job.”
— Bruce Hornsby
I was waiting recently for a couple of the rogues who are among the few who don’t mind being seen with me in public at one of our favorite fine dining establishments — we refer to it alternately as Chez BK (imagine that being written in large, swirly letters) and the BK Lounge, although there are some of the less cultured who call it Burger King — when a lady walked up and asked if I had “something to give her.”
Far from being taken aback, I actually understood that she was asking for a handout and I had to tell her I didn’t have any money with me. (Incidentally, for others of you who might be looking for easy marks, I wasn’t lying. It’s a rare day that I have more than a few coins in my pocket, out of necessity and also the fact that I’ve always got way too much month left at the end of my money.)
My dining companions and I, while we were solving most of the world’s problems, laughed one of those what-are-you-gonna-do laughs when I told them about the exchange. The only question we usually have when we make one of our regular excursions to the Lounge is if we’ll be hit up in the parking lot or inside the restaurant. It’s kind of like popping in to downtown Albany’s Central Library branch — one of my favorite places to pop in, by the way: You know you’re going to have to make your way through a gauntlet of funding requests before you even get through the doors.
(Inside, unfortunately, the wonderful staff at the library, as well as patrons hoping to actually check out books, have to contend with a coterie of homeless and semi-homeless who either ask for contributions or settle in and while away the hours out of the weather, which is fine because they’re citizens, too, but, damn, at least have the courtesy not to snore while you’re dozing off.)
Sadly, a city the size of Albany, which has a considerable homeless population — despite the U.S. Census’s contention that there’s only one homeless person in all of Albany and Dougherty County ... which begs the questions: Are you kidding me? and We’re getting funding based on this kind of information? — is going to have its share of (and there’s no kind or politically correct way to put this) panhandlers and beggers.
We see them at all the major traffic intersections with their signs ... Will work for food ... Hungry, need help ... Albany Herald editor; have mercy and contribute to the cause ... I’ll admit that I’ve always been a soft touch (until I quit carrying money), feeling sorry for anyone who’s reached a place in life where he or she faces the indignity of relying on the compassion of strangers for daily sustenance. I usually relented and gave what I could, even if I didn’t believe the latest round of sad stories.
And, oh yes, there is definitely a sad story network among the folks out asking for money. Like a buddy of mine once said, “If you meet enough of them, the stories start sounding the same.” I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run into in the last few months who need “(a specific amount of money) to pay for a bus ticket to get back to (a specific location).” Sadly, if a person actually looking for bus ticket money to get back home ever really did exist, his story’s not going to win him a whole lot of sympathy.
I was pretty much cured of giving non-relatives my hard-earn ... ummmm, earned money a few years back when a lady gave me the most heart-rending sob story I’ve ever heard about her lot in life. It involved little babies (a good touch), a debilitating illness and an abusive spouse. By the time she’d finished, I was actually tearing up. I gave her every bit of money I had (somewhere around 12 bucks, which for me is a lot).
I felt better about myself for helping out all I could, but my self-esteem took a shot an hour or so later when I saw that lady — who’d needed the money to buy food for her babies — coming out of a gas ‘n’ sip with a sixer in her shopping cart. I’m pretty sure she saw me, too, but if it registered with her that I’m the guy who financed her beer buzz for the evening, she didn’t show it.
I grew up in Ocilla, and we just didn’t run into folks like that. The only person I can remember who asked for money on the streets was Jabbo, the town drunk. But when Jabbbo asked you for money, he was up front: “I need to get me some beer,” he’d say.
Now that’s my kind of panhandler.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.