Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Nice Day to Panhandle

Let me first say that homelessness is not funny. But this is: I saw a straggly guy standing at the grocery store entrance today holding a piece of cardboard. The cardboard was blank. I suspect it should have read “will work for a pen.” We smiled and waved at each other just like “hey there neighbor, isn’t it nice weather for panhandling?”

When it comes to being friendly, I’m pretty good at it. Especially if it’s an underdog. Underdogs are my people. I love awkward computer geeks and dark sarcastic engineers. I like ladies with ratted hair and cheep glasses who work at the grocery store. I like the bitch at the office who no one else will talk to. I relate to them. Perhaps because I feel sometimes as if I’d been dropped here on earth to study all of you. It’s very rare when I feel like I’m fitting in anywhere. I think that’s how underdogs feel too.

When I was nine, my best friend and I would skip school and take public transportation into San Francisco. Then we’d panhandle for hours, telling sympathetic looking tourists that we needed a dime to call our mom. We could always count on little old ladies, but sometimes we’d have to undergo a long lecture during which we’d look somber and sorry for our sins, but then we’d get the dime anyway. By the afternoon, we’d have enough money to buy a giant piece of pizza and a coke. We’d go into all the tourist trap stores and try and steal things. I remember a hat I took from a department store that looked like it belonged to Russell on the Fat Albert cartoon except mine was white with colorful butterflies all over it. I never actually had the guts to wear it, just the guts to steal it.

When my son saw his first homeless person sleeping on the street, he was about four. He asked me what that man was doing. I said he was homeless and so that’s where he was taking a nap. Sean could not comprehend how a person could be without a bed, much less a whole home! He burst into tears and demanded and pleaded with me to take him home with us. He said the man could sleep on his upper bunk. I said no. He asked me why and I had no real convincing answer. He had a really good case, but it was my car. Besides, how do I know it wasn't just a trick to get pizza and coke money from tourists?

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