Call me skeptical of curbside claims. Union man. Honest. Hungry. Looking for work. Ten seconds at a stoplight doesn’t give you a lot to work with. You do a quick read: sober or not? Do they look you in the eye or not? Does the supplicants appearance match the narrative on the cardboard sign?
Mrs. UpintheValley keeps singles in the console of her car and hands them out to anyone who approaches the window.
For years there was a guy who used to work the 405 offramp at Roscoe Blvd., waving an empty gas can. He was respectably attired, and would point to a nearby station, implying he was a stranded commuter with an empty fuel tank. He aggressively worked the red light, walking out into the lanes between cars, frowning and gesticulating at those who declined him.
I’ve seen crackhead mothers demand ‘food money’ for their children in front of restaurants, with their shell-shocked children in tow. I’ve seen people claiming ‘hunger’ spurning fresh food, not leftovers, purchased for them by passerby. I know a reformed heroin addict whose hustle was setting up a card table in front of Home Depot and fraudulently collecting for Hodgkins disease. Don’t get me started about claims of military service.
Alternately, I have another friend, who lives large in Bronson Canyon, who took a huge loss in the stock market, on margin, costing nearly his entire nest egg. He recovered, it took years, but in the aftermath he decided to always give to panhandlers. That a person had been reduced to the state of degradation where he would beg in the street, this in of itself was reason for giving.
I’m not so sure. My sense of social order requires a Virtuous Mendicant. So when I saw this guy last week, the sun hit his sign just right, and what caught my eye was Teamster Local 831. Here, perhaps, was someone dollar-worthy. Here’s the exception which proves the rule. So I reached in my pocket. As I did so, in tandem with my own movements, as though in response to my thought process, he began to pitch forward, slowly, folding from the neck down, one vertebrae at a time, to the waist.
He wasn’t doing yoga.
He sagged over until his knuckles hit the sidewalk. Then he raised his head slightly, but the effort was too much. His knees buckled and he hung there, in the arms of Morpheus, his face hidden behind a magnificent mane of homeless hair. He swayed back and forth to an internal ebb/flow only he could feel.
He had cookies stacked on the sidewalk. He had some bills clutched forgetfully in his right hand. There was nothing material I could offer he didn’t have already. But I took no pleasure in cynicism so swiftly affirmed. I would fail to give, and he would sin once more.