Panhandler #1 was standing by the Circle K on 44th Street and Washington. His spiel began with “I hate to bother you, but . . .” and then he would ask for “just like a dime to help me out.” So I got on his radar and when he said “I hate to bother you . . .” I said, “No problem, as long as I can bother you back.”
“Okay . . .”
“I read somewhere that people who do nothing more than ask people for money for a living average about $20.00 an hour. Right now I’m making $9.50 an hour. What’s your take on that?”
The panhandler got a bit flustered, then expressed some pessimism, recounting being under a bridge all one day and “only getting like $25.00.” He also mentioned that many of his colleagues misuse their takings on drugs and drink. “I don’t drink and I don’t drug.” And he did look clear-eyed and healthy, though with his ultra-fair skin and coppery hair he looked vulnerable in the bright sunshine.
I was asking him about his take during the holidays when the Circle K manager came out and told the panhandler he couldn’t be out here asking for money. “Hey,” I said, “we’re just having a conversation.” But the conversation continued off the Circle K lot, the panhandler telling me this was a temporary thing, brought on by his girlfriend leaving him for parts unknown and taking his savings and possessions with her.
I wished him well, expressed hope that he’d find a better long-range place, encouraged him to keep punching and trying for something bettter, acknowledged that inertia was tough to overcome, and gave him a cough drop. “God bless you, sir,” he said as we shook hands.
Later I told my brother Brian, who’d lived on the street for several years, about the encounter. Brian thought the girlfriend story could well be true, but the under-the-bridge story might have been anecdotal deflection. There are a lot of ways to get by. Knowing store schedules, for instance Circle K “super-inspection” days, creates opportunities to trade grunt labor for food or cash. Some pizza places have lots to give away at the end of the day, and it’s not unknown for a soft-hearted management to do a fresh pizza out of kindness.
I conclude that Brian was better at street living than the fellow at the Circle K. Perhaps time will bring more savvy, or perhaps the guy will get back off the street. I hope so.
“The Panhandler” was a comic-book character I created to be a sidekick for “Crystal Katharine,” the superheroine I based on my daughter in a short-lived comic book I did to entertain and (try to) inspire my child. His superpower was a magic pan, which could stop bullets and death-rays. It also packed a superhuman punch.
And in a few hours I’ll be reporting for my $9.50/hr job at Matt’s Big Breakfast, standing at a podium to do my hosting. Affixed to the podium is a gigantic skillet–as one diner called it, “One Big-Assed Pan.”