Don’t Judge Me – I’m Only Keeping My Money In This Dixie Cup Because I Lost My Wallet, I Swear!
One can tell a lot about a place by the behavior of its bums.* I’m from Rochester, New York, where the bums were all bat-shit crazy, always doing things that caught me off guard. Once, a guy approached me on the street and walked endlessly alongside me, gabbing on and on about his bad luck. By the time we got to my destination, I felt like asking, “Did you want money, or did you just want to chat?” In a darker instance, the one time in my life when a grown man touched my penis was not, as one might think, during a romantic encounter, but was instead during an exchange with a bum. It was late, well after two in the morning, and I came across this guy while walking home. He started talking about drugs, and then he asked me for money so he could go score some.
“Um, sorry dude,” I said, “kind of broke right now.”
In response, he turned to me and, with his right hand, grabbed my crotch, possibly searching me for cocaine. Regardless of what his motives were, I ran away like I was Usain Bolt. I looked back over my shoulder to see if he was chasing me. He wasn’t; he was standing on the street where I’d left him, his pants down and his bare ass pointed towards me.
So these are the kinds of bums* I’m used to dealing with. Drugged out. Talkative. Zany. Unwashed. They’re sort of like Cheech and Chong, just not funny. And more touchy feely.
The ones in other countries, though, are much more refined. In England, they’re nice, soft-spoken gentlemen who come up to you and kindly, apologetically, ask you if you can spare some change. They seem like lovely people, the type of guys you’d want your daughter to date, sadly a bit down on their luck. The bums in Spain all had physical problems, abnormalities, sitting Indian style on the side of the street waving a cup with blind colorless eyes staring ahead or in wheelchairs with a pair of goofy ox feet spread out in front of them. In Italy, the bums had a religious slant, praying in front of the Vatican, their cups containing a few coins and a cross with the Virgin Mary.
I didn’t give them any money – I’m not a religious person. Their idea was good, though. Brilliant. Beggars have always, from a marketing standpoint at least, been a bit unfocused. Maybe they should go for target groups, as the women outside the Vatican seemed to be doing. If I was a good Catholic, going to the Vatican to deepen my faith and not there just to take pictures to impress my Facebook friends, I would likely have given some money to the disadvantaged people outside. I nodded to one beggar to show her that I appreciated her strategy. Target-intensive pan-handling could score a fortune if done right – picture a homeless person going to an Environmentalist rally with a sign saying, “Everything I Use Is Recycled,” or a vagrant dude in New York City standing outside Yankee Stadium with a cup and “Jeter 2” spray painted on his shirtless back (because he can’t afford a jersey, poor guy).
Then there was the incident in Venice. I was walking along by myself when I came across a well-dressed man standing outside an old church, holding a Lonely Planet book. He looked to be of some sort of Middle Eastern decent and had a funny purple discoloration on the tip of his nose. As I passed by, he looked up from his book and called me over.
“Excuse me!” he shouted, getting my attention. “I’m a tourist!”
“Yeah,” I said, stopping. “Me too.”
He held the book in his hands, making me think he was about to ask me for directions. “Where are you from?” he asked.
“That’s a great country,” he said, standing closer to me, his purple-nose-dot more apparent. “I’m from Australia. Well, I’m not originally from there, but it’s where I live. My family is in Australia.”
“That’s cool. Australia’s pretty awesome.”
“Listen,” he continued, tone changing, “I need to ask you for a favor. I came here on a train. All of my things were lost. Everything. They lost my bags, my Passport and all of my money. I promise I’m not lying. If you could please help me get back home, I swear on my family that I’ll return the money to you.”
He put his hand on his heart like he was taking an oath or impersonating Red Foxx.
Of course I wasn’t going to give him the money. After running away, I thought about why I hadn’t really entertained the thought of helping him. Have I become such a damn skeptic, I couldn’t, not for a second, open my heart to an individual who needed my help? Or was it simply that he looked Middle Eastern and, although I’d hate to think that it’s true, something deep down in my American psyche made me distrust him? I hadn’t given him anything, disbelieved him 100%, and was convinced, for a little while at least, that this said very bad things about the kind of person I am.
After giving it more thought, I decided that the guy just seemed shady, and that was it. No greater questions about it. That made me curious. In a pinch, if I were to lose all my stuff, would somebody trust me when I put my hand on my heart and asked for cash? I imagined that I’d be having a nervous breakdown at that point, and this would help sell the whole lost-and-need-help bit. It would be a whole production – I’d have tears, the shakes, I’d drool, maybe break out in pimples, I’d beg on my knees, and I’d offer some sort of collateral, like my socks or something. “Please, please lend me $400,” I’d plead, holding out my tube socks. “If you think for one second that I won’t repay you, take these for insurance.”
Then again, maybe I wouldn’t bother asking. I’d rather people gave their cash to the kind beggars in England, or those poor people in Spain, or those ladies in Rome who are so busy praying they probably wouldn’t even notice. Me and that guy in Venice could figure things out for ourselves.
And that guy in Rochester who touched my penis? He can starve.