Sunday, November 22, 2009

Turns Out, They Really CAN Be Choosers

If he can say "Hey, Buddy, do you have some spare change?" he can also say "Welcome to McDonalds. May I take your order?" -- Charles Barkley quoting Michael Jordan after Sir Charles reached into his pocket to give some change to a "homeless" man who had just asked them for money

I passed a fellow Friday who I used to see during my daily commute from Bolling AFB via the Anacostia Metro station years ago. At the intersection just outside the station, religiously, during each rush hour, rain or shine, daylight or dark of night, was this always smiling gentleman, who just so happened to be quite an intrepid entrepreneur. Indeed, he must be a genius of marketing and salesmanship.

This able-bodied, affable gent owns his own business--free and clear. It is the business of getting people to pay him in return for the most high quality, masterfully crafted nothingness never made. No no no!!! He is NOT a grifter who deceivingly bilks people out of their money on the promise of goods or services he has no intention of rendering. Not at all. His customers are, in most cases, repeat customers who are keenly aware that his product is a smile and a "God Bless You" and his service is a free money transfer. That's it. And he is exceptionally effective at it. I used to watch this amazing man and his dedicated commuter fan club who he had, through the power of his personal magnetism, convinced to give him their money...routinely, reliably and generously. Most of those who hand him paper currency out their window often follow it up with a "fist bump". It appears, "hip factor" is also one of the services he provides.

I'm not sure at what level of reduced brain function a human's ability to choose ceases to exist but I am certain of this: that gentleman has an ample margin above that level and has absolutely CHOSEN to become and remain a beggar. I suspect it's a relatively simple business calculation. He's probably earning pretty decent cash, absolutely tax free. He probably, despite his income, remains eligible for handouts from the District of Columbia's ample taxpayer-funded social programs, and he is likely eligible for various and sundry Federal social program handouts. My guess is that he uses them, at least during the holidays, IF he isn't vacationing in Tahiti. Oh, and my experience was that he had most weekends off. And he's always closed on holidays.

When we say "Don't feed the bears" we say it out of concern for a bear's well-being because we also know that the bear is capable of surviving best when it chooses to live (and, so I hear, defecate) in the woods. Feeding the bears encourages them to adopt an existence that is neither good for the bear nor the people with whom the bears share habitat. In other words, feeding bears "handouts" rather than letting them naturally work for their sustenance, encourages them to be less bear-like and more people's pet-like. It appears to give those who feed them a sense of goodness ("I've helped this poor creature to survive") and coolness ("Can't wait to facebook these pics--my friends will think I'm pretty hip to have fed a bear"). How pitiful that any person suffers such low self esteem.

So what does it mean when these commuters do the same thing to a human who comes up to their cars to feed? Just like the bear, he has a choice. And just like those who feed the bear, those who "feed" the humans and try to turn them into some sort of pet who feeds their own self-esteem are encouraging a fellow human being (who quite clearly has the ability to function physically, to show up reliably for work, to interact with people in a pleasant manner, and to convince people to do something most people do quite reluctantly: give away their money for absolutely nothing in return) to choose a lifestyle where he will never realize the satisfaction in earning a day's honest living.

I would never suggest to anyone how to distribute his or her own money (except my wife, and that suggestion has met with abject failure). But I wonder whether this street corner entrepreneur might not be heading up the sales staff at some major corporation if his current commuter "customers" would instead of money, give him credit for possessing the ability to work, think and real humans.

Oh yeah, and a closing note from Sir Charles:

"Poor People have been voting for Democrats for the last 50 years ... and they are still poor." - Charles Barkley


Greg "The Hammer" Dail said...

Me and a buddy stopped at the light at an exit ramp off I40 and some drunk was standing there with a sigh begging. I called him over and asked him why he was on crutches. He said he got hit by a train. Fair enough. I said look I'm gonna give you a couple of bucks but I want you to get something to eat, not buy wine. He assured me he didn't drink.
My friend said what the hell did you do that for? You know he's gonna get himself a bottle of Mad Dog as soon as we drive away. Yeah I know I said, but sometimes I just like to play along.

filizzy said...

I find it hard to believe.

John S. said...

My favorite used to be the guy on M Street, on the corner closest to Sign of the Whale. He shined shoes on a five gallon bucket, but his hook was a stethoscope, which always hung around his neck. He'd run up and accost his patrons as they hit the curb crossing 21st(?) St., genuflecting to the pavement with his stethoscope and declaring one's shoes seriously ill and in need of his services. Nothing like watching the stunned faces of K St. bandits when the stethoscope hit their shoes. He was the self proclaimed "Doctor of Shoeology."

Many times when I saw him, he still had the Georgetown Med. Ctr. wrist bracelet on. Seems he checked himself into the inpatient methodone program about every six months for a cleanup.

I wonder what ever happened to that guy?

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