I'm a sucker. I fully admit it. I give money to pretty much anyone who asks me - with disturbing results. I've given money to so many different charities that my mailbox is now a treacherous land mine of emotionally scarring, manipulative mail pieces, the likes of which actually, literally, give me nightmares. I would say 60% of the mail I receive is pictures of African babies with their ribs jutting ominously from their chests, puppies who have had their heads bashed in with hammers, and various kinds of cripples with big, sad, entreating eyes. As a result of all of this "marketing", I am no longer psychologically equipped to handle the mail - Phi has to presort it for me.
So suffice it so say, when beggars come up to me and ask me for some spare change, I generally comply, as long as I am able to do so.
However, recently, I have had some bad begging experiences. Namely, I've met some really unlikable beggars who are, frankly, doing it wrong. Like, so wrong that even I denied them money - and that's saying something. And so, here are some general guidelines I would like to put out there for people who - for whatever reason - are begging for handouts.
1) Don't make your children do your dirty work for you.
The other day at the gas station, a girl - about 12 years old - came up to me and pointed to her mother and gave a long, rambling story about how her mother needs money for gas. The story was delivered with the dead eyes and blank stare of the "former crack heads" who come to your house selling magazine subscriptions (By the way, can we talk about how fucked up that is? Are these guys seriously implying that their staying off drugs is somehow our responsibility?) Her recitation had an overly-rehearsed quality that was really off-putting.
So here are my issues with this. The mother was sitting right there. Why can't the mother do her own begging? Does she think her kid is so cute that no one will be able to resist her charms? Because she wasn't that cute, and she was the worst actress in the world. Or is the mother just that lazy - so lazy she can't even beg?
I don't judge her for being a begging mother. I understand that sometimes shit happens in life, and you may find yourself in a situation where you need to rely on the kindness of strangers. But does she really think that this is setting a good example for her child? Does she think that this is an acceptable activity for her daughter to do? If you have to beg, fine, beg. But don't make your kid do your dirty work for you.
2) Don't assume that I share in your worldview, particularly if your worldview is kind of messed up.
Just today, a man came up to me - again at a gas station - and began telling me a long story about how "black guys" stole his backpack and he needed money to get home. Aside from the fact that his story was overly long and somewhat unbelievable, I couldn't get past the fact that he kept referring to the guys to stole his backpack as "black guys"
Why did he need to keep referring to the race of the guys who supposedly stole his backpack? There was no reason to keep continually bringing it up to me, since I'm not a cop and wasn't asking for a description of the guys. The only reasons he could possibly keep bringing it up were these:
A) He assumed that, as a white woman, I'm obviously afraid of black men stealing my shit, and he hoped to get me on "his side" - united in our fear of victimization at the hands of black guys.
B) He assumed that I don't like black people and that his being victimized by two black people would make me feel sorrier for him than if people of another race had victimized him.
C) He's just one of those douchebags who always refers to peoples' races, regardless of whether it has any relation to the story. While this has no bearing on me - it bodes poorly for him.
My point is, don't make assumptions about me before you talk to me and ask me for money. Especially if those assumptions are insulting.
3) Don't start out by saying "I"m not a bum".
Lots of times people begging you for money will start out their speeches by saying "I'm not one of those bums" or "I'm not a bum".
First of all, yes you are. But ok, whatever, let's say you're not. Let's examine why it's wrong for you to start out that way.
When you say "I'm not a bum, but...give me money" the implication is that there is something wrong with being a bum, and you and I both know it. You're trying to lump yourself in with me - an obvious "non-bum", while simultaneously trying to bum money off of me. You're implying that I have a problem with bums, and yet you're asking me to give you a handout. Do you see why that's weird? Yeah. It's weird.
Once I had a guy ask me for $4. He told me I could call his mother and she would pay me back the $4, because he "wasn't a bum". If you don't have $4 to your name, and your mom has to pay your $4 debts to strangers, guess what? You're a bum.
4) Don't say you're a veteran.
I don't freaking care whether you're a veteran or not. Why would that possibly matter? Are you somehow more deserving of my dollar because you were in 'Nam or whatever? You deserve it more than, say, a former doctor who spent his summers deworming orphans in the Congo and got his legs crippled in a car accident?
Are there people out there who say "I see a dude in a wheelchair begging for money. I would like to give him a dollar, but what if that lazy bastard never served his country? I need to know how he lost them legs before I give him my hard earned cash. I mean, what if the pussy lost his legs in a skiing accident or some shit? I'll slap that skiing pantywaste and spit in his coffee cup!"
My point is, veteran status has nothing to do with whether or not a person needs help. If a person needs help, whether or not he served in the military is not a salient issue.
5) Do try to be funny, if you can.
I ALWAYS give money to a bum if she can make me laugh. I'll, like, find an ATM if I have to. That's how effective this is.
Once I saw a guy with a sign that said "Family killed by ninjas. Need kung fu lessons". I totally have him money. That's awesome.
Once, in Bellingham, I was stopped at a stoplight and saw two guys with a sign that said "Running in Place for Money". They had a baton. They ran back and forth, passing the baton to each other. They would occasionally do flying chest bumps or leap up in the air and give each other enthusiastic high fives. They were so joyful and excited and merry that I couldn't help but find them charming. EVERYONE gave them money- their exuberance was contagious.
6) If you can't be funny, be brief.
Nothing is more awkward than listening to a stranger's sob story as she begs you for money. I don't want to hear it. The fact that you're begging for change on the side of the road already tells me that life didn't work out the way you planned. I've already inferred that mistakes have been made. I KNOW that there is a very, very sad story there. I don't want the details. I really don't. I'll give you the money - I will. Please don't haunt my nightmares.
7) Do use good manners.
"Please" and "thank you" never go amiss, especially when asking for money. If you go above and beyond and compliment my beauty, I'll probably even give you extra money. I also appreciate a "God Bless You". Thank you! I would like God to bless me for helping you!
Once I gave money to an unemployed woman I know. She was not homeless or anything - but she was going through a rough time and she asked for some financial help. I gave her some money. She NEVER said thank you. Not even in a text or Facebook message. Seriously? Not even a thank you? I don't demand that she pay me back or do me a favor in return or anything like that - but a thank you would have been freaking nice.
She will not be getting any more money from me.
So those are my basic guidelines for appropriate begging. I feel bad for beggars, for the most part. I totally hate those guys who see beggars and snarl mean things at them like "Get a job!" (It's not always that easy, if you're mentally ill or otherwise disabled) or who accuse them of using the money to buy drugs and alcohol (Why do you care? Either give her the money or move on.) I hope that my guidelines will help beggars everywhere to be more successful and likable so they can avoid the terrible people who treat them badly.