The next time you hand over a buck to a beggar, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Good intentions, guilt or the need to be a saint aside, I’ll bet the beggar somehow hooked you.
The good ones always will, as they have perfected the act of begging to an art form.
Begging is not an easy sport. It once took me more than an hour to amass a dollar on the trash-strewn streets of New York.
A few Tucson panhandlers have got the art down pat, while others have a lot to learn.
Like the lady with the plastic gas can.
Begging rule number one is to not get too complicated. This woman was stopping customers outside the Tucson Place strip mall at Wetmore Road and First Avenue with a big long story about how she needed some money for gas.
Right away her story became circumspect and raised more questions than it answered.
Where was her car? Did she break down and just need gas or was something wrong with the transmission? Why was she scrounging for gas money anywhere but near a gas station? Where did she get the plastic gas can? If she indeed got gas money, could she safely transfer the gas from the gas can to the car without some type of explosive tragedy? My mind was reeling too heavy from all those inquiries to even think about digging in my purse. Thus, she didn’t get the buck.
The second rule is not to lie. Most folks honestly don’t care what the beggars do with the money. That’s on the panhandler’s head the moment the cash is passed.
But we won’t give it up if we think they’re lying. Folks who say they need food money as they beg in front of a liquor store, claim to need dog food but have no dog in sight or those who scour a strip mall with a gas can are prime suspects.
The brutally honest, on the other hand, will be prone to get the dollar, like the guy with the sign that screams: “Need a few bucks so I can go get drunk.”
Signs that make you laugh make for very effective begging:
• Will take verbal abuse for $1
• Homeless man needs rich woman
• Will code HTML for change
• Wife was kidnapped, short 98 cents for ransom
• Family killed by ninjas, need money for karate lessons
Or the dude simply slumped by the building with a sign that pretty much makes money jump from your hand: “Betcha can’t hit me with a quarter.”
Other creative tactics are those that make you think, like the man hanging out on Prince Road near the Interstate overpass.
He was bedraggled, weary and melting in the heat, yet had a cardboard sign that hit a nerve. It read: “Smile, it’s not so bad.”
He got my dollar. Well, actually he got a dollar from the person in my car’s passenger seat since I didn’t have any small bills. But the guy got his money.
Those that exchange some type of services are also likely to get the buck. Fourth Avenue musicians, even when they are playing a trumpet, will often get some cash out of me since they are filling the air with song. If it’s a really crummy song, they’ll get my buck if they promise to stop playing.
Some services offered, however, will never get me to hand over cash. These include shoe shines with a grimy rag, sex with a grimy stranger or carrying my groceries to the car. I’m too worried they’ll run off with my bags. And please don’t even think of pulling out a bucket of dirty water to squigee my windshield, a panhandler practice that’s mired countless cars in New York but thankfully hasn’t hit the streets of Tucson.
Water is perhaps too dear a commodity. Either that, or the beggars are too busy with their gas cans.
Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist and performer who has no luck with begging for money but once traded some artwork for a sandwich. Listen to a preview of her column at 8:10 a.m. Thursdays on KLPX 96.1 FM. Listen to her webcast at 4 p.m. Fridays at Party934.com. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org