Too Slow For Squirrels

Austin homeless (or not) man with sign:  “Please Help!  Tired of pigeon, too slow for squirrels.”  Thought that one was a winner, although I don’t think he was really too slow to catch a squirrel.  Squirrels are a bit more dangerous than pigeons though.  It could  bite him, then he might get rabies, and would become an indigent in the healthcare system.  I wanted to give him some money just to avoid that, but I was in the middle lane.  I would have given him five bucks too.  I pay for what I consider to be good signs.

Another sign: “Need money for McDonald’s or Wendy’s.  I promise not to buy drugs.”  Why not Burger King?  Why not SONIC?  What’s wrong with SONIC?  They both have dollar menus.  Maybe he didn’t have enough room on the sign for other choices after his first two.  I wouldn’t have given him anything, not clever enough for my consideration.

I saw a lot of these signs in Austin, it’s a warm climate, and you’re stuck in traffic a lot so you become a captive audience.  You try not to make eye contact.  Many of these signs in Austin were in  English and Spanish.  “Hungry!  Necesito Comer.  Anything Helps.  Even a Little Change.”  This one is a bit confusing.  Notice the attempt at a bi-lingual message.   For those of you that can’t read English (although I’m not sure how you would be reading this blog) the only part the sign-holder wanted you to know in Spanish is “Need Food”.  That’s enough of a message for the Hispanic beneficence I guess.  The rest of the sign is directed at the English reader’s potential generosity.  Try bringing them actual food, they probably won’t take it.  I tried to give a “Will Work For Food” guy a McDonald’s hamburger once and he wouldn’t take it.  Maybe he was being careful, thinking I might have poisoned it.

Why are you making fun of homeless people, you’re probably thinking, and Austin homeless people in particular?  The Austin part, no reason except I was just there, the other, I have reason.  Let me tell you a little story.  True story, I swear.

I was in Minneapolis for a conference.  Not a lot of homeless people in Minneapolis, climate is too cold.  A few of us decided to walk from our hotel down to, well, let’s just call it a bar.  It entailed walking in downtown after dark, and then under a freeway to get where we were headed, but, hey, we were saving cab fare.

As we approached the underpass a young man with a cardboard sign approached.  I hate being approached by people asking for a hand-out.  It’s probably that I’ll feel guilty for not helping, because I rarely do, and probably should.  I mean, I had a wallet-full of twenties waiting for the “bar”, and I told the guy I didn’t have any money on me, only credit cards.  My companions did the same.  The young man’s sign said, “Out of Work.  Baby Needs Diapers.  Please Help.”

Well, we’d already been drinking a little, probably the only reason you would risk walking under an underpass to a bar at night in Minneapolis, so someone in the group asks our guy, “Do you really have a baby at home, man?”

The guy says, “No.  It just works.  People feel sorry for me because I don’t have diapers for the baby.  I make more money this way.”  I noticed his sneakers were pretty new Nike’s.  I didn’t own a pair of Nike’s at the time, couldn’t afford them.  He goes on to tell us what other sign slogans he uses that “work”.  “Homeless.  Baby Needs Formula.  Please Help,” for example.  Playing the “baby” card seemed to be the most effective of his cardboard signs.  He had done unofficial studies.

“How much do you actually make?” I bravely ventured. 

“Oh, on an average day, I’ll take home eighty to a hundred bucks,” he proudly stated.  “Sometimes I have good days, two hundred or more, sometimes less.  It’s a pretty good gig, ” he said.  That’s what he said, “…a pretty good gig.”  A person earning $15 an hour grosses $120 a day, but their actual earnings are much less, as you probably well know; taxes, FICA, 401k deduction, and healthcare deductions.  Probably ends up taking home $80 out of that $120 or less.  That’s why they call it “take home pay”.  It’s the only place you can afford to go with it.  How does it feel to know you’re making as much as a “homeless” person with a cleverly worded cardboard sign that someone is reading at a stop light?!  And our Minnesota entrepeneur offered that he rarely “worked” a full day.

Makes me feel like shit, and that’s why I don’t give “homeless” people money unless I think the sign is clever.  WTF



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5 responses to “Too Slow For Squirrels

  1. It’s too bad there are so many scammers and con artists out there. In AZ they don’t approach you, but they do sit at the exits of parking lots with signs. No fancy sneakers or hats or jackets, ever. These people are homeless. I will give money to mentally ill or old people or people who are obviously not fit to work. But there’s no work here, or anywhere, so if someone has the motivation to panhandle, it’s a job I guess. I confess I’ve wondered if I could do it, but I can’t. That’s how desperate people are. I suppose in a weird way these people are part of the economy…you think?

    Yesterday I gave a dollar to a ragged guy who often stands at the Safeway exit with a “Need Work” sign. As I handed him the dollar, he begged for work. “Please, lady, I can do just about any kind of odd job! Please, I really need work!” I see him often there and know he has problems. My friend Janice paid for a vet visit when his dog was sick. If he can do odd jobs, why isn’t he working? Many reasons. I would hire him in a second if only I could pay him. I do odd jobs too and I know how hard it is to find work. All over town there are signs on bulletin boards for services offered but nobody’s calling.

    I don’t have answers Leonard. But as life gets harder and harder for me, I can’t help but sympathize. Really good post.

    • You raise some very good points. It really is part of the economy and is closely watched by the government. There are tax issues here and matters of law. I had someone tell me on a Greyhound bus that they had schools to learn how to panhandle. He said he “collected for charity for a living.” It was a long bus ride and I learned a lot about what he claimed he did. I might put it in a followup post. Back then, I couldn’t find any schools that teach you how to beg, and I just did a quick internet search and didn’t find any, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I was worried about the post after I wrote it because I know full well that there are legitimate ill and homeless people out there that need help. My attempt at humor felt a little weak which is why I made it “okay” by telling the TRUE story of the guy in Minneapolis. I’ve also had the experience where I tried to enlist the services of a “Will Work For Food” guy for a couple of hours. He wanted nothing to do with the idea.

  2. Me

    Ha haaaa… So, did I ever tell you about my $20 newspaper? Stopped at a McD’s one morning (one that I frequented on the way to work). There was always this nice, jolly African American man selling newspapers… I admit, I’m not much of a giver and usually used my debit card for breakfast but, I happened to have cash on me a $20 and a $5. Paid for my sandwich with the $5 and got a dollar back so, as I passed the man with newspapers, I decided to buy one (even though I don’t read it)… I handed him the dollar (so I thought) and as I drove away, he was shouting and waving to me, “Thank you sweetheart, thank you, thank you, God bless you, God bless your soul, thank you, thank you, thank you…” He had a huge smile on his face and waved at me until I pulled out of the parking lot.
    I was sooooooo embarrassed when I went out to eat with my co-workers and pulled out a dollar to pay for my lunch… a quick search of my purse and then I realized I had paid for that paper with 20 bucks and told him to keep the change… No wonder he was thanking me and blessing me all over the place – ha ha
    I snatched the newspaper from our break room at the end of the day and took it home to the hubster and said, “You better enjoy reading this, it’s the most expensive paper you’ll ever read!!!” :::sigh:::

    • OMG that is a great story. I’m still laughing. I can so visualize the scene where the guy is thanking you all the way out of the parking lot.

      • Me

        Yeah, and I’m pretty sure he was blowing me kisses – ha ha ha. Danny still makes fun of me from time to time… 20 bucks for a 50 cent paper – Oh well, I’m pretty sure I made his day and I’m pretty sure I got some good karma out of it too 😉

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