I walk the same way to the train station almost every evening after work. I exit the rear of my building, turn right and head down 16th towards Market Street. At the corner, I cross and head down the steps that lead to the underground train station.
Beginning a month or so ago, I noticed a man sitting on the sidewalk adjacent to the entrance of the stairs. He held a battered paper cup in one hand and gripped a corrugated cardboard flap from a packing box in the other. Across the brown surface of the flap was written, in neat printed letters, a plea for monetary donations. Although I didn't stand there and read the message word-for-word, it did include the words "homeless," "help" and "God bless." The man sat on the ground, motionless, his hand with the cup extended. I, along with everyone else in the crowded evening rush, passed right by him. No one slowing down, just making haste to a train to take them home.
Let me interrupt my own story for a second. Not that I have to justify my actions to anyone, let me say, I am a charitable guy. I give regularly to my local volunteer fire department. I am a longtime supporter of several Philadelphia-based charities. I give old clothing (when I remember) to those places that call and say that a collection truck will be on my street. And I have a tendency to over-tip in restaurants. (That's being charitable, isn't it? Well, I think it is.) But, people begging on the street? No, thank you! I don't trust them, Based on their appearance and method of asking for money, I suspect they are all full of shit. They concoct elaborate scenarios as to how they ended up in this predicament and write their tale of woe on a torn piece of cardboard for all to read. Or sometimes they cop an attitude like it's my fault that they have to beg and it's my obligation to just hand money over to them.
First off, I would never, ever, ever give a cent to anyone who is smoking. Smoking is a luxury, not a necessity. If you have to beg for money for food, cigarettes should not come before eating. You need to get your priorities straight. Once you have secured a steady income, then, by all means, buy and consume all the tobacco you wish. But, until you get to that point, at least make an effort to help yourself — and that includes staying healthy and viable.
Same goes for anyone begging with a pet. If you can't afford to feed yourself, then you have no right to deem yourself responsible for the well-being of an animal. I don't care how cute it is.
Those are my personal rules of charity. Am I a jerk? Maybe, but, I work hard for my money and I will determine who shares in it and the first ones up for consideration are those who exhibit an effort to help themselves. I would sooner consider giving money to the guy who plays his off-key guitar and warbles out versions of pop songs he has obviously never heard before or to the old man who plays the same three tunes on his battered old accordion. At least they are doing something other than sitting on their asses and holding a cup. (I said I'd consider giving, but I know I probably won't.)
And now, back to our story....
So, one day last week, I saw the guy with the cup and the cardboard sign again. He was sitting in his usual spot, with his usual accessories. And, as usual, he was silent. But, there was something different about him. He was wearing sunglasses. Nice ones, too. Frameless, with a designer emblem on the temple piece. That's right, a designer emblem. As I got closer to him, I saw something else. He had earbuds jammed into his ears. Is that what he was collecting money for? And you know those earbuds were plugged into something. Something electronic that plays music, like an iPod or similar music-storage and playback device. Those devices require access to a computer to acquire songs and to load them onto said device. And, for the most part, those songs need to be purchased. (Sure, there are plenty of ways to get "free" music, but that would make this situation more infuriating — and you'd still need a computer) Now, remember what I said about smoking being a luxury? Guess what category an iPod falls into? Here's this guy — making an appeal for money from people who are working everyday while he sits on his ass on the sidewalk and listens to a selection of his favorite tunes. Not that I would have ever considered giving him any money, but I certainly wouldn't give him anything now. And I better not see this guy smoking with his dog!
Personally, I have a pretty crappy set of ear buds, but I do have food at my house.
* * * * UPDATE * * * *
I just saw this guy talking on a cellphone. Still holding the sign.