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Can You Spare a Dollar? How about a Twenty?

December 27th, 2009

Whenever I come back to the U.S., one things that is quickly apparent is the amount of panhandling going on. There are people in the street, of course. When Sachi and I visited the city, there was the usual contingent–the one who sticks in my mind was they guy who, as we approached, loudly asked for thirty-seven cents. I instantly recognized the scam–make someone stop and at least think about why the odd and/or low number, work on them more to give something, and if they fall for the pitch and start to reach for their pockets, up the request again and again (the one time I was foolish enough to give a quarter, the guy tried to work me up to twenty dollars, giving the odd sob story that he was just released from prison and needed money for food, promising to pay me back if I would give him my home address). So we passed without a glance, after which the guy added, “Or at least you could look at me!”

The traffic-light street-divider panhandlers are getting a bit more audacious around here as well. There used to be just one guy at this one intersection holding up a sign, standing at the center divider just in front of the turn signal traffic light; when traffic stops, some people give money. Now they’re at several traffic lights all around, and some of them step up to work the line of cars whenever the red light goes.

Still, I’m familiar with all of that. What I did not expect was to have panhandling at the checkout counter. Yes, the people ringing the bell outside the doors I am used to, but never have I been asked by the store staff. I first encountered it at a Pottery Barn at Stanford Shopping Center (Sachi loves stores with home furnishings). When we paid for a few dinner napkins, the cashier asked me if I wanted to donate money to such-and-such a cause. Personally, I don’t like that at all–you are forced either to donate or to look like a cheapskate in front of other people in public. But I thought that it was just this one upscale shop, and that one specific charity. But no–I was next asked for a handout at Sears when I bought a piece of clothing: “care to add a few dollars for the families of brave fighting men and women overseas?” I have nothing against charity or causes–Sachi and I do give sometimes–but to be publicly blackmailed like that is galling.

When did this start? Does it go on all year, or is it just a holiday thing? Is it just in the Bay Area, or is it nationwide?

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  1. Troy
    December 27th, 2009 at 07:07 | #1

    This is a year-round thing at Safeway. Maybe only for the holidays at where you encountered it.

    Back around ’94 I made this mistake of trying to hold a party cookout in the park across the street in Takadanobaba. Aattracted the homeless living there, alas.

  2. December 27th, 2009 at 08:54 | #2

    Year round, all over the country. I just say “no thanks” and move on. It started a few years ago to the best of my memory.

    But, yes, the panhandling in this country is getting worse and a lot more aggressive.

    December 27th, 2009 at 15:13 | #3

    An Spanish writer, Javier Marias, praised his father, the philosopher Julian Marias, saying that “he was a man who lived his life ready to be inveigled”. I wouldn’t have minded receiving such judgment from my sons.

    Who knows: one of those panhandlers may be a case of real need. If so, it doesn’t matter that the others inveigled you.

    Beyond that, I couldn’t care less looking like a cheapskate in front of other people in public. In fact, I would probably get a kick out of it: as Don Quixote put it, “I know who I am”.

  4. Andres
    December 27th, 2009 at 20:40 | #4

    It has managed to get into the schools that my children attend; although this may not be completely out of order. Charity, as with most other values is learned. I am not convinced of the methods though. When did ransacking mom and dad’s change become a charitable activity? I would prefer to see my children involved personally, giving their time and energy at soup kitchens, animal shelters and old age homes – experiencing the poverty and neglect that pervades our society.
    It has also gotten to the workplace with ‘charity’ oriented community campaigns, food drives, and even campaigns focused at giving back to the organization. The latter have become particularly onerous. They have become measures of one ones dedication, so to speak; with management touting statistics showing off the percentage participation.

  5. matthew
    December 29th, 2009 at 20:07 | #5

    I will add my two yen/cents…

    ten days in phoenix–this NEVER happened to me.

  6. Ben
    January 16th, 2010 at 14:07 | #6

    Meh, I used to work in a grocery store where they were constantly on us to promote the corporate charity. I preferred those who would reply with a short “no thanks” rather than an awkward explanation as to why they weren’t donating, requiring me to deviate from my usual spaced-out robo-cashier script. And chances are the person behind you in the lineup is feeling a bit defensive too.

    January 16th, 2010 at 14:34 | #7

    Ben, as Disraeli said, “never explain, never complain”.

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