Uncommon Cents

panhandlingThis is a continuation of our ongoing series, “Tales of the Moved.” In this series we explore the strange new worlds of our life in the Big City. -Ed.

Leaving home in the big city is a slightly different experience than what we knew before. For one thing, people have no compunctions against asking you for money. They are absolutely shameless about it. The techniques and stratagems may differ in flair and style but most are variations on a theme. They generally start with eye contact.

With many excurions beyond the four walls under our belts we are truly coming to appreciate the little interactions with people we meet that do not involve a call to action (CTA) involving our wallets. These are precious and few and far between.



“How are you?” Oh shit. With a question like that you know there will be more to follow. This is already much more involved than the two-ships-passing-in-the-night head nod, which, to me, is as close as I wanna get.

“Good.” (I like to lie.) “And how are you?” Oh, god. Why did I say that? What possessed me? I can’t even control my own mouth. I am pathetic! I’m worthless! I suck!

The longer a conversation goes without CTA the more the suspense builds until I think my head will asplode. This is unusual, though. Most CTAs occur within five seconds of First Contact (FC).

Last weekend we took our first trip to “downtown” in the big city. It involved catching a bus to the Transit Center (TC) then hopping on a light rail for the rest of the journey.

At the bus stop we met a guy who asked if we knew the bus schedule. I told him and … that was it! No CTA. No shit, it feels pretty much like winning the lotto, or so I imagine.

At the TC, though, we were approached by a kindly old lady, rather sad looking, and not in the best of shape. She still managed a nice smile as she limped by without a CTA. Whew. Close one!

Hang on. Wait one. She came back. I forget her particular request motif. Usually they tell you why they want the money. Sandwich, gas, burrito, bus fare, adding a room to their house, etc. Apparently a phrase like “gimmie money” is bad form. She said something but I no longer remember what it was. But I do know this: She only asked for a quarter!

I knew I had a quarter and a nickel in the little tiny pocket in my jeans. I figured, oh, what the hell. I might as well reward her for asking for so little. So I dug in the little pocket and pulled out the coins and handed them over. “Here’s thirty cents,” I said.

She really seemed grateful and thanked me. Then she quite sincerely asked, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

This took me aback. It felt like I grasped for an appropriate response for a really long time. In actuality I think it was about five seconds, which still is a really long time in that sort of situation. It got awkward.

“No,” I eventually said. Simple, short and honest. I briefly thought about lying for decorum’s sake but I’m proud to say I didn’t.

Then came a bigger surprise. I expected a bit of proselytization. Instead she went a different way.

“You don’t know it but you already have. You’re a Giver, not a Taker.” With that out of her system, she moved on without another word.

Whoa! How the hell did she know my name? 🙂

I guess from now on you’ll have to call me Tom B. Giver. Doesn’t sound very negative, though.

2 responses

  1. Oh, Tom, but it could apply in so many, interesting ways!
    Tom B. Giver-his opinion to you, free of charge
    Tom B. Giver- not a crap
    Tom B. Giver- explanations about the de-evolution of the human race
    Tom B. Giver- of many fine & self-explanatory hand gestures to those who don’t understand English
    Tom B. Giver- of hours of sartorial enjoyment to the followers of his demotivational speciality.

    See?!? You really ARE a Giver!


  2. When I worked in Philly, I took the train everyday and then walked 4 blocks to the building where I worked. As such, I had to slalom pass several (many? how many more than 3 is a lot?) beggars/homeless. Within a month I didn’t see them and had worked out the far-gaze-stare of someone that wasn’t looking at my immediate surroundings.

    These days, I’m an easier mark, I think and will occasionally drop some cash if I think the person is sincere and not a hustler.


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