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I swear to God, the best thing you can do as a panhandler is make jokes or learn a trade. This black guy (color only necessary for following joke) on the A tonight was making jokes about running for office so he could get a big house. He made some other surprisingly excellent jokes and got like three dollars. That is literally more money I have ever seen given to a homeless person than all the other donations I have ever seen, combined (with the exception of my fiver; see below).

There’s nothing more depressing than someone getting on the subway, setting up a drum, excusing themselves, then banging a beat out to “I’m broke. It ain’t no joke.” I don’t want to give you my money after that, I just want to keep it for myself so I never have to bang a drum and tell people I’m broke. Additionally, if you are so broke how the hell did you get on the subway? I hope to God, for your own sake, you snuck on. According to my calculations, two dollars is approximately two hamburgers at McDonald’s.

I haven’t earned the money I have to give to you. You’re right, I should be inside writing cover letters, but I have friends and an unlimited 31 day Metrocard. I could have interviews on any given day and I have to be prepared to travel at the drop of a hat. Also, if you’re going to “earn” my spare change, I feel like there should be a talent involved; one of my roommates speaks of this mystical group of bums he met who had formed an A Capella group to tour the subway (no, not on the A train. That would be plain silly). That was the day that he finally produced his spare change.

Also, I got panhandled outside my domicile for the first time yesterday. Completely inappropriate. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so uncomfortable.

Guy walks across the street yelling, “Hey! Hey man! Did you get that… Oh, you live next door.”

“I guess so. Is everything OK?”

I’m going to try to paraphrase, because this is the part when he lectured me on being homeless and I’m very uncomfortable reciting all of it. “Said he’d come back….homeless…spare change…long sleeve shirt…I’ll be right over there…No, you don’t understand, you live up there…God bless.”

“No, no. I understand what you’re saying…Ok”

I told him I’d do my best but went back to my room and avoided going downstairs for a while because I was in the middle of doing my laundry and didn’t want him to see me through the front door as I went downstairs with six quarters for the drying machine. Homeless guy….or dry clothes? I might need these for an interview (read: WILL need these).

Even further, one of the things that haunts me the most to this day is this guy I ran into on Manhattan. He basically blocked four of my friends and me and told us he was “completely embarrassed. I’m a grown man. 44 years old.” He had a map in his hands but I was too distraught by how distraught he looked to look at it. Pointing to the map, he said, “I need to get over here so I can pay the remaining $4.24 for my ticket. I’m not a panhandler or anything. I’m 44 years old and completely embarrassed. Can you help me out?” I got out my wallet, looked in it, realized I had nothing smaller than a five, gave it to him and felt kind of OK as he walked off, murmuring with his eyes to the sky, “Oh thank God. Oh thank God…”

To this day, I will never understand if I actually saved that man’s night or was completely gypped out of a decent beer. On the surface I was clearly bamboozled by a brilliant rouse, but what if he was genuinely in need? I guess I was tricked because he didn’t look like he was about to go hit up an opium den or a bar. He looked like a guy who was completely afraid of mammoth Manhattan and I guess I sympathized because I’ve definitely had that day before, too.

I guess the moral of this story is please, please, please, don’t complain about being lost (or, similarly, feeling small in a big place) or make jokes when asking me for money because I’ll totally cave. You’re hurting me just as much as you’re hurting you. I hope.

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