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The beggar’s prop


Working downtown in a large city, I have the unfortunate privilege of encountering many beggars. They frequent downtown because there are many pedestrians, and therefore they have a greater chance of getting money from one of them.

Most of these beggars are young, with homes to go to. They just beg because it’s easier than working, and they make more than the minimum wage they would earn working. Some of the beggars are obviously homeless, carrying all their worldly possessions. Some of them are mentally ill. They don’t beg, they just wander in their own little world.

A middle-aged black man stopped me last night. It was dark. He was well dressed, in a clean suit and nice shoes. He held the hand of a little white boy, about 4 years old, also well-dressed in a little blazer and slacks.

“Excuse me,” said the man. “My wife and I are trying to get home to Colorado Springs tonight. That’s our SUV parked over there.” He gestured to a silver Lexus parked at the curb in front of the nearby hotel. The alleged wife was not in evidence.

“But you see,” said the man, “we’re out of gas. Can you spare some money to help us out?”

Statistically, anyone who is driving a Lexus SUV also has an array of credit and debit cards at their disposal. An ATM was 10 meters away from us. The boy looked like he wished he was somewhere else, but said nothing. I silently gave the black man points for using the boy as a begging prop. It would probably would have worked on many people.

There was a time when I was young and impressionable, and it would have worked on me. Eventually, though, after giving many beggars money for weeks and months, I realized that I was still seeing them in the same places on the same streets. I was not helping them. I was enabling them to continue to sponge off of others. I also noticed that when the weather was bad, they were nowhere to be found. Clearly they were not desperate, or they would have been begging in the rain and in the cold. They only wanted the money for their drug of choice. So I stopped giving them money.

I declined the man’s request, murmuring that I had no cash. It was a lie, of course. I was not concerned, since he was lying to me about his alleged predicament. 

The man did not evince disappointment. “God bless,” he said, looking around for his next target. He moved down the block, away from “his” parked Lexus SUV. The boy trudged after him.

I resented the man for using the boy as a prop, and for teaching the boy that begging is acceptable behavior. At least it is not violent behavior. But still, what will that little boy grow up to be?

Something better than a beggar, I hope.

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