I am terrible at not giving strangers money. Here's the problem: They ask. What am I supposed to do? Say no? Unless I can't because I have no change, I am a sucker for their buckets, paper cups, hats, and even their clipboards. I once encountered three separate people soliciting money in the span of two hours (two homeless guys and a dude collecting for a charity) and I gave to all three. This is not to say I am a good person; just weak. You'd better believe by the third guy I was thinking, I can't believe this shit is happening.
For some reason, I have a lot of weird memories involving various strangers asking for money. On more than one occasion, homeless folk have prefaced their money requests with this kind of oblivious, weird and unintentional racism. This is literally the exchange I have had at least three times:
"Hey," says a guy sitting on the floor wearing many layers of coats. "Do you speak English? English?"
I look at him and say yes.
"Do you have any money? I just need a couple dollars more, man."
So, inevitably, I give him a couple of dollars. Usually when I tell people this, they are appalled that I would even give the guy the time of day. "After he said that?!" they would say. My response is this: So what? What do you expect me to do? Not give him my spare change to teach him a lesson about cultural sensitivity?
I don't need to punish a homeless guy for being rude. The dude is homeless. I think I already won. Am I supposed to be indignant that they don't teach ethnic studies and sociology at the soup kitchen?
Sometimes, the dudes aren't even homeless, but rather guys that just happen to need money at a really desperate and difficult moment. These guys are the worst because they actively hate the homeless, and I guess by extension, hate themselves for having to resort to the same tactic.
Years ago, I was walking with some friends through a parking lot when a car pulled up next to us. The window rolled down, and a middle aged white man poked his head out.
"Listen, do you kids have any money? I'm running low on gas and I need to get back to Palm Springs tonight and I don't have any money on me. I promise you, I'm not homeless. I got a thousand dollar suit in my trunk, I can show you. I swear to god, I'm not a bum."
He was really indignant about not being a hobo, which was a relief. I would have hated to give money to a poor person! God, wouldn't that be awful. I would much rather give money to an old man with an expensive suit in his trunk. Bullet dodged, sir.
I gave him 5 bucks, all I had on me, which I figured was good for a gallon at least, which would get him 20 miles maybe? We weren't that far from Palm Springs, and I figured he would ask other people for more, if he hadn't already.
"What am I supposed to do with this?" he said. "This won't even get me halfway there."
See, that's how you know he doesn't really need it. He decides to be a dick because I couldn't fill up his fucking tank. One of my friends gives him another dollar, earnestly and unaware that the guy found it insulting. He didn't even thank us before he drove away.
More recently, I was walking through Las Vegas when I passed one with a long sign. Homeless people are everywhere on the strip, but this dude obviously had went through a few brainstorming sessions until he arrived at his sign. It read:
NEED MONEY FOR VASECTOMY SO THAT MY CHILDREN DON'T ASK YOUR CHILDREN FOR $
although in truth, it might as well have said
I CANNOT ESCAPE THE HARSH VACUUM THAT IS THE CYCLE OF POVERTY. ONLY YOU CAN SAVE MY CHILDREN FROM A LIFE OF TERRIBLE, ENDLESS SELF-HATRED BY ENSURING THAT THEY NEVER EXIST. SAVE THEM FROM THIS FATE. CUT OFF MY BALLS. IT IS THE ONLY WAY.
It took me a few more paces before the epic horror and darkness of the subtext dawned on me. Hope things worked out for him. I don't even know where homeless people go to have sex.