Even quasi-religious people liked to quote Jesus as saying, "The poor you have with you always," neglecting to add that he didn't say to sit on your ass and don't do anything about it.
--Jim Harrison, The Road Home
Spare change: Extend hand, not finger
THE DENVER CITY COUNCILvoted June 5 to crack down on "aggressive panhandling," no doubt to keep the poor from upsetting Steve Young, who was in town to consider tossing the ol' pigskin around for the Broncos to the tune of $5 million or so per season. Young declined the job, deciding instead to return to San Francisco, where there is a better class of bridge to sleep under in case things get a little tight for retired multimillionaire quarterbacks.
According to The Denver Post, which is itself flipping some spare change at the down-and-out Denver Rocky Mountain News, the measure forbids aggressive panhandling near ATMs, public toilets, on public transportation, near ticket lines, in parking lots and anywhere else there might be a stylish urbanite with a few loose quarters not earmarked for day-trading, cigars or high-test for the family tank.
Conduct to be banned upon pain of whatever (the story didn't say) includes continuing to ask for money from a person who has declined to provide same; touching the person; interfering with "safe or free passage;" using violent or threatening gestures; using profane or abusive language; and making the potential donor fear a stomping if some jingle is not forthcoming.
Mayor Wellington Webb is expected to sign the ordinance, and then the DPD can start shooting Denver's homeless instead of its homeowners. Just think of the savings in legal red tape and SWAT-team ankle sprains alone. You don't need a no-knock warrant for a refrigerator box, there is no door to kick down, and the relatively small space it encloses just about guarantees that even a cop can hit something, or someone, with a minimum of reloading.
Bowlen For Dollars. Had this ordinance been in place a year and a half ago, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen wouldn't have been permitted to panhandle the electorate for his new stadium. Well, maybe the cops would have looked the other way on that one. Pat wears a stylish fur coat, not a ragged fatigue jacket; he begs for millions, not quarters; and I'll bet he smells good, too.
The raging bull that is the U.S. economy serves up juicy slabs of prime rib to folks like Pat and Steve, while giving the sharp end of the horn to others. Since most of us create no product, but instead spend our workdays swapping pieces of ornately embossed paper, moving pictures of dead presidents from one account to another, or selling gewgaws assembled by Chinese slaves, perhaps it is the nagging feeling that we don't deserve this prosperity which leads us to deal harshly with the poor, who provide a living example of what can happen when God turns His attention elsewhere.
Bucking The Trend. A panhandler accosted me outside a New Mexico store a while back. Another passer-by had given him a beer, but he said he could use some food to go with it.
An experienced hand, he noted my Colorado license plates and made some small talk about when he used to live near Canon City . . . ironically, where the penitentiaries are. I gave him a buck, and walked into the store, where the manager asked, "Why did you give him any money?"
"Because I had some," I replied.
Why not? Who knows whom you might be helping out? John Steinbeck, William Least Heat Moon and Jewel are only three of the millions who have lived in their vehicles at one time or another, and the fact that Jewel should still be doing so shouldn't stem the human impulse to lend a hand, however briefly or ineptly, to those for whom the term "trophy home" means "the cardboard box the Oscars came in."
Palm Piloting. When I was a teen-ager, I bummed around the country for a summer, thumbing rides, sleeping in churches and at new acquaintances' houses, and working only when absolutely necessary.
I spent many a pleasant day sitting on some street corner panhandling spare change, which I would spend on the three basic food groups: tobacco, beer and Mexican TV dinners.
To look at me, you'd have figured me for the worst sort of young scumbag. Hair to the floating ribs, mirrored aviators masking dope-twirled eyeballs, ragged denim clothing. When the dimes, nickels and quarters were not forthcoming, I shoplifted. Once, stony broke and enfevered by viral tonsillitis, I went door to door in my low-rent neighborhood until I found a generous family that fed me chili, bread and eggs, which I promptly threw up.
Well, today, I'm still a bum. I haven't had a job in nearly 10 years, I still appreciate the view of passers-by from a stylish street corner, and most of my money was dropped straight into my lap.
But my Levis are a little less ragged these days, I only sleep in my truck when I feel like it, and I can flash a platinum MasterCard if pressed. And that's why even Denver cops call me "sir," regardless of who resents sharing a few square feet of America with me.