Advice for Beggars
Before avarice and evil overtook the world in the 2008 economic meltdown it was considered bad form for an able-bodied man or woman to beg. Unless you were clearly old, diseased, or had that air of tragic incurable addiction, people would think, “Get a job,” and pass you by. This is no longer the case. Many of the “99%” that the Occupy Wall Street protestors talk about are very capable and able young people who are taking to the streets to pay off their student loans and survive, since there are no opportunities for white collar, blue collar, or pink collar workers in our present economy. You can even wear a suit and beg successfully if you learn how to do it right. Here’s how:
People prefer a passive beggar. Now matter how genial or affable or goodlooking you are, do not walk right up to people with an empty cup. Many of those new to the begging profession make this fatal error. Sensible sidewalkers will avert their eyes and may even run away when accosted by a bum with a cup. Why? Because you could be any urban lunatic and everyone knows you should not allow yourself to be inveigled into a conversation with an urban lunatic.
Location Location Location. “I just need to find a spot that’s well-traveled, not too upscale, not too squalid,” said Ian Vandersnooten*, a young professional beggar we found on West 58th Street in New York City last Sunday. “You have to calculate just the right mix of pathetic and grubby, so people think ‘If not for the grace of God’ and all that. They have to be able to imagine themselves where you are. Which isn’t so hard for people to imagine lately. Anyway, I sit against the wall with my cup out and a little sign that says ‘please help.’ Yes, just like that with the lower case letters — very humble and wretched. I’m out of the way but at the same time unavoidable.”
At this point in our conversation, Vandersnooten humbly accepted a dollar bill from a passing tourist. “Thank you,” he said. And then to us: “This is very important: I don’t allow myself to meet eyes with people until after they’ve contributed. Then it’s important to say a polite ‘thank you,’ but you shouldn’t slobber with gratitude or anything like that. People don’t want to see that. You have to think about your repeat customer.”
Vanderslooten looked like a beggar, even though he was wearing a suit. “I always wear a suit,” he said. “Just don’t get it cleaned for a while. Nothing says failure like a man in a grubby suit.”
Another mistake the nouveau poor make is the attempt to shake hands. Once you abandon your glad-handing sales or administrative or teaching or supervisory job to take up begging, you are no longer in a profession where handshaking is valued or desired. Especially since, to keep up appearances, your hand and the rest of you will have that veneer of greasy grime necessary for your profession. People do not want to come into contact with the grime, or any possible open or suppurating sores, or any tuberculosis or AIDS germs or just any residue of failure and desperation.
Your most important tool is a tatty paper or Styrofoam coffee cup — preferably a generic brand. This is absolutely necessary. As in the handshake, above, people do not want to touch you. They will avoid accidental contact through placing money in your hand. The paper cup makes it easier for everyone by eliminating embarrassment and the possibility of contamination. But, remember to use a generic cup — something pretty cheesy. Studies I’ve imagined show that people will not put money into a Starbucks coffee cup, because they do not want to think they are paying for your premium coffee habit.
Even the side of the freeway can be a successful spot for begging nowadays. Polls* indicate that 80% of people who see someone begging on the side of a freeway think “Damn, that guy must be really hard-up to be begging on the side of a freeway!” and if traffic is stopped long enough they will hand over whatever bill comes first out of their wallets. Begging on a major highway is risky, but those risks can pay off.
Location again. When begging from passing cars, it is best not to accost your customers, but rather hold up a sign and a cup and glance around woefully until someone waves a bill out their window.
Although many new beggars think that having a doe-eyed doggie or two hunkering mournfully at their side will boost business, surveys* have demonstrated just the opposite. Although most humans have a soft spot for domesticated creatures, many see a beggar’s dog(s) and start to ponder the expense of feeding it, clothing it in whatever tacky ensemble of pink spangled dog shirt & diaper you’ve chosen, plus medical expenses for the creature. Most customers then decide to direct their charitable dollars towards a beggar with a more compelling plight. (Survey responders didn’t say, but we knew they were thinking, “He could always eat his dog.”)
If you happen to be a parent, hopefully of a baby or submissive toddler, dress your child in a tatty grimy onesey, place it in a rickety old stroller, and encourage it to display the expression of wide-eyed listlessness that denotes hunger. Add a grubby pair of Mickey Mouse ears for extra pathos. You will be the beggar to beat on your block.
If times have already grown grim for you, and you’ve found yourself living on the street in a cardboard refrigerator box, use this to your advantage. Those with cardboard houses on streets (especially streets with urine stains) can actually sleep while making money, their plight is so bleak. Simply place your cup and sign next to your cardboard bed, and go on with your life. Of course you will periodically need to collect your earnings (no direct-deposit in the begging business!).
* all surveys and polls conducted for this article are fictional. So are interviews. In fact, all empirical evidence for this article has been completely fabricated.
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