ChrisMaverick dotcom

Anti-Bum Technology?

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I stopped by Phantom of the Attic, my local comic book store, on my way to campus (as I do every Wednesday). After getting my comics, I went across the street and got Subway for lunch and then I walked back to my car so i could go to work. On the way there, an unkempt man leaning against the wall stuck his hand out towards me and weakly uttered the phrase “can you spare some change?” I politely offered a “no, sorry don’t have any.” and kept on my way. The response is automatic. I didn’t check to see if I had change. I didn’t even break stride in my walk. I’m just completely conditioned to do that from years of being on the planet Earth and having people beg for change. That’s not the weird part. It’s not weird that he asked me for change. It’s not weird that I said no.

The weird part occurred to me later. I REALLY DIDN’T have any change.

I don’t really carry change. I use my debit card for pretty much everything. The comics and food that I had just bought were both paid for with plastic. I even paid the parking meter with plastic. As I write this, I’m trying to remember the last time I used physical money to purchase anything at all, and I really can’t remember. I certainly haven’t done it yet in 2015, and it’s possibly been months before that. Most of my Christmas shopping I did online last year, and what I did in stores I used credit or debit cards for too.

There is exactly $52 cash in my wallet: A single fifty-dollar bill, that I saved from a birthday card (I think) from my in-laws back in like August. I keep that on me because in the event that the global computer network fails and plunges us into a Mad Max style apocalypse, I feel like that’s good enough to trade with a hoarder in the first day (before people realize paper money is useless) for just enough supplies for me get me set up to where I can survive indefinitely because after 48 hours or so, a man’s wealth will be judged purely by the strength of his arm and the speed of his blade. There’s also a two-dollar bill that I carry around just because every once in a while you meet someone who doesn’t believe that there are two-dollar bills.

I certainly wasn’t going to give the beggar either of those things. So really, I actually didn’t have anything to give him if I wanted to.

homelessBut that made me realize. It’s actually been quite a while since anyone asked me for any change. Oakland, the area of Pittsburgh where the comic book store is, used to be packed with bums. They were very territorial. They each had their own little area that they were set up in and for the most part they never invaded each other space. (I’ve actually seen two bums fight over a disputed corner before. It wasn’t pretty). A lot of them just kind of sat there maybe with a sign, maybe just politely asking people who walked by for change, but many of them had their own gimmick. There was the guy who sat there with a duct taped boombox singing at the top of his lungs (we used to call him Mr. Wendall, after a song by Arrested Development). Then there was my all time favorite, this guy who “helped people parallel park.” Any by helping, I mean he would stand behind your car and gesticulate wildly as you were backing up in a manner that if it had anything to do with the reality of where your car was, that certainly wasn’t obvious. But it was sure entertaining. The picture that accompanies this post, I took back in 2007. This was the homeless gentleman whose territory was the closest to the comic store. I don’t remember for sure, but I think his name was Cory (Wayne or Geoff might be able to correct me here). He was a complete fixture there for years.

It didn’t occur to me til I was driving away. But the unkempt man who asked me for change was in his spot! And that means Cory wasn’t in his spot. And now that I think about it, he hasn’t been for years.

Not only has he not been there, but I actually don’t see that many beggars in Oakland at all anymore. It hadn’t really occurred to me, but they’ve pretty much packed up shop and disappeared. There could be any number of reasons. Mr. Wendall could easily just be dead. He was pretty old. The independent parking assistant, I’m just going to assume was run over one day. Maybe Cory got a job eventually and has risen to become CEO of Yoyodyne.

But really, I think maybe it’s just not economical to beg anymore. What do you do when literally no one has any change? Get square readers for your iPhones? Is there a way for bums to hang out on social messaging sites and beg for spare bitcoin? I think we all used to worry that technology would take our jobs (before we started worrying that foreigners would) and we’d end up homeless. But it looks like what really happened is that technology took the homeless’s jobs. But where did they go?

PS: I just noticed that I wrote this entire thing without swearing even one fucking time! I’m growing as a person.

39 comments for “Anti-Bum Technology?

  1. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    … things that make you go hmmmm.

  2. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Blind guy with the boom box was down by the McDonald’s on Fifth in Oakland last summer.

  3. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Oakland without people begging on the corners. I just can’t imagine it.

  4. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    The car-parker wasn’t Cory. He’s a different guy who I still see around Oakland once in awhile but it’s been ages since I’ve seen him panhandling, so I think his situation has improved. Craig Street still has some regulars but fewer than there used to be.

  5. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    No…. I’m not saying the car parker is Cory… I’m saying Cory is the guy in the picture. He had the boil on his face. Right?

  6. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Oh, yeah, that’s Cory. He was by far the most pleasant and friendly of the panhandlers we used to have here. I liked him. Some have been belligerent, potentially dangerous, and probably mentally ill. I think most of us Craig Street regulars actually liked Cory.

  7. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    yeah, that’s what I thought. And I totally agree.

  8. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    The Craig Street Regulars sounds like a mystery solving group.

  9. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    There’s only a few homeless people I regularly see in Oakland. I forget his name, but there’s the guy with the Boombox (I read a short article about him not that long ago) and then the older guy who hangs out near the Rite Aid and Starbucks on Forbes.

    Squirrel Hill used to (and maybe still does) have a decent amount of panhandlers, but I don’t see them all that often.

  10. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    As for your actual topic at hand, ever since I got my first credit card I have stopped using paper money. In an effort to build credit (and it’s worked, despite the large amount of debt I have from vacations and weddings) I pretty much nonstop used the card, and then paid as much as I could every payday, leaving maybe 100 or so in cash in my bank in case of an emergency or a situation where I just need Cash.

    It’s been pretty great for the most part, but can I just say that it pisses me off to no end that a lot of local establishments like DeLuca’s, Pamela’s, and Uncle Sams don’t accept any form of plastic? Drives me nuts, especially when I’m craving it and don’t have cash on hand.

    My wife and I order Uncle Sams from “Wheel Deliver” and pay an extra $6 delivery fee just so we can eat it and pay with our cards and not have to go to the bank.

  11. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Now I’m curious how much money a panhandler with a Square reader with an “I accept VISA/MasterCard/American Express” sign could pull in. I mean, the person giving could even get a receipt to deduct from their taxes.

  12. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    I had some culture shock last time I went to Japan – they seriously still use cash there. You can walk into a convenience store and buy a $2 drink and pay with the equivalent of a $100 bill and they don’t bat an eye. Once you get out of the tourist cities, restaurants and shops frequently don’t take credit cards. We walked around with hundreds of dollars worth of cash. So weird.

  13. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Oakland was the place where I learned to say “sorry, I don’t have any change.” Maybe you told me to say that? I just remember there being so many of them and thinking there were escapees from Western Psyche. Sombrero Man comes to mind. Is he still around? The bums in my neighborhood in Brooklyn are scary. I have no change for them either, but I bought a lady some fries once because she accused me of being Chrisopher Columbus. That was original.

  14. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Emily: to be fair, I’ve never seen you an Christopher Columbus in the same room.

  15. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Emily, Sombrero Man vanished a few years ago. There were some newspaper articles about it when people noticed him missing, but I’m not sure anyone ever found out what happened to him.

    There was a lady who used to bring a little kid with her and tell people she needed money to get the kid a winter coat. I stopped seeing her when the kid was around 4 or so (I am guessing you get way more sympathy quarters with a baby than with a 4 year old).

  16. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    not all beggars are homeless. some beggars are just “working.”

  17. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    One technique that I’ve seen recently, possibly in response to people having less change: a couple of months ago a man on Craig St asked me to buy him a sandwich. In hindsight I regret not doing it, but at the time I was focused on going from one place to another and passed him by with no change to give.

  18. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Laura, thanks for the article. I figured a lot of those guys would be gone by now, but I still feel a little sad knowing he died. He was always smiling.

  19. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    @Charlie, that has happened a few times, it’s gone from “Oh, you don’t have any cash? Well, would you be able to buy me a sandwich?” I remember one time this guy got SUPER detailed with what he wanted on his Sub and I was like “Shit, I’m not going to remember all this man.” But, I bought him and his friend a sub.

  20. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Hey Link and Charlie. Can one of you go buy me a sub? I mean, I’m not homeless… but I’m lazy and I don’t feel like going outside.

    Emily can bring me some fries.

  21. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Meanwhile being poor and working for a company that doesn’t understand the concept of putting money into the payroll account /before/ handing out paychecks has conditioned me to a situation where for a great long while I had no choice but to cash my paychecks instead of depositing them and as such I always kept at least some cash on me. I always believe in having an emergency $50 or so (when I can afford to have that much) and it is convenient when I’m craving Uncle Sam’s or some other cash only locale. And there are the people out there without bank accounts at all. Of course in this day and age such situations are typically the exception rather than the rule (at least on a city-wide or greater scale).

  22. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    I bought one of the Craig St guys a sandwich back in the 90’s, so it’s not entirely new. Just a meatball sub, though, cause that’s what I was buying for myself anyway.

  23. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    I run my finances in reverse of Mav. I pay with most things with cash. I do it as a fiscal check. If I don’t have enough $$ with me, I have to go to the bank to get more. Is what I want to buy worth the hassle? Saves me from lots of impulse buys (except in the grocery store, where I do use a debit card).

  24. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    i charge everything i can since it leaves a record of where it was spent. if you go out with x dollars on friday, inevitably you will end up with zero dollars later that weekend and you will wonder, “no way i have nothing left, where the f did i spend it all?”

  25. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    I’ve purchased food for people who’ve asked “do you have change for food” and also given rides for people who’ve asked “do you have change for bus fare.” A couple times it’s been turned down! When I’ve had time I’ve felt a lot more comfortable doing that than just giving money directly for some reason…

  26. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    Almost 8% of households don’t have a bank account; not quite as exceptional as you might think. (And that’s HOUSEholds, so not even counting the homeless.) https://www.fdic.gov/householdsurvey/

  27. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    Jim, that’s funny (“i charge everything i can since it leaves a record of where it was spent”). I pay cash for everything for exactly the same reason: charging leaves a record of what was spent. At least make the marketers and the panopticon break a sweat trying to do their work.

  28. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    I just want to know what comic books you bought.

  29. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Andy: xmen and Buffy.

  30. avatar
    marybeth
    January 23, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    You said: “But really, I think maybe it’s just not economical to beg anymore. What do you do when literally no one has any change? Get square readers for your iPhones?”

    That reminded me of an interesting item from a movie, that impressed me at the time because it answered a question I didn’t know I was going to ask. The movie was In Time, and the conundrum was – if everyone’s currency is time, and it resides on a clock on your arm – how do you carry around currency if your clock isn’t running yet? The plot of the movie is that it activates when you’re 25 years old – you stop growing and aging, but your clock starts running down. But if you’re not 25 yet, you need time to spend for food at least.

    The way they had this was small boxes that could transfer the time back and forth, and could be stored in a bank. It made sense but it was so startling in its simplicity that I was struck by it. The first time we see it is there is a beggar child, who is quite obviously under 25 – so her time is locked away, but she has to live somehow. She’s got a box, and it reminded me of your beggar with a square reader 🙂

    • avatar
      mav
      January 23, 2015 at 8:08 pm

      Marybeth: they actually dealt with it. The kid who was brokering time still had a meter. It just didnt run down. So in theory, time is still currency for the underaged, but it doesnt depreciate by simply living.

  31. avatar
    January 24, 2015 at 1:00 am

    marybeth commented on ChrisMaverick dotcom:

    You said: “But really, I think maybe it’s just not economical to beg anymore. What do you do when literally no one has any change? Get square readers for your iPhones?”

    That reminded me of an interesting item from a movie, that impressed me at the time because it answered a question I didn’t know I was going to ask. The movie was In Time, and the conundrum was – if everyone’s currency is time, and it resides on a clock on your arm – how do you carry around currency if your clock isn’t running yet? The plot of the movie is that it activates when you’re 25 years old – you stop growing and aging, but your clock starts running down. But if you’re not 25 yet, you need time to spend for food at least.

    The way they had this was small boxes that could transfer the time back and forth, and could be stored in a bank. It made sense but it was so startling in its simplicity that I was struck by it. The first time we see it is there is a beggar child, who is quite obviously under 25 – so her time is locked away, but she has to live somehow. She’s got a box, and it reminded me of your beggar with a square reader 🙂

  32. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    I get asked for change in Squill constantly. And fairly often on Craig St, but there aren’t regulars down there anymore.

  33. avatar
    January 23, 2015 at 9:34 pm
  34. avatar
    January 24, 2015 at 12:46 am

    I still remember Bill, I think that was his name, an older man with Alzheimer’s who made little birds out of trash and junk he found. His daughter or daughter in law was trying to get him to go home with her. He apparently would wander out of the house and hang out on the street making these little fetishes and handing them out. This would have been in 92-93? First time I ever really realized the sad state if affairs our health care and support system was in…

  35. avatar
    January 25, 2015 at 10:40 am

    I read the one line as “Mad Mex style apocalypse” and now I’m thirsty for margaritas.

  36. avatar
    January 26, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Come to the South Side in the warmer months. You will see a multitude of beggars. Some older, some white, some black, mostly men. In the past few years there have been a slew of unkempt 20 somethings with guitars and such.

    I don’t always have change, for many of the reasons above, but when I do, depending on the person, I always just empty my pockets. Sometimes it is a few bucks in change, sometimes it is a 5 spot. I think the only time I actively avoid people like this is when I know I don’t have anything to give. Otherwise it is the luck of the pocket lottery.

  37. avatar
    February 3, 2015 at 10:32 am

    And as if the universe knew this post put the song into my head lately, “Mr. Wendal” was playing at Dunkin’ when I grabbed my coffee this morning. Meanwhile prior to this post I probably hadn’t thought of the song in at least a decade, decade and a half.

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