I was accosted by a panhandler today while shopping. I’ve not had this particular experience before today, being confronted while inside a store – the man walked up, asked if he could ask me a question, and launched into his spiel. I have to give him this, he did a few things right: as a tall, bulky male, he kept himself bent over his cart while talking to me (less than average height female), used his full name (or at least a full name) to introduce himself, and said repeatedly that he didn’t want cash money. He said he, his wife, and son, had just moved from another state, they had used their last money to get here, and would I be willing to pay for part (or all) of his cart full of goods? I gently commended him to a couple of local charities, and he got the message and shoved off very quickly. He’d done one thing wrong… he was alone, and approached a solo female. That creeped me right out and I wasn’t going to question my gut.
I was thinking about it afterward. The things he had in his cart were not poverty-minded. They weren’t wildly impractical, just not desperate enough. He wanted paper plates, paper towels, and such. Honestly what I probably should have done was looked at him and said I’d help. But only if he let me do the shopping. Look, I’ve been all but homeless and with negative monies to my name (I wound up paying off someone else’s debts even after they were court-ordered as I had no other option). Paper plates? No. Go put those back, then walk into the homegoods section and buy three cheap plastic plates for $0.50 each. Pick up cups (same price) while you’re there instead of that big pack of red solo cups that costs like $6 and you’ll have to replace them and the paper plates when they get dirty or broken. Paper towels? Honey, I lived without those for years, those suckers are expensive. If you’ve got $20 to set up housekeeping walk you back to the automotive department and pick up ten rags for less than $2. Are you going to be washing out a lot? Yeah. No, you don’t even need a kitchen to do this, you can wash up in a sink in a hotel if that’s what you’ve got.
Given time, there’s even cheaper ways to do it. Thrift shops, garage sales, free groups on facebook… I’ve garbage-picked, scrounged, traded and bartered in my life. Yes, it takes time. It sucks. But eventually you’ll be able to kick enough of a toehold to start your way out of this hole you got yourself into. I know. I did it. But if you don’t take a good hard look at your spending habits, and start to see, really see, where you could make real progress, you don’t have a chance.
I wasn’t comfortable enough at that moment to have this conversation in the store, and looking back I’m not sure he’d have been willing to let me put that many strings on a ‘donation’ to his family. Sadly, people generally don’t want to learn.
Pity, really. We’ve all gotten ourselves into pickles, sometimes we need a little help out of them. Just… Dude. Don’t be walking up to random women alone in the store.