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Against Compassion

[Note: A commenter over at The New American Digest reminded me of this essay. It makes a kind of bookend to yesterday’s “The Shoes of No Fisherman.”]

Outside the ancient offices of the Houghton Mifflin Book Publishers that I once worked in at 2 Park Street in Boston, an old lady stood with her back to the old bricks on every working day. A square yard of sidewalk was her office. Eyes behind thick glasses were watery-gray. She stood hunched in a permanent flinch like some dog who’d been struck too many times for nothing. She dressed in clean, shabby, but not too shabby, clothing — warm enough for the winters and cool enough when summer came around at last. To all who passed by her office she repeated her Bostonian-inflected mantra:
“Spare a quarta?”
“Spare a quarta?”
“Spare a quarta?”

She stood to the left of the entrance for part of the day and to the right for the remainder. You didn’t know when she’d shift, but she always seemed to be in your path as you came out of the building.

Going for some coffee?

“Spare a quarta?”

Going to lunch?

“Spare a quarta?”

Going to skip out on the afternoon and catch a matinee?

“Spare a quarta?”

I once spared her a quarta and went into the Boston Commons with a newspaper and watched her work at her job.

“Spare a quarta?”
“Spare a quarta?”
“Spare a quarta?”

She asked everyone. It was the secret to whatever success she had. Since Park Street led from the Park Street MTA stop to the Massachusetts capital building and other large skyscrapers several thousand people a day had to pass by her and hear “Spare a quarta?”

She got a quarter out of about every fifth person. I once estimated she made about $75 a day, tax-free. That worked out to a take homeless of $18,750 a year in 1983. Not bad when you considered that she had zero overhead.

No matter how you look at it old “Spare a quarta?” was doing all right and, to tell the truth, I contributed my share. She looked like what everyone fears their mother might become if she fell on hard time, but she wasn’t scary. And she had perfect pitch. “Spare a quarta?” was slightly sing-song but never too whining. Just always said with an uplifting lilt right at the end of the opening note of desperation.

If you can’t be really good at anything without 10,000 hours of practice “Spare a quarta?” had put in her time and paid her dues in full.

As beggars go she was “The Fantastiks” of street hustlers. Her performance ran uninterrupted and packed her pockets with quarters for years. She’s probably long gone to her reward — be that in Potters Field or in a small house in the hinterlands that she bought for cash. But I like to think that she’s still there as the busy people of our era bustle up and down Park Street still shelling out to the refrain:

Try to remember the kind of September
“Spare a quarta?”
When life was slow and oh, so mellow.
“Spare a quarta?”
Try to remember when life was so tender
“Spare a quarta?”
That dreams were kept beside your pillow.
“Spare a quarta?”

I remember that in those days I had two things for her and those like her, compassion and a quarta. These days I’m fresh out of the former and I never get asked for just a quarta.

On the streets today they’ve decided they’ve got to entertain; that they’ve gotta have a gimmick and if they’re gonna bump it, they’re gonna bump it with a trumpet.” They offer me stories, crazy ramblings, scrawled signs of despair, signs that mock their begging (“Checks No Longer Accepted from These People”), vague threats and mumbles. They sell poems scrawled in a methadone daze or make blunt demands for smokes now that smokes are half a buck.

I once gave to all who asked. Now I give to none. Once a year I write checks to funds for widows and orphans of police, firemen, and soldiers killed in the line of duty. Beyond that, I find I can no longer spare a quarta. And when I hear, in the back of my mind, the old Depression anthem “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” I find that although I can spare it, I no longer want to give it.

It has taken decades of ceaseless hectoring but at long last, my compassion account in the Bank of Human Kindness is overdrawn. I’m tapped out. I still try to care but I find, if I am honest, I couldn’t care less.

I suppose this makes me a bad person. In the land that is more and more ruled by those eager to cadge money from me or pick my pockets “for the common good” I’m just no damned good to any of them. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I have become, as the song says, “comfortably numb.”

I’ve been told, so often and so stridently, to feel this and to feel that and to feel for the downtrodden of the world, that I find I no longer feel anything at all. I don’t think I’m alone in not caring. I think caring and compassion, now that it has been institutionalized enough to demand caring and compassion, has finally found its limit.

In a world dimensional, a world of limits, caring finds itself flummoxed by its own best impulses. If we could inhabit any one of the endless utopias proposed to us by the dreamers and schemers among us, all would be well and all manner of things would be well. But we live in the world of sun, rain, dirt, steel, and flesh where all that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men remain distracted by snake-oil hallucinations of perfection; and that they follow the instructions of their betters to feed these hallucinations of perfection in the fond hope that these toys of the mind will become real. The only thing that becomes real when you reach for Utopia is that those few who crave power over many become perpetual seekers of indulgences.

These indulgences of wish would remain harmless and essentially admirable as long as nothing more imperative or noble calls us. That which calls to us is not the world that may be, but the world that is as we make it day by day. We may, from time to time, be able to spare a quarta only so long as all our quartas are not constantly demanded of us. Quartas to spare can only come from surpluses.

Of late, those surpluses have been converted by events and history into deficits. Put simply, we can, at the present time, no longer afford to fund our ever-expanding compassionate state. Compassion can never be made compulsory and cash-flow positive at the same time. Whenever and wherever compassion has been made compulsory the people soon find they no longer have care or quartas to spare.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Casey Klahn December 14, 2017, 8:57 AM

    My 16 y.o. son is searching for a synthesis between capitalism and socialism, because he’s heard that neither works or is perfect. I try to steer him towards Reagan, whose rhetoric was to let the charities in the private sector do their job.

    Imagine if the Americans truly gave as they will and want to. That’d be more, I feel, than the social coffers of the gubmint can ever provide.

    I gave what for me was a lot to Sam’s Purse the past three months since the hurricanes. Enough to put a dent in my pocket. It’s interesting to have that feeling that comes with giving till it hurts.

    Anyway, the capitol system is the only fairness. Not perfect, but it is minted for imperfection. Let me have my property. I am a fallen soul, but there is some light in the blackness.

    I watched a You Tube where these art people were wearing Bernie Sanders T shirts with the words “Free Shit” in big letters emblazoned on them. It’s great, because they know the irony of their slogan. Some know, and still want to bludgeon you for your money (property). It’s a fighting impulse that has blood but no logic. They know it.

  • Donald Sensing December 14, 2017, 10:26 AM

    I remember when you posted this from years ago. In fact, I responded to it here: “The Professional Poor, the Idle Poor and the Poverty Traders.

    Also related, “Beware the compassion police — Why compassion cannot be a basis for public policy.

    “Compassion can never be made compulsory and cash-flow positive at the same time.” Brilliant!

  • Candy Cane December 14, 2017, 10:35 AM

    In my thirties, having moved from Reno to Sacramento for husbands work, I saw plenty of pathetic looking persons looking for handouts at red lights on the exit ramps. These sights filled my heart with compassion while considering “there, but by the grace of God, go I”. Whether I was a passenger or the driver I would sincerely pray for them and their situation. I don’t do that anymore, although I should return to that practice. We have just seen soooo many beggars who have a nice vehicle somewhere near by, a dog in that vehicle, and packs of cigarettes to smoke. We’ve actually seen them take what cash they get and head to the liquor store. What? Your sign stated you needed money for a broom to do your newly started house cleaning business. Today we give monthly to BGEA and Samaritans Purse where both the body and the soul will be ministered to. Still, it is sad that so many con artists out there have hardened our hearts.

  • Gringo December 14, 2017, 10:45 AM

    Decades ago I had an experience with a panhandler which cured me of giving out money. I had gone to NYC for the day. A panhandler approached me. His story was that he was a soldier stationed at Fort Dix, had his wallet stolen and needed money to purchase a bus ticket back to base. He said that would pay me back.

    I got a little suspicious when he tried to increase what he needed- money for a sandwich whatever.

    I was earning minimum wage from my dishwashing job while going to university, so it wasn’t easy money that I gave him. He never paid me back- which in retrospect shouldn’t have been a big surprise.

    I have no regrets for giving him the money. It was a good lesson for me. After that encounter I turned down panhandlers with no guilt feelings whatsoever. On occasion I have given food to panhandlers. I have heard that many panhandlers would prefer cash, to help pay for their habit.

    Several years before the Fort Dix story in NYC, a panhandler at Harvard Square had requested money from my sister and me. We replied that we barely had a penny to our names. He admitted to us that he didn’t make a bad living panhandling. Lot of students with rich parents around Harvard Square.

    When at a bus stop – my old car doesn’t always run- I have contributed 50 cents or some sum towards a bus pass when someone has requested assistance. It doesn’t happen often As I get a senior citizen discount, I have no problem with that.

    A panhandling story from Venezuela. Cars were being stopped to contribute money for a chapel. Well, it beat the “voluntary contributions” that highway patrolmen in Venezuela extorted for some nonexistent traffic violation.

  • OldFert December 14, 2017, 12:44 PM

    We’re often told that the beggars we see are homeless because of mental problems, or drug problems, or whatever.
    We used to institutionalize these folks, or arrest the bums. Or take them to the outskirts of town and tell them to be on their way.
    We’re told that it wouldn’t be good to institutionalize them because that would take away their dignity. What a misuse of the term “dignity.” So, we closed down the institutions back in the ‘70s. After all, Mr. Doe was just fine when he took his meds. So, we’ll release him. And give him free meds. Which he doesn’t take. And he doesn’t want to go to the shelter because of the rules, mannnnnn.
    And he’ll take our money he bums and buy some self-medication, legal or illegal, but not the ones prescribed to him.
    And on and on and so forth and so forth.
    So, here’s a seed of an idea to solve the problem:
    Reallocate some of the funding for a new jail or prison, or community college, or civic artwork, for a live-in facility for bums and homeless and beggars. It won’t be a come-and-go-as-you-please place, but won’t be jail, either. (I don’t know what it would be or how to do it. I’m just the idea guy, here.)
    Collect these people from the streets and homeless camps. Destroy the camps. Do not allow them to be re-established.
    If the people collected are wanted, remand them to the law.
    If they’re illegal, deport them.
    If they’re mental cases or drug addled, or “down on their luck” bring them to the new live-in facility. Maybe even try to give them some “how to live as a non-parasite” training.
    If they demonstrate an ability to function in society, release them.
    If they wind up back, either institutionalize them for life, or take them to the bus station, buy them a ticket to San Francisco or Seattle, and let them be on their way.

  • ghostsniper December 14, 2017, 12:57 PM

    Vagrancy used to be a crime, then communism came to town.
    You know, the idea that everybody is “equal”, so we’ll all be panhandlers eventually.

  • pbird December 14, 2017, 1:27 PM


    A local business has put a camera up so the town can see what goes on down on the street where the mission for homeless men is. Its a real mess sometimes. They are coming down a little harder on them lately.

  • pbird December 14, 2017, 1:29 PM
  • Snakepit Kansas December 14, 2017, 6:37 PM

    Buy your 16 year old son BASIC ECONOMICS by Thomas Sowell. Pragmatic and simple to understand for those minds that are in desire of forming.

    As for helping others… not that many years ago I was in a parking lot and a man approached me saying his truck broke down on a highway close by. He only needed a ride to a place about three miles away. I am fairly good at discerning the average BS story and although my guard was up, I told the guy I would give him a ride. I was armed, as frequently I am. He jumped in and headed toward the major intersection that he needed to go. Then he said we needed to take a slight detour, and it was into a not-so-nice neighborhood. He then needed a few bucks. Oh hell no. We got to his point of destination in the middle of a very bad neighborhood. He wouldn’t get out of the car without some money. I got stern and told him to get out. There was no pay day today. He got out. How stupid of me. In such close proximity, if he had a knife, my concealed Glock 23 would have been useless.

  • Kauf Buch December 15, 2017, 2:25 AM

    “Against Compassion” EXEMPLIFIES the Leftist bent in mis-interpreting goodwill towards men.
    It makes the assumption that, to be compassionate, YOU MUST “give give give” until it hurts and,

    “You don’t caaaaare!”

    I. Am. Compassionate.
    And *I* choose HOW, WHEN, and TO WHOM to show it.

    I can’t help the mentally ill.
    I can’t help the homeless directly.
    I won’t help the drugridden or otherwise self-destructive.
    And to h*ll with the outright lazy and dishonest.

    That pretty much leaves the down-on-yer-luck genuine article.
    You got a Genuine-O-Meter? I don’t.

    But: DON’T DARE peddle any “you’re worse than I am for not helping” cr*pola around me.

  • Anonymous December 15, 2017, 4:07 AM

    “In such close proximity, if he had a knife, my concealed Glock 23 would have been useless.”

    And one of my legendary fish billy’s in the door pocket could have saved your life.
    2 pounds of determined equalized justice right in your hand in a second.

    There is a space between the drivers seat and the console that perfectly fits the Uncle Mikes ballistic nylon holster that contains my Beretta Bobcat in an upright position ready to be grabbed yet sits low enough that it is invisible to everyone else.

  • Kauf Buch December 15, 2017, 6:08 AM

    As a “p.s.” to my mini-rant above, I offer only the following:

    The notion that *not* enabling such societal parasites is being “against compassion”
    is EXACTLY the Leftist “rationalization” (sic) process which allows them to follow up with,
    “therefore, I’ll MAKE you ‘care’ by having the Government *force* to you to contribute…via an endless number and variety of degenerate social programs which I, the morally superior one, deem to be necessary and good”.

    Well, F THAT.

  • Punditarian December 15, 2017, 8:25 AM

    “Vagrancy used to be a crime, then communism came to town.
    You know, the idea that everybody is “equal”, so we’ll all be panhandlers eventually.”

    Actually, vagrancy and unemployment are virtues to communists only before the revolution.
    After the revolution, vagrancy and unemployment are crimes of parasitism, and the offenders get sent to work camps in the Gulag archipelago.

    • Pebo November 16, 2022, 3:36 PM

      In a country where the sole employer is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one; who does not obey shall not eat.–Leon Trotsky (1937)

  • Kauf Buch December 15, 2017, 1:07 PM

    TO Punditarian
    1) SEE my post to you in the thread below this one.
    2) You sort of get it but, in the communism*I* know (Central Europe),
    the FORCED SYSTEM OF CARING forced people to not only work but also pay tribute/tax.
    In that sense, they were unemployed, because the productivity (not even addressing what it did to the human soul to have just about every ounce of personal initiative stolen/squelched from you) reflected the reality of Communist Compassion.

  • Kauf Buch December 15, 2017, 1:08 PM

    p.s. I consider it NO DIFFERENT from the American (Leftist?) approach.
    It USED TO BE different here…*sigh*

  • Punditarian December 15, 2017, 1:15 PM

    Hi Kauf Buch, I think we are in general agreement. I think that “compassion” for the downtrodden is in the communist system mainly a dodge – I think that this sort of fellow-feeling did animate many of the “militants de base,” who I think you will agree were deluded, but the system as a whole is not compassionate at all. What I was trying to say was that before the socialists take power, the unemployed, the vagrants, the starving masses are victims of the capitalist system and the bourgeoisie, for whom the cadres and the citizens are expected to have compassion, even to the point of making that compassion the emotional rationale for overthrowing all of society. After the socialists take power, on the other hand, those who refuse to work for “the common good” are blood-sucking, free-loading parasites who are committing a crime against the (democratic socialist) State, and therefore must be re-educated, imprisoned, or annihilated.

    In my thinking about socialism, by the way, I was greatly influenced by the work of Academician I. Shafarevich.

  • Kauf Buch December 15, 2017, 3:46 PM

    To Punditarian
    If I understand you right, you’re actually trying to say,
    “…before socialists take power, the unemployed, vagrants…bla bla bla… arePORTRAYED BY THE COMMUNISTS AS victims of the capitalist system…
    They AREN’T, but they are USED as “pawns” AS IF they were “victims.”

    Hence: false “compassion.”

  • Kauf Buch December 15, 2017, 3:50 PM


    False compassion is false compassion.
    Those so-called “victims” of the capitalist system are merely people the totalitarians are appealing to,
    to become Useful Idiots to let THOSE totalitarians take control/power over everyone.

    the lazy lie is that “someone else” is going to make it alright…when, in fact,

  • Vanderleun December 15, 2017, 4:41 PM


    There is a glitch in the spam filter that decides, in a computer like cold hearted manner, that your comments need to be held back for human review.

    I, for one, DO NOT KNOW why this happens though I have invested some hours in trying to understand why.

    What does happen is that a few times a day at random I inspect the spam filter for folks like you that have mistakenly been caught by the filter. Then I approve the posts. Manually.

    Does that clear this up?

  • Howard Nelson December 17, 2017, 5:50 PM

    Brother, can you a dime?
    Yes. I’ve been waiting to give it to someone needier than you. Do you know that someone? If so, take this dime and give it to them — if they know no one needier. Ask them to ask the same question until the neediest is found for receiving. That last one will bless you all, always, all ways. If you don’t believe me, ask Francis; he only knows and speaks the truth.

  • nunnya bidnez, jr January 2, 2021, 7:31 PM

    I met a guy who had no shoes…
    I thought that was pretty bad
    until I met a guy with no feet.
    I thought [i]that[/i] was the worst..
    until I met a guy with no legs.

    Arlo Guthrie:
    “Hey man, you ain’t got it that bad. Look at that guy.” And you look at that guy, and he’s got it worse than you. And it makes you feel better that there’s somebody that’s got it worse than you.
    But think of the [b]last guy[/b]. For one minute, think of the last guy. Nobody’s got it worse than that guy. Nobody in the whole world. That guy … he’s so alone in the world that he isn’t even have a street to lay in for a truck to run him over. He’s out there with nothin. Nothin’s happenin for that cat…

  • nunnya bidnez, jr January 2, 2021, 7:31 PM

    I met a guy who had no shoes…
    I thought that was pretty bad
    until I met a guy with no feet.
    I thought [i]that[/i] was the worst..
    until I met a guy with no legs.

    Arlo Guthrie:
    “Hey man, you ain’t got it that bad. Look at that guy.” And you look at that guy, and he’s got it worse than you. And it makes you feel better that there’s somebody that’s got it worse than you.
    But think of the [b]last guy[/b]. For one minute, think of the last guy. Nobody’s got it worse than that guy. Nobody in the whole world. That guy … he’s so alone in the world that he isn’t even have a street to lay in for a truck to run him over. He’s out there with nothin. Nothin’s happenin for that cat…

  • Stan Smith January 3, 2021, 12:22 AM

    I worked in DC from 1993-1996, the last 18 months at the WaPo. Every day I’d walk past a woman who stood, like the one in Gerard’s post above, with her back against the wall, holding a paper cup. She never said a word, but just looked straight ahead, and would from time to time shake the cup so that folks could hear the coins in it rattle around. She had a few takers every time as I walked by; I never gave because I have no compassion at all, having been cured of it by too many cons.

    One day, the woman was not at her usual spot. I saw her a couple of blocks later, dressed very well in the seat of a posh hair salon, getting a “do”. I was happy that I’d never given her anything.

    There was a couple in L.A. who made the papers with a scam. They’d park in a Home Depot or Lowe’s lot with their infant and dented car, claiming to be stranded in California and only wanting some cash to get back to somewhere in the Midwest. A local newsie followed them around one day and discovered that they averaged about $200 a day (for about 4 hours “work”) and lived in a well-to-do suburb.

  • Sid V January 3, 2021, 3:01 AM

    I was out with some friends once in Philly and a panhandler came up and asked for money. He looked legit and so I gave him two bucks and said “now you’re not gonna buy any crack with this are you?” He gave me one of the most evil stairs I’ve ever seen in my life. Never did that again!

    Pretty sure that was the last time I gave money to a panhandler.

  • H (science denier) January 3, 2021, 4:23 AM

    I’ve read that in China, pre-1949, beggars were highly organized by specialties, with unions and everything.

    I was reminded of that several years ago in Denver. Done for the day, I was driving back to the hotel. At the bottom of the exit ramp was a stop light and a fellow with a cardboard sign standing next to a back pack. I was about four cars back and a bit out of range when a panel van pulled up and the sliding door opened. Another guy got out, grounded his back pack and he and the first guy exchanged the sign before the first guy picked up his back pack, got in the van and it pulled away. Before the door closed, you could see there were other people in the van with their own back packs.

    Obviously the van was running a route and it was shift change.

  • RevBroGenerik January 3, 2021, 4:50 AM

    Often I prepare for a visit to the city and count the change in my pocket. Easier, these days. And when accosted by a beggar, I propose a riddle: If you can guess the amount in my pocket, you get it all.
    It has resulted in a sort of break in the barrier between two strangers, one who considers the other as a ‘mark’ and the one who wants to be left alone and considers the other as a potential problem. It’s usually a little awkward, but the unease tends to be for the hustler. Sometimes a bit of levity. No one has guessed correctly. I’d gladly pay to meet an actual psychic.

  • Veeze January 3, 2021, 5:06 AM

    In my small town, our stoplight panhandlers all have smartphones.

  • MarkInKansas January 3, 2021, 5:30 AM

    I found a reader comment on an Instapundit thread that go to the question that Casey Klahn had regarding capitalism and socialism. If it helps, that’s good. If it doesn’t, it’s still a pretty good comment.

    “… God doesn’t just care about outcomes he cares about motives as well but in a broken world we can’t just depend on people’s sense of charity and good will for our daily needs”

    This observation is what puts Capitalism and Christianity on the same page. You don’t need to be a 5 point Calvinist to understand the scriptural truth that we are a broken and sinful people. Capitalism allows us to live in a fair and prosperous world in spite of this fact. And it is also the reason that Socialism that depends on the perfectibility of man has zero chance of ever working as an economic system. Indeed its history of horror comes as no surprise to any Christian.

  • Wildman January 3, 2021, 6:10 AM

    The poor and downtrodden are the raw materials to keep the compassion industry going and provide government, activists and awareness folks nice jobs with nice pensions. So if your expecting them to “solve” the issue, your dreaming

  • CharleyC January 3, 2021, 7:22 AM

    I too was once filled with compassion for the passerby. Many years ago (I’m 71) it all changed. I ran into a friend of mine I had not seen in a few days and noticed a blank look about him. He wasn’t the same person I talked with just a few days before. Turns out, he had picked up a hitchhiker who looked harmless enough and it all went south quickly. Ride going OK. Hitchhiker asked about money and then pulled a knife. When the fight was over, the hitchhiker was dead, stabbed by my friend with the knife that was intended for him.
    While neither of us were strangers to violence and even death, this experience had a profound effect on him, and ultimately on me as it it changed forever our view of what compassion can and does lead to.
    I still help those in need as long as I am the one making the decision (and I can do it from a distance). My one rule of giving, the person can not have asked for the help/money/assistance. I decide who to help.
    God bless you all, everyone.

  • mmack January 3, 2021, 7:44 AM


    Thank you for reposting this. And now I can’t think of The Fantasticks without thinking “Spare a Quarta?”

    Working in Da Loop in Chicago and commuting by train for a total of twelve years I got to see a wide range of grifters and hustlers. Like Gerard’s “quarta” lady we had our regulars. The lady that would periodically plop down at the top of the Union Station Jackson St. escalators, curled up like a ball, plaintively begging “PLEASE somebody buy me something to EAT!” was particularly memorable. As was the fellow that started his grift with a plea for a few dollars to get a train ticket to go for a job interview and two years later when I took my last train trip was still outside of Union Station shucking and jiving and panhandling.

    And I remember the day a twenty something young man rode past me on a relatively new mountain bike as I was walking to my office building. He rode to the end of the block, chained his bike to a rack, walked one block further up, and plopped himself and a backpack against a building and unfolded a cardboard begging sign.

    And as Gerard and others related, the grifts get more elaborate. One day walking out of my office building an insistent charmer matched my pace and started asking me questions:

    “Hey man, do you know where (some church) is?”
    Me, walking and looking straight ahead “No, I’m not from here.”
    “Hey man, do you know where (Catholic shelter) is?”
    Again “No, I’m not from here.”
    “Hey man, can you lend me ten bucks for a meal?”

    That did it. I remembered a time where I was on a quick trip to Cleveland and got grifted waiting to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I looked at him and angrily said “Oh THAT old scam! Hey, do you have a cousin in Cleveland who needs twenty bucks to fix a flat tire? Ask him!” The dude was completely dumbfounded and I was able to get away from him.

    We left Silly-nois nearly four years ago. The last time someone tried grifting me was over two years ago. I was filling my car’s tank at the gas station when an older compact car rolled up next to mine. The driver’s window rolls down and a late twenty – early thirty something man starts his spiel with “Hey man, it’s totally cool but if you could spare some money so I could get some food for my kid and I” (motions to child seat next to him) “I’d appreciate it”.

    I looked him square in the eyes and very calmly and very deadpan said “Dude, I’m from Chicago. I’ve heard ’em all. You’ll need better than that to work with me.”

    And I turned back to finish filling the car’s tank.

    When I put the nozzle back I looked back and saw him looking at me, deer in headlights look, completely dumbfounded. Then he rolled up the window and drove away.

  • jwm January 3, 2021, 7:54 AM

    Honest, you guys, I am not making this up.
    Some years ago I drove to work and back on Rosemead Bl. crossing the San Gabriel Valley here in So Cal. On the drive home I’d see a black bum panhandling at one of the intersections. He had a sign: “Please help”. At the very next intersection there was a white guy panhandling. He had a sign: “Will work for food”. The next light down there was a Mexican guy. He had bags of oranges, and a broomstick full of candied apples for sale.


  • Vanderleun January 3, 2021, 8:19 AM

    The contemporary beggars of India….

  • Jack January 3, 2021, 9:00 AM

    I walked out of a Bass Pro one morning and a black guy came walking up. He kind of kept his distance and began to tell me that he was from out of town to visit some relatives and on the previous evening he and his wife, along with a daughter had been involved in a traffic accident that destroyed his car, hurt his wife and put his daughter in ICU and that she was not expected to live. He wondered if I could spare any money so I reached into my wallet and gave the guy a $20 bill and told him how sorry I was about his accident and his daughter’s condition.

    He took the $20, looked at it and asked me if I could give him more money and I replied that I could not and would not. So, he said “ok” and then turned and walked away. I put my purchases in my truck and turned to see where this guy had gone……straight to a fairly new Honda Accord….and I watched him drive off.

    I’ve always given money to people on the street but that sob ended it for me. My wife contributes to Samaritan’s Purse and her son-in-law’s Pastorial ministry in his church but that’s it.

    Our greedy and practically useless government taxes Americans at some of the highest tax rates in the world and after paying off Sam, I’m fresh TF out of compassion.

  • James O'Neil January 3, 2021, 10:49 AM

    Repetition and persistence does work, grifting and in other situations.

    I still remember a friend of mine, from the fifties at U of Fla. Would be considered dorky today and was considered much more than passing strange back in the day. One dorm plus much beer discussions; he contended if you want something ask, don’t ask, ain’t no chance of getting some. So! I oh yea-ed him “You wanna get laid, just ask?” He said, Why not? Ninety nine out of a hundred might say no, but it doesn’t take that long to ask a hundred.”

    Well, he ended up out in the Plaza of the Americas, passing young ladies & saying, “Hey you wanna f_ _ _ _?” He got lucky after the fiftieth, or so repetition.

  • Harry January 3, 2021, 12:02 PM

    My favorite was the woman who pulled up next to me at the gas station in a late model pick up truck. After chatting with me for a bit, she asked if I could spare a couple dollars. Selfish bastard that I am, I told her no.
    In Chicago I did give a guy a dollar once. I was trying to find my correct bus. He walked me an entire block to the bus stop. I figure he earned that buck.
    Closer to home, an underpass has grown into encampments on each side of the road. One side always seems to be neater than the other. There is a desk and chair on the neat side, so perhaps it’s the home(less) office. Last week driving by, I noticed that neat side was very organized. Had the maid just left?

  • Dirk January 3, 2021, 5:21 PM

    Last year I was coming home from racing my sailboat, had a buzz, and was hungry. Pulled Ito Taco Bell where a gent approached me, wanted money for food, I said Na, but I’ll buy you dinner. Guy smiles and put in an order for like thirty dollars worth of everything Supreme, quality. I laughed,

    Drove thru the line, got him two tacos and another dish. I pulled aroumd front, handed him his gift, he looked at what was in the bag, threw it back in my truck, and started screaming my white privileged this and that.

    I calmly told the gent to step away from my truck, he smiles and says ok now get me what I want.

    I smile say sure, I drive out of the Taco Bell and head home with a couple extra tacos etcetc. This knucklehead chased me down the road for three hundred yards. Like I said, I had a buzz, so I’d slowwwww down and let him almost catch me, then speed up, then stop and he’d run my way, I was having a great time laughing at this pecker head.

    Haven’t offered to help since. I won’t. Get a haircut, and get a real job.


  • ghostsniper January 3, 2021, 6:02 PM

    This Dirk dood’s a scream idn’t he? LOL
    I wanna party with that dood!

    Circa late 1978 I was in the ABC liquor lounge about 10pm, the place was packed and I was just leaning against the wall sipping a 50 cent well drink, rum and coke, and I saw him casing me from about 20′ away. Next thing I know he’s coming right at me, then right up on me, chest right against chest and the negro says, “Lemme hol’ fy dollah.” ….

  • Auntie Analogue January 3, 2021, 6:11 PM

    Years ago I swore off enriching grifters or gratifying panhandlers. But since then I’ve donated regularly to the Salvation Navy.

  • dindydee January 3, 2021, 6:17 PM

    Pathological altruism: when helping hurts. NGO’s are notorious for this behavior. Of course NGO’s are perpetuating their existence also by this bad bit of business.

    I’m cautious with charity, and never give to panhandlers. There are too many avenues through which a person or family in need can get help. Begging is not one of them.

    Still, one incident has always bothered me. I was leaving a hotel one morning, starting to get into my car when a 30-something woman driving a late model SUV stopped in front of me. She was well groomed. Her vehicle was clean. She put her window down and said the she was nearly out of fuel and could I give her $20.00 so she could get to where she was going. I guess it was the fact that she didn’t appear to be someone who would have to ask for money that made me lie and tell her I didn’t have any cash. She certainly appeared prosperous enough to at least have a credit or debit card. She looked surprised that I didn’t hand over some money and made a comment to the effect that someday I might be in a position like that and karma would get me. After she drove away, I regretted not helping her, yet there was still a niggling doubt in my mind that she was grifting. I don’t know. I felt bad about myself for awhile. Was I wrong? I’ll never know.

  • Ann K. January 3, 2021, 8:22 PM

    A twist: after both of my parents died and my two siblings and I were sorting through their worldly goods, a young African American woman showed up and said our parents had hired her to clean for them on that particular day. She moaned and wailed upon learning of their demise. And like a fucking fool, I gave her $40. Now, I am wiser.

  • Anne January 3, 2021, 9:25 PM

    I am old enough to remember the WWII vets who sat on the street corner with no legs. He wasn’t begging. He was polite and his cup did not have a sign. It was just set there in front of him. I was taught to put in my nickel or dime and say thank you.Later, when I was still young, they closed down the institutions that were supposed to be helping the feeble minded.We were all told by the media those people were better off on the street. I thought at the time, that if those institutions were REALLY doing good work every day they would not have been closed down by the insiders in government who truly knew what was going on. From that time on I have never given to anyone on the street. BUT, recently on a warm summer day (tourist season) here in my all white small university town, I saw a very healthy African/American man sitting on the corner with a big smile on his face. Until recently we did not have African/American families growing up in this town. It was not a function of politics, but rather a function of weather–hardly anyone–neither black nor white, would move from a southern state to a place where -30 is a typical winter temperature. His sign read: “please help get this nigger out of town!” His smile was contemptuous.

  • gwbnyc January 4, 2021, 12:22 AM

    Vagrancy is mentioned, and I was put to mind-

    when not long in NYC I heard the term “take a mope”, its intention, I deduced, similar to “take a walk, scram”.

    considerable time passed and for some reason I investigated the word and found it actually serves as “loitering”, thus moping is loitering, and a mope is a loiterer.

    this led to defining “creep”, it turns out creeping is being around with questionable intent, and a creep is doing just that.

    I found they are both legal terms, and one can be cited for “moping with intent to creep”.

  • gwbnyc January 4, 2021, 6:59 AM



  • Bunny January 4, 2021, 9:10 AM

    If they’re honest, I don’t mind giving them cigs and change. The homeless near our office would sometimes ask for cigarettes when we were on smoke break. No sob stories, just can you spare a smoke? Sure, why not? A woman once asked for money for brunch in an upscale location. That really takes some balls. I had just enjoyed brunch myself, had a few dollars in my pocket, sure, why not, at least she’s honest? Waiting for public transportation downtown post-jury duty, guy says he’s out of prison and can’t get hired, can I give a few dollars? Figured by the look of him it was probably true, sure, why not? When I told my husband the story, got a scolding for taking out my wallet. Anyway, I have never regretted those brief moments of human connection and (very piddling) generosity. They do more for the giver than the giftee. Somewhere in the back of my head is that Christian injunction to help the needy and it makes me feel expansive to let go of loose change. But if I sense a dubious story or they’re too aggressive, no soup for them. So maybe I’m a judgmental virtue signaller.

  • yop January 4, 2021, 10:18 AM

    A few years ago I came out of Home Depot and there were a couple of guys with a beat up pickup parked by my car, one of them told me they were trying to raise $30 for gas to get home to a city a couple of hundred miles away. The back of the truck was full of tools and construction waste, the two guys were grubby and looked exhausted, they were longhaired biker-looking types, maybe ex-cons. After I assessed the situation I said “I’m going to help you guys out” and peeled off thirty bucks (I had a great long-running consulting gig at the time and was hucking down $100+ per hour downtown), their gratitude was obviously very real, they tried to gift me some headlamps, I finally accepted a pen/pencil set pulled out of their glove box, they were last seen scooting away in their truck. I’ve rejected similar scams at gas pumps and on the street but I sincerely believe I helped out some hard-working guys who got in a jam and feel good about it.

  • Teri Pittman January 5, 2021, 11:40 AM

    I think the last guy I helped was a guy out of Portland, OR, with a sign saying he was trying to get back to Oklahoma. I thought no one would lie about that.

    I did help out a couple, son of the guy that used to caretake for us. They wound up in this area. she is pregnant and they had all their stuff stolen. Car broke down too. Gave them a place to stay and money for food. They were supposed to help out with clean up here, but that stopped early on. Then I told them they had to go. Couldn’t afford to feed them and wasn’t getting any help. He did leave with a new drill of mine but small price to pay to be rid of them.

  • Dobbs January 5, 2021, 11:55 AM

    “Can you stake a fellow American to a meal?”

  • Sean Cory January 5, 2021, 5:07 PM

    Begging is an old, time-honored profession dating back millennia. It is not an easy profession as it demands patience, endurance, an eye for a promising environment and an ability to gage the people who inhabit it as well as a talent for acting (not to mention a thick skin). The best beggars are creative in their dress, makeup, demeanor and patter. It may only be ” spare a quata?” but it must be said with the correct tone and inflection to have maximum effect. Beggars, like poker players, will have good days and off days but in the end, if the beggar is good at what he/she does, the percentages will pay off.

    Real beggars are the ones you see day-in and day-out in the same local using a standard line that works just often enough to snag the occasional hand out and keep them fed, clothed and housed. Panhandlers, on the other hand, tend to be transient and often clumsy or off-putting in their efforts. In one of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories Holmes investigates a mystery about a relatively well-to-do family man who has disappeared and discovers that the man makes his living as a beggar which paid better than any regular job he had held.

  • Kalashnikat January 7, 2021, 9:16 PM

    Best sign I’ve seen.
    “Bank Robber,
    Out of bullets.
    Please Help”
    Since I carry concealed I told him I had one to give him, but he hastily declined. Never saw him again.

  • Doug November 16, 2022, 12:43 PM

    This morning the mercury bottomed at +2°F, the first morning in 5 days above zero and this is only mid November. There’s a saying… “40 below keep the riff raff away”
    From a high mountain valley of eastern Idaho
    “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”
    I love the program Life Below Zero, makes our place look not so cold and it’s a modern program without “Wokeness”.
    I do have compassion and donate generously to the church of my choice.

  • rabbit tobacco November 16, 2022, 12:44 PM

    Hebrews 13:2 —
    2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

    • Vanderleun November 17, 2022, 8:38 AM

      I know and am mindful. I hope.

  • William November 16, 2022, 1:21 PM

    In the 60’s and early 70s I could walk from all over Chico and never meet a beggar. The few I met over the next many years I generally gave some change. Nowadays, their numbers are overwhelming. A person simply can not give to everyone of them and hence gives to none. I do have an interesting reverse beg story. Wearing my business suite I was walking down Robson Street in Vancouver when I encountered a group of First Nations people. One man asked me to borrow him a dollar. I laughed and said to him that he probably had way more cash than I did and he should give me a five. He pulled out a very large wad cash, peeled me off a five and we parted, both grinning and enjoying the ironic exchange.

  • Teresa Pittman November 17, 2022, 8:35 AM

    Note my comment from last year? After four months of my stepson paying a lawyer, we legally can evict the squatters. Then the sheriffs wanted a $100,000 bond (on top of the $400) to go out and deal with it. They went out and rousted them all out. Stepson destroyed their sheds, generators and motor homes. They were back the next day. I think the cops arrested them, but they are likely back out. They did confiscate the stolen vehicles and the catalytic converters they found. Couldn’t take their drugs as the state now allows them to have small amounts of meth for personal use. Of course, Code Enforcement is asking me to put in a bunch of money for fencing that won’t stop them at all. Plans are to start cleanup next week. I can’t wait until I can finally get rid of that property. My new home in the Midwest is in a clean, rural town. There are no homeless camps, although some of the houses here need work. I can leave the door unlocked and not worry.

  • jpkimjoy November 17, 2022, 7:59 PM

    Good not to worry, but do lock the door.