Can somebody spare a dollar? PLEASE!!!

Dad once came home from work and told us about a woman he and a coworker had encountered on the streets of Kirkland, WA. She was crying, pleading for $9 for a bus ticket. She only needed that $9 to see her sick son, I don’t remember where he lived. Dad’s coworker told her to get lost and snickered as the two of them walked off. Dad felt differently. He said she looked so sad and scared. I heard that story when I was about 7… I’m now 26 and I’ll never forget how I felt inside: Angry at the coworker, very sad for the poor woman, confused at how no one would help her.

Is this really what Seattle is known for?

 In the 1990s, Seattle used to scare the shit out of me because all over the city streets, bums would approach pedestrians and beg, they’d sit on curbs and stink, you’d hear them getting jeered by naughty college boys. I hated driving into Seattle on Sundays for our usual Science Center trips because we’d always pass a dirty bearded man with a “Please Help, God Bless” sign. Sometimes we’d give him money from our car windows, sometimes we’d drive by like everyone else. I still remember that feeling emanating from the pit of my stomach: hot and knotted, embarrassed for complaining about not getting an extra scoop of ice cream, grateful for my little twin bed.

Last summer, I was at my favorite coffee shop in Cambridge, sitting outside with my laptop. The breeze running through my hair felt fresh, I had a new dress on, and somebody close by was making their baby coo. Suddenly, from nowhere, a shrieking voice yelled,

“DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY MONEY AT ALL!? I NEED A NEW SHIRT!.. IT’S HOT AN’… AN’… THERE’S NO PLACE FOR THE HOMELESS ANYMORE!! …. PLEASE!… PLEASE!!”

His cries grew louder, he started sobbing in the middle of Cambridge on the common way. I stared at him like the other people who had been enjoying the sunny day until a moment ago. Finally, a man walked up to the pacing, upset young man and handed him what appeared to be a large bill.

“HOLY SHIT!!! THANKS MAN! YOU’RE AMAZING!!!… THAT MAN IS A SAINT!” He pointed at the man who was now walking away. The homeless youth sauntered off to hopefully buy a shirt with his winnings. I never thought of him again until last week.

The Boston city public transportation system is the hub for us lower tax bracket individuals to come and go without paying the ridiculous parking fees around our jobs. While many of us try to keep to ourselves, every now and then, we crash into one another by means of the trains jerking and breaking suddenly. Or, more figuratively by a common uncomfortable experience shared by a group waiting for a late train. Last week after leaving work, I opted to take the T home and save a little money. However, I’ve noticed what I save in money, I pay for through socially awkward experiences. On that particular night, I was waiting for a very late 1am train on the red line platform with ten other people when I heard a dreadful noise from behind me. Grotesque crying and moaning follow by a repetitious slapping shoe sound. I accidentally turned around to see a disheveled young man hobbling towards the platform with one boot in his hand and his right foot exposed. He was limping horribly and quickly, trying to reach the small crowd before the train took us away.

“DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY MONEY?! PLEASE! I NEED THREE MORE DOLLARS TO GET TO THE HOMELESS SHELTER!! PLEASE, MY FOOT IS INFECTED! I CAN’T BE OUTSIDE!”

He was sobbing and looking around at each of us. The man caught my eye and I immediately recognized him. He was the young man from Cambridge! The very same! I recognized his tone and sobbing pleases as well. Was he still homeless from the summer?

“COME ON! PLEASE, ANYBODY! I CAN’T GO TO THE HOSPITAL BECAUSE THEY ONLY LET ME STAY AN HOUR, THEN THEY GIVE ME SOCKS BUT WHAT GOOD DOES THAT DO? PLEASE! I’M IN PAIN!….. COME ON!”

Sobbing and miserable, he laid down in the middle of the platform and cried out loud. A student approached him and gave him some money. The crying continued. I had no money at all, most people taking the T don’t have a ton of extra dough. But I felt nervous about what he might do if no one else gave him anything. Fortunately, I was saved by the approaching T and I left the crying man on that awful platform. Aboard the train, a couple of girls nervously laughed amongst themselves about the whole affair. I stared off, trying to regain some late night peace. The image of the crying man with his swollen foot didn’t leave me for a few days and sometimes when I was having a meal or laughing about something with friends, his image would reappear and ruin my attitude.

For Easter, Nick and I went to his family’s house in Princetown for dinner. Surrounded by sweet ham, homemade rolls and a savory salad, my boyfriend’s uncle and I lamented about having to utilized public transportation.

“You really encounter some crazies on the T, don’tcha?” He started. “Why, just last week I was on the T at Downtown Crossing when a man started screaming and cry on the train. He was saying something about his foot being infected.”

I was stunned. We both saw the same man! He was really making the rounds!

“He kept it up for a while and just as a buddy of mine reached into his wallet, a stranger yelled, “Don’t give him a fuckin’ thing! He’s been doing this act for the whole week! He’s faking!” And the weeping man shut up after that! He walked off the T at the next stop. You really can’t help anybody, they’re all actors,” the uncle concluded.

“Wait, he just walked away? No limping?” I asked.

I for one appreciate the honesty!

“Nothing, he walked away perfectly fine. He was acting,” claimed Nick’s uncle. I was annoyed…. and very angry. I had felt so badly for this “bum” with his plight seared into my brain for the past week but everything had been a sham. Who’s to say who’s a real bum and who’s an actor? Was the young man acting last summer in Cambridge too? He made some very compelling arguments if he truly was an actor.

Yesterday, I was shopping at the smaller Whole Foods in Cambridge when I was greeted by a man at the front door.

“Spare Change for the homeless. Remember us on your way out,” he said, holding up a newspaper advocating for the homeless and services for them. When I concluded my shopping (I was making bacon-wrapped scallops and sweet chili pork chops for dinner!), I started to drive off, passing the Spare Change man. But I stopped. I had just been paid, so why not give him a couple bucks? I got out of my car and gave him some money in exchange for the newspaper.

“Thanks hon, have a good day!” He smiled and I walked back to my car. As I drove off, I noticed the man pull out a BlackBerry phone and make a phone call. WTF. Wasn’t he homeless? Where did the nice phone come from? Maybe he was a writer for the paper? God, I hope so! It was just a little ridiculous to have someone begging for money with one breath and talking on a BlackBerry with the next breath. Which leads me to wonder, are all bums frauds? Actors and swindlers? How can you tell if you’re providing food for a homeless person or simply funding an actor’s ticket to California?

April has left me jaded towards beggars.

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2 Responses to “Can somebody spare a dollar? PLEASE!!!”

  1. successisthebestrevenge Says:

    Some are sincere. Some use this tactic to pay for that home in the affluent part of the city. Undercover reporters learned the dishonest see the profit in appearing in need. This has become a means of income for some. United Way Agencies are great resources to provide information and referral resources to truly assist the needy. It is not just about giving a dollar; it is about changing a life. A young woman ran up to my car as I was parking once stating her baby needed diapers. I gave her the phone number to an agency that would provide diapers immediately. This agency would help drastically reduce the issues that caused her to approach strangers requesting money for diapers. This is a universal issue; a 24/7 problem. Thanks for the article.

  2. daviduffy Says:

    There’s a guy that sits outside of Safeway in the U-District who sells the “Real Change” newspaper — another paper that’s proceeds go to the homeless. I don’t believe he’s homeless himself, but I think the point is more to sell the papers than to look disheveled and hopeless so that you win pity points.

    There are a lot of grifters out there trying to get your money that aren’t even bums, too. Actually in Bellevue there’s a scam going around right now in which highschool kids peddle these dentist-office quality toys for donations that will go towards paying for them to go to a church camp. We were approached by some when we were in town, and it was pretty heinous how hard they were playing the god and church cards in order to swindle you out of a few dollars.

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