Letter to a young panhandler

Why I didn’t give you any money.

Dear Young Man Panhandling Outside Walmart,

I’m sure you don’t remember me not giving you any money. I was probably one of dozens who mumbled something to the effect of “sorry, can’t help” as they passed, and those dozens probably made up just a small percentage of the total number that rebuffed you.

On your end, you’re one of maybe 10 or 11 folks who’ve hit me up on the street in just the few weeks since the weather cooled. I’ve given money to some; I haven’t to most. I have no special reason to remember you, either.

But you’ve been on my mind a bit. I’m one of those sort of naturally guilt-ridden types, anyway, but I’ve specifically been wondering about you, and my decision not to throw some change your way. You see, I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about panhandling — some charitable, others not so much. They’re the kind of views that will probably never be reconciled. I’ll probably always deal with the subject on a case-by-case, gut-feeling basis.

In the interest of a bit of indulgent navel-gazing, though, please allow me to try to work some things out by examining a few of the possible reasons why I might’ve shut you down.

Because you were 18 or 20, white, lucid and not conspicuously disabled in any way.

Because you were camped out in front of a Walmart instead of at a bus stop or alley or in front of a library, and you looked like you’d gotten pretty comfy there.

Because I’d seen four homeless people older and a thousand times more in need of help than you just that morning.

Because times are tight.

Because I’ve stood outside innumerable music venues while countless kids tried to bum money from me, claiming they were “opting out” of a fascist, capitalist system and completely unaware they hadn’t opted out of anything. That they were, in fact, very much like kids who’d inherited millions — whenever they inevitably needed to engage the system, they did it with money somebody else earned.

Because I have to work. (Not in the “get a job, you lazy, entitled shithead” way. In the “I’m lazy and entitled, and I have to work to pay for stuff, and until such a time as no one has to work if they don’t want to, if I have to work, then everybody has to work” way. Because I’m jealous, basically.)

Because I have issues with people who beg for money when, on the face of it, it seems they still have other options. More effort-intensive options, sure, but … I dunno, for me, I still equate panhandling with a pretty serious last-ditch compromise of self-worth.

Because the weather was spectacular.

Hell, maybe I didn’t give you a dollar because I was angry at myself for having made the decision to go into a Walmart for light bulbs. I’ll never know.

It’s interesting to think about, though.

For what it’s worth, if you’re someone who finds solace in schadenfreude, you’ll be amused to know Walmart didn’t even have the right kind of light bulbs.

Get more of Scott's writing at lifeasweblowit.com, and follow him @harrellscott … if you dare.

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