We literally ran into each other. Each took the other's measure as the currents of human traffic swirled close around us. Temporarily discrete from the rest of the world. His manner of dress was unremarkable. Toned biceps, slim hips and fierce brown eyes. Beautiful black holes of eyes - the kind that could swallow you whole if you let yourself get too close. If he were something lesser and I were a little more substantial perhaps we could find some sort of equilibrium.
Not just a panhandler, but a spare change artiste. He solicits implicity. For those in the know, just the insinuation of vulnerability can be enough to fill your cup to overflowing. Holds your gaze just a little too long, stands just a little too close. Lingers and reaches out to you as you're about to leave as if to say you're the only one that can save him. You're not of course - most give the same story to you, and to her, and her, ad nauseum. Not him. This one prefers the personalised touch. He's inventive and he gives great narrative.
Some panhandlers have an instinct for who is likely to be an easy mark. They can tell who hungers for someone to stop them in their tracks and tell them that they're needed. That they're wanted. That they can be important, if only for a moment. He'd make a great Ad-man. You're so thoroughly convinced of the advantages and benefits that by the time the full cost is revealed you're irrevocably sold. We buy in with our hearts before justifying the purchase in our minds. He knows how to deflect intellect and focus on emotion...after all, it defies logic that a man of this calibre should need to beg.
Some become beggars out of choice - in more liberal cities and towns it can be, if not profitable, a workable alternative to buying into someones else's dreams. A different, yet not so different type of subservience and degradation. It's the gambler mentality - a life of boom and bust. You just need to be content to work the averages and play the long game.
I hate situations such as these because they can so easily slip out of my control...if I ever had the upper hand. We all prefer to think of ourselves as compassionate. Understanding. Self serving bias. When we're young and naive our conscience tells us that it is a finer thing to forfeit our advantage than to deprive someone in genuine need. I will part with that which I can afford, but loathe being coerced. To a certain eye, generosity is a deficiency. To others, a refusal is taken as a personal insult - if you don't proffer what they want, they will use intimidation to get it.
I attempt to take the simplest, most authentic approach. I'm an outsider here, too. I don't have much to offer you beyond that which I measure sparingly to sustain my forward momentum. So I avert my eyes, brace my shoulders and resist the urge to look back. Wish him the best of love, erm, I mean luck for the future. Hope that we don't cross paths in this way again. Wonder how he would react if someone were to call his bluff and offer him a hot meal instead of loose change. Assure myself that surely a man of his talents has a warm bed waiting for him at home.
9 years ago