The panhandler


(based on a true interaction, with apologies to Thomas Bernhard)

I am not Hispanic, said the panhandler, to me, as I passed him, and he wasn’t. I know this because I am, said the panhandler, in the absence of a more precise term, a panhandler, and according to the theory which I have arrived at, said the panhandler, over many years of arriving, it is not possible for me to be both.

It is possible for me to be a panhandler, said the panhandler, according to this theory of mine, in the absence of a more precise term, a term not synonymous with homeless, not synonymous with beggar, the latter term which has fallen out of societal favor at any rate; it is possible for me to be Hispanic, or if you prefer, Latino, but it is not possible for me to be both a panhandler, which I am, said the panhandler, and to be Hispanic, which I am not. The Venn diagram, under this theory of mine which I have arrived at, over many years of arriving, simply does not allow for such a scenario. The two terms are mutually exclusive.

I know what you are thinking, said the panhandler, you are thinking you can disprove this theory of mine, the one that I have arrived at, over many years of arriving, by coming up with an exception, a single exception, even, culled from some point in your own distinctive past, of a single interaction between you and a panhandler who was Hispanic. In this belief, you think you will be empowered to say to me, said the panhandler, oh no, you are wrong, panhandler, this theory of yours is disproved, for I can recall, quite easily, giving a dollar to an Hispanic panhandler on Fannin Street in year such-and-such.

But although you can recall giving a dollar to a black panhandler, said the panhandler, or if you prefer, an African-American panhandler, on Fannin Street, in year such-and-such, or just last week, and although you can recall being harangued by a white panhandler, or if you prefer, a Caucasian panhandler, said the panhandler, there does not exist within your mind from your own distinctive past a single interaction between you and an Hispanic panhandler, and therefore my theory, which I have arrived at, is, if not proved, at the very least given a kind of a support. Absence of evidence as evidence of absence, said the panhandler.

I gave him two dollars for his efforts as I passed him on Fannin Street.

He seemed okay with this. 

Comments

  1. A panhandler always sounds to me like someone who's threatening to beat you to death with a pan handle.

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    1. I'd never given the word much thought before this because it's mostly just a word used by the City Council when it's trying to pass an ordinance against homeless people being seen in public.

      The more I think about it, though, the more positive the term begins to feel. "Man, you should have seen this kid. He could really handle a pan!"

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  2. I don't remember seeing any Hispanic panhandlers either, but truthfully I haven't really been paying much attention to panhandler ethnicity. I either have a buck for them or I don't, and that usually depends on whether they piss me off or not. Or are a special case, like the lady in the wheelchair who I see in the parking lot of Foodmaxx, who I try to have five dollars in my wallet for before I leave the house.

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    1. About fifteen years back, most of the people asking for money in my area were clients of mine. But over the past few years, the Houston homelessness prevention programs have gotten better and it seems like the only people out asking for money are people living with addiction and mental health issues. I don't have homeless clients nearly so often (although the Banta post a couple posts back proves there are exceptions).

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  3. Panhandlers tend to take up positions at highway exits in my area. They always have a cardboard sign saying, "Will work for food" or "Trying to get home." The latter types will have a backpack at their feet.
    I have no idea if they're common in the Columbia city limits since I don't visit the downtown area often. As for the pleasant and proper suburban hellhole I live, I'm sure panhandlers would be quickly escorted somewhere else if they ever made an appearance.

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    1. I live so close to downtown that they've been part of my mental landscape for almost 20 years. There's a guy who asks for money a few blocks away from where I live who has been saying he is trying to get gas money to get back to Louisiana for about 10 years. His name is Jason and he likes blue Gatorade.

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  4. Plot twist: he was in denial about his own ethnicity.
    Plot twist twist: he was also blind.

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    1. I thought about sort of going that way with it. In a sort of "If B, then not A" twist, if he were an Hispanic, then he couldn't be a panhandler at all. But by last night, I just wanted this whole bit to go away, so I posted it it as is, without any resolution to why I wrote it. Oh well. They can't all be winners.

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  5. This is less of a theory and more of a hypothesis. No wonder that person was living on the streets. Wait, I have a hypothesis that the person you interacted with was not a panhandler. Panhandlers don't bother with concern over preferred collective ethnic nouns.

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    1. I had started a section of this where I tell him it's more of an observation than a theory, and he goes on to make it a theory.

      But I lost the voice I was writing in and had to end this, plus I wasn't sure whether the voice I was writing in would be tolerable for more than about 4 paragraphs at any rate.

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  6. That deeply hysterical share of Panhandling Can't Be Hispanic theory certainly deserve more than a dollar. I'm so glad you gave them $2.

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    1. Hardly anyone I know even carries cash on them anymore. My generosity is usually limited by necessity. But it was a novel approach.

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  7. Two dollars was cheap for such an educational dissertation on racial backgrounds and panhandling.

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    1. It was definitely worth more than $2, if only for the blog material.

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  8. Come to think of it, I've never seen a Hispanic panhandler, either. And not only do we have a ton of Hispanic people here, but we have a ton of panhandlers. Even just down the street from me, now.

    And all of them honkies*.

    You know what I'd really like to see? A Panamanian panhandler. The alliteration alone is worth at least a $5 bill.

    *it's okay, I am one, so I can say this

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    1. My panhandling friend from this blog post explained to me that it's like the 3-minute mile: No one could break it at all, and then once someone did, it happened routinely. He said that once there's ONE Hispanic panhandler, it enter the realm of Possibility, and then there will be a lot of them.

      I have no reason to doubt him.

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  9. You are a bit of tight arse with your money then? Two dollars is about £1.50 right?

    I had to google panhandler, I thought it was a person who held pans. Mind you, not as confusing as when I tell people I'm pansexual.

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    1. It's sort of amazing that I had any cash on me at all. But yes, in the old days, $2 was about £1.50. I don't know how that might have changed since you folks voted to Brexit things up.

      I tried to explain the difference between bisexual and pansexual once. That's a conversation I never want to have with my parents ever again.

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    2. A pansexual Panamanian panhandler. I want to see this happen.

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    3. 2017 is the year of the pan-Pan-pan. Which actually means it's going to get a lot better from here on out.

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    4. Trust me, I did not vote to leave Europe.

      Haha, yes not an easy conversation to have with anyone, especially parents!

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  10. Panhandlers.
    https://youtu.be/kCLLxyQsWzk

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    1. And you'll notice: Not Hispanic. You'll never see Hispanics doing that.

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  11. Do those guys who hang around at intersections and threaten to cover your windshield with dirty wash water if you don't throw money at them count as panhandlers? If so, then there used to be quite a number of Hispanic panhandlers in El Paso.

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    1. I think maybe you've disproved the theory!

      I'm going to have to go break the news to him tomorrow...

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  12. We have a lot of panhandlers in our area. You're right, they aren't Hispanic. Although, it's gotten so bad around here, they've posted signs asking residents not give them money because they city is providing assistance and the money should be given to the city instead.

    Enjoy the rest of your week!
    Elsie

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    1. Hi, Elsie!

      Same in Houston. I don't know where the line is - it seems like a city, no matter how comprehensive its services are - is never going to be able to end homelessness. Houston has tried to prevent people from feeding them and to get rid of a lot of their makeshift homes under bridges, while simultaneously declaring Veteran homlessness over.

      I'm not sure they've effectively addressed the problem, but I hope they can someday.

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  13. Where I live, sadly I see some elderly people "panhandling". I thought it was generous of you to give two dollars. So many people don't give anything! Even, when I have went into Toronto, I don't think I've seen a Hispanic panhandler!

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    1. This post's comments have made me interested in differences in who asks for money on the streets in different countries and how. I wonder if anyone has ever looked into that.

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  14. Out here in burbs there is a well-recognized homeless guy who I call the "camper". He has a tent. He apparently has figured out a location that might be unincorporated to camp at. He was located years ago in other more town center locations but has given into the local pressure to move out the edge of town. He also has an internet presence. I see him occasional looking over his tablet/laptop leaning up against a sign encouraging resistance or something. Probably very intelligent.

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    1. If he is that high tech, then I hope he has a credit card reader. Because that's my biggest barrier to giving money these days: I never have cash with me. Panhandlers with credit card readers would really make these things easier.

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    2. Oh skip the credit card reader stuff. I would have a trust issue. Better method would be a Go-Fund-Me type campaign.

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    3. Yeah, "No cash? Go to my Go-Fund-Me" page!" would probably work better.

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  15. Looks panhandlers in america r much intelligent than people here in india ha ha.Yours is a good act.I loe the way u wrote.Its too hard to form sentences like this.Humongous effort.none could do better.

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    1. Thanks, Arun. Good to see you back. This was a good writing experiment. I'm not sure it entirely worked, but that's okay sometimes. If I don't take chances, I'll never find out what works for me.

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  16. I live on the East Side of Houston, the city limits are seven blocks east of me. Your post, as usual, made me notice something I hadn't thought about in years. When I bought my house almost 40 years ago, the neighborhood was Lilly White. Within two or three years most of the whites moved out. The Realtors used to employ a now a highly illegal tactic called Block Busting. That changed the ethnic makeup of many neighborhoods in the Suburbs almost overnight. The minute a black or Hispanic managed to purchase a house in the your neighborhood, Realtors would call on every white and encourage them to sell their house before their property's value dropped and minorities moved in next door. I witnessed two different neighborhoods in Houston and one in Chicago, change their ethnic makeup faster than your old lady can spend your money.
    My SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess) concerning the ethnic breakdown of my neighborhood is about 40% Black, 50% Hispanic, and 10% white.
    The entire East Side of Houston is probably 80% minorities. Yet at least 75% of the Pan Handlers who work the streets on both sides of the intersections of streets that run under I-10 East are White. Almost all carry cardboard signs. In Supermarket or Liquor Store parking lots you will be hit on, always politely, by non sign carrying Pan Handlers, mostly blacks and maybe a quarter of them whites. They ask for bus ticket money or enough to eat at a fast food outlet.

    I've noticed reverse (white block busting), mostly due to hugh increases of property taxes, especially in the Sixth Ward and all over the Montrose. I lived in five different apts and one big house in Montrose The house was on Welsh St. The most I ever paid was $150 dollars a month, for the house. Actually 75 dollars out of pocket because I had a room mate.

    It never noticed it before but I don't ever remember a Hispanic hitting me up for money. Someone ought to call up the Freakonomics guys to check it out. Thanks for the wake up call. Frank

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    1. Is it because day work is so easy to come by in the Latino community? Is it because most have family support structures? I don't know. I probably shouldn't even be guessing.

      Suffice it to say I pay significantly more than $150 for my Montrose-area townhouse, and mine is not one of the more expensive places around here...

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