I know I said something a few posts ago about morning commutes being preferable to afternoons, somehow, but I may have been wrong. There is something very distasteful about witnessing the public displays of abject desperation amongst morning commuters running for trains with terror in their eyes at Park Street Station. I mean, grown men with terror--real terror--in their eyes, lest they be a few minutes late to work. Is it really worth losing your dignity over?
I know they think no one who knows them will see them in such a state, and we all know that anonymity emboldens people to behave in the most obnoxious ways, but what if someone did see you scurrying through the station with no regard for those around you, pushing your way through the crowd? What would your wife think, seeing you like that? Your children? Your colleagues, friends, neighbors? You yourself, in a more lucid state?
You wonder how people like this would have survived in the Ancestral Environment. These scurriers, with their heightened sense of terror.
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I have to admit that I've about had it with the professional cup-rattlers outside Arlington Church. There's a tall, skinny black guy with sympathetic enough features, who is always there on the corner, sticking his cup in your face as you pass and rattling it at you. I have no idea what he wants. He can't want me to pay him for that. I mean, anyone can rattle a cup can't they? Need proof? Just walk down Boylston from Arlington to Mass Ave. and you'll find about twenty, twenty-five professional cup rattlers. There's one little Asian lady outside Finagle-a-Bagel near the corner of Clarendon and Boylston who not only rattles her cup at you aggressively as you pass, but clucks her tongue the way people who talk to squirrels do, and sometimes hisses at you when your back is to her.
So there are those who give a little extra, I have to admit. There's a bloke whose beat is the corner of Fairfield and Boylston who throws a little wit in: "What's the greatest nation on Earth?" he'll ask you as you walk by, and then rattling his cup at you, he'll say: "Donation!" Which I thought was clever the first time. After hearing it several hundred times now, I'm not so sure. It must be working for him.
I don't know, maybe there is an art to it. You don't realize it until you see obvious amateurs at it. You've got your regulars, and then you've got these scraggly kids who try to glom on to them. Sometimes you'll see your regular and two or three amateurs in the vicinity. They must be thinking, well, cup rattling looks easy, but I think it turns out not to be as easy as they thought. If passersby suspect you are an amateur, or weekend beggar, a white middle class kid on crack or whatever, they won't give you anything.
Begging is at least as venerable a vocation as prostitution and serves some of the same functions as the latter, without the fear of picking up an std from the encounter. Mendicants in China are often seen as intermediaries between humans and deities, who could pass messages back and forth. In India it's dharma you're dealing with, and a class of beggars call sadhus beg only for food, never for money. In Bangladesh the beggars are unionized.
One thing that seems to unite beggars worldwide (aside from the union) is a need, across cultures, to give to them. In America, they offer instant absolution on the cheap. Guilty about spending twelve dollars on your triple-bitch-slap-extra-semen-choco-machocinno? Buzz kill! Why not toss twenty cents to the bum outside the door? Feel better?
I was over in the BU neighborhood and there was a black guy begging outside a convenience store, and a clean-cut white kid, jock-type, on his way out tossed some coins in the beggar's cup and said, rather gratuitously: "wish I could do more, bro!" Oh, but you can! A foot massage, perhaps? A lift to the methadone clinic? A new suit? a three-way with your cheerleader girlfriend? There's so much more we could all do for each other. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, my boy! Don't just wish you could do more, do more! Or don't say you wish you could when it's obvious that you really could. I mean, one day some bum's gonna call your bluff.