One day last winter, I was about to drop coins into the cup of a scruffy man standing on a downtown corner, when I realized he wasn’t a vagrant at all. He worked in the building and was only standing outside to have a cigarette with his coffee.
It served as an excellent reminder that appearances can be deceiving.
Today, for example, I walked by a man I’ve passed many times but was never quite sure of his status.
He sits on a milk crate facing the entrance to a popular restaurant/lounge, and is often smoking or shooting the breeze with someone. He’s too slight to be a bouncer (and don’t they usually work nights?) but I thought maybe he was a staffer on a smoke break.
It was such a beautiful day today that I took my time strolling back to work at lunch and as I approached him, I took a closer look. Something about the slouch of his shoulders and the tattered cup by his feet told me he was a panhandler
He wasn’t passed out under a sleeping bag or holding a bottle in a paper bag, mind you. On the contrary, he was well-scrubbed and sober — and appears to be very punctual. He’s usually there at about the same time every day. It’s his job, I figure. One he seems to like and is good at.
As I drew closer, I saw the coins in the cup at his feet but he simply looked up at me and smiled. I stopped and said hello and asked if he was “collecting.” (I have no idea why I used those words, they just came out.)
He nodded and smiled, then lifted his cup toward me. As I put my money in, he said, “Bless you hon’. God bless you today,” getting up to wave as I passed by.
I wished him the same and he sat back down. Guess he was still on the clock. And, come to think of it, so was I.
Did you know?
There are several theories about the origins of the word “panhandling.”
1) Some believe it refers to a time when beggars collected their “alms” in pots or pans.
2) Others contend the beggar’s outstretched arm resembled the handle of a pan.
3) Another theory suggests that “pan” refers to bread and the begging for food.
My money’s on #2 🙂
P.S. Speaking of pans … here’s a very cool version of the French song Pat-A-Pan. Enjoy!