One day my husband, David, came home with The Hobo News. In return for the dollar he had given to a panhandler on the street, he received a hand-folded, stapled leaflet. Inside were poems, drawings, thoughts, ideas and stories “written, distributed and printed by the homeless” – an attempt to enlighten a mostly disinterested public.
Such a variety of stuff: 10 questions for a local police officer; an Ask Bella column (a la Dear Abby); poetry, and a crass political cartoon. There was even a word search entitled “Death to all who oppose me.” Spend a few minutes circling words like alcohol, privacy, tribe, xcon, and fight.
The Hobo News got me thinking about all the characters I pass on the street during my daily walks to and from the office. Familiar faces, greetings, requests. I stop occasionally and contribute a buck, but I have yet to receive the next issue of The Hobo News. Here’s hoping.
One familiar face on Exchange Street is a women panhandler who always stands just about halfway between my office entrance and Starbucks. This means I walk by her often. On one particularly freezing afternoon, I offered to get her a cup of coffee.
“Oh thank you. I take it with seven sugars and seven creamers,” she said. Seven sugars? Seven creamers? Okay, one person’s caffeine fix is another person’s calorie fix.
On to Starbucks where I aimed to please. I stood at the side counter hoping no one would notice me tearing open seven sugar packets and emptying them into the same cup. Then I poured in what I hoped would be about seven creamer’s worth of white stuff, burning my hands as the hot coffee overflowed its cup. I managed to get the lid on and carried my coffee and hers back onto the street.
I handed her the coffee, but instead she asked me to pour it into her own well-worn to-go cup. “I don’t want anyone to see me carrying a Starbucks cup. They’ll think I have the money to buy coffee.”
Of course. Image is all, even when you are trying to keep afloat by panhandling on the street. Or maybe especially then. Because the public has no mercy.
I choose Starbucks over Dunkin’ Donuts because, well, that’s my brand. She, on the other hand, can’t be seen drinking Starbucks because it would hurt her brand. And she has a lot to lose.
If I were writing for the Hobo News, this is a story I would tell.