Please Put a Penny In The Old Man’s Hat


This afternoon a facebook friend remarked with scorn upon seeing a homeless person talking on a cell phone.* Immediately several people piled on with supposed anecdotes of panhandlers driving off in luxury cars. “Most of them aren’t really poor you know…”


There is so much money to be made begging for change from smug neuveau G.O.P. jerks that people are waiting in line to stand out in the 104 degree Sacramento Summer heat on a median strip and free base carbon monoxide so that they can listen to your smartass insults and crude humor at their expense.

This is just the new millennia’s version of Ronald Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” lie. It is an excuse for small mean-minded people to feel superior to someone of lesser station in life.

I have a news flash for you. Your job isn’t that secure, the economy sucks, and if things go really wrong you just might need that panhandler to show you where the good corners are.

I have a friend whom I haven’t seen in too damn long who spent about 20 years busking on the streets of Sacramento with his guitar. He is one of the best living Delta Blues guitarists. His name will start a conversation even in country and western bars. Bad things happened, and there you are.
A while back I was riding the bus. The driver stopped at a bus shelter and spent a minute talking warmly through the open door to a homeless man with a shopping cart full of belongings. At the end of the route I complimented him on daring to show a little human decency while on the job. (If someone had complained his job might have been at risk.) He replied, “He was a high school teacher until last year. He was laid off and then he got sick…”

“He was laid off and then he got sick…” that’s about all that stands between most of us and if not the street, then the good will of relatives. We forget this at the peril of tempting a capricious fate.

When I was a boy I was raised by grandparents who had lived through the Great Depression. I was the youngest child and when Mother died Grandmother was over 60. I was taught that the poor had dignity too. Every year in the Autumn a hobo would come to our door. He would ask if there were any odd jobs that he could do for us. Grandmother would always find enough work to last the rest of the day. Then she would let him use the bath and put his clothes through the washer and dryer. When he was done he would join us at table for supper and she would send him on his way with a good day’s wages and maybe a jar of peaches from the cellar.
After he was gone she would tell me about the times in the thirties when she and her family had only corn meal and eggs from the hens. Then she would have me go outside by the fence and erase the hobo sign that meant, “Kind woman lives here”. “I can’t be feeding the entire jungle.” she would say. From her voice I could tell she wished she could.

We all live at the sufferance of fortune and the good will of our neighbor. We forget this at our peril.

Be seeing you

Please to put a penny
In the old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny
A ha’ penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’ penny
Then God bless you

     *  There are places downtown that buy used cell phones. The homeless buy them and pre-paid minutes to look for work and because you don’t exist without a phone number in America.
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