Thursday, April 28, 2005

"How about getting a job?"

I meant to blog about this a couple of nights ago. Walking from Grand Central Terminal to the Ford Foundation this past Monday, I was accosted by a street thug. Panhandlers are nothing new to me, but this one was more aggressive than usual.

I had been walking east along 43rd Street, and just before Third Avenue I encountered a bunch of young black males who were just loafing around. Street thugs, basically. This particular one started walking along with me and asked me how I was doing. Reflexively I replied, "I'm fine." Then he said something about, "You look like you're doing fine!" and how I'm a "big guy."

Obviously this hooligan wasn't walking along just to compliment me. Sure enough, he started bugging me for a couple of dollars so he could "get a slice" (of pizza). He didn't appear homeless nor hungry. He was in a clean T-shirt and jeans and seemed quite capable of hard work. At one point he put his hand on my shoulder, drawing it back after a second or two, saying, "Whoa, you ARE a big guy!" Finally he stopped following me after I said, "I need to eat too" and crossed the street. I wanted to say, "How about getting a job?" but didn't feel like expending the energy for the inevitable argument.

I was ready to knock his teeth out when I felt his hand on my shoulder. Perhaps he sensed it, and that's why he pulled his hand back. Part of me at that moment wished he had tried something so that I could quote Daffy Duck: "Listen, mac. You've got 32 teeth, would you like to try for 16?" Reflecting on it later, I realized he might have wanted that. His fellow punks could have come running to his "rescue" with a good reason to beat me up, during which I'd "lose" my wallet and other valuables.

Maybe I should have spoken only in Spanish. My vocabulary isn't what it used to be, though I can effect a general South American accent. However, he might have decided to grab my wallet and run, figuring that if I don't speak English, he can be long gone by the time I find a policeman who understands me.

It was a good thing that I was carrying my cell phone in a front pocket, not on a belt clip. Wearing them on belt clips is definitely not a good idea while in the city, not with all the punks and pickpockets about. This one would have certainly tried to snatch it and run, I believe.

On Tuesday, I saw a similar group of ruffians loitering around the same spot, clearly up to no good. None bothered me that time, though, but later that night I encountered another panhandler. As I opened a door to enter Grand Central, a young black woman on the sidewalk asked, "Can you help me with something to eat?" It's a standard line. I looked at her briefly when she spoke to me. She appeared to be cleanly dressed, and again capable of work, so without a word, I turned away and walked inside.

I suppose some like that "nicholas" would consider me uncharitable, but I take great care in to whom I give charity. That's the difference between me and government.


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