Saturday, June 25, 2005

"The government doesn't give me enough"

Part of my commute involves taking the subway "shuttle" between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal. There's a middle-aged man who rides it, peddling a newspaper that he claims is "put out to help the homeless and the jobless." There are three shuttles running at any given time, each with several cars, so I've seen him only a few times.

"Good evening, ladies and gentleman," he always begins in monotone. He asks $1 for a copy of the newspaper, explaining that he does this to support his 6-year-old daughter, because "the government doesn't give me enough." That last part I'd never heard him say until yesterday. It's probably new, because I would have noticed it before.

"The government doesn't give me enough" may as well have echoed surreally. I couldn't believe my ears. Obviously he meant it as a way to elicit pity, but to those of us who do genuine work for a living, he'd be more effective if he didn't dress in an expensive sports jersey and jacket. Why doesn't he dress in $2 T-shirt and jeans so that he can better afford to support his alleged daughter?

Part of me wanted to get up, wag a finger in his face and say, "How dare you accuse the government of not giving you enough! Do you know where the government gets the money? From millions of hard-working Americans like me who go out there and work at real jobs! Then leeches like you elect bleeding heart liberals, knowing they'll take a third of our money and give it to you, so that you can ride the ******* subway all day long and tell us our taxes aren't enough to provide you with a living! How about simple advice on how to support your daughter: get a job!"

But I was tired and didn't feel like a confrontation, especially when he'd likely just call me a racist. Didn't you know? It's now "racist" and "selfish" for the majority of us to want to keep the fruits of our labor, after working hard all day. It's "unchristian" because we want full control over any charitable recipients of our money.

Earlier I saw a panhandler on the corner of 54th and Broadway. In one hand, he held a cup filled with coins, which he'd shake at people passing by. With his other hand, he munched down on a cheeseburger. Like the one on the subway, his appearance hardly elicited pity from me.

Contrast them with a very nice family I met yesterday evening on the train. They live much further north than I do. The husband's train ride to the city is 90 minutes each way, and that doesn't include taking the subway and walking. The wife and their two children often travel down to meet him at Grand Central, so they can have a little more time together.

Initially I thought, "Gee, that can't be worth it. Why doesn't he take a job closer?" Then it hit me: unlike the two bums, the father is doing what it takes. By definition, despite the long commute, his city job is better than what he can find closer to home, even after the costs associated: two monthly passes (I believe children under 5 ride for free) and, of course, his time.

They'd also rather live upstate, where it's clean and quiet with less drugs and crime, and where the risk is far less of a serial rapist climbing through their windows. They'll also worry less about their children being run over. New York City has had a recent spate, at least in the news, of hit-and-run drivers.

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