On Saturday, while I was doing my part to help stimulate the economy (aka shopping for crap I don’t need), I saw a homeless man on Rockville Pike.
Which is really sad.
And because I’m a sucker and tend to feel enormous guilt when I’m driving past homeless people in my little red sports car while I’m out shopping for stuff like texting gloves and the ONE shade of Stila eyeshadow that I don’t have yet, I usually give homeless people a dollar or two.
Which means that when I drive up to a corner, homeless people flock to me like a scene out of The Birds.
Or like that South Park episode about homeless people. Well played South Park, well played.
But the guy I saw Saturday did not get any of my hard-earned (though usually spent on ridiculous purchases) money.
Because he was too busy peeing on Rockville Pike to be focused on his panhandling.
I couldn’t make this up if I tried.
Well okay, I could. Because I’m a writer. But I didn’t. He was actually peeing.
I mean, okay, I guess when you’re homeless, the world is your toilet.
But it’s also your bed and your dining room. And I feel like you shouldn’t pee in either of those places.
I guess the point of what I’m saying is that even homeless people should follow certain etiquette rules. In fact, they probably should follow them more strictly than non-homeless people, because homeless people, like Blanche Dubois, have always depended on the kindness of strangers. (How many of you just read that sentence in a southern accent because I threw the Blanche Dubois reference in there?)
Of course, homeless etiquette differs vastly from non-homeless etiquette. But because I’m the sap who usually DOES shell out money to them, I feel it’s my duty to create the etiquette guide for homeless behavior. So here goes.
Homeless etiquette rule #1: Look the part. I mean, honestly, if you’ve got a sign that says you’re a homeless veteran who’s supporting six kids and you’re wearing a Rolex, I’m not all that sympathetic. But if your watch is drawn on with a magic marker, I’ll stop to give you money.
Rule #2: Don’t let racism get in the way of your panhandling. This one is a true story—my mother stopped to give a man a dollar one time and he asked her if she was Hispanic. My mother (who is of Russian Jewish descent) said, “What if I am?” And the man shook his head and gave her back her money in distaste. I mean really dude? No wonder you’re homeless!
Rule #3: Don’t lecture the person who’s giving you money. Another true story—I stopped and gave a man a dollar one day. He asked if I had accepted Jesus as my personal lord and savior. I said no, I’m Jewish (and thought about telling him that I was on my way to Lord and Taylor because I love shopping, but thought that might be in bad taste). And unfortunately, I didn’t realize I was stopped at the world’s longest traffic light. Because I got a 12-minute lecture on the importance of accepting Jesus and being saved.
At which point, I asked for my dollar back.
(Not really. But I wanted to. And I’ve seen him since then and just keep my eyes straight ahead and my windows rolled up if I’m stopped at a light near him. I don’t need the Jesus lecture AGAIN.)
Rule #4: Have a sense of humor. I know, I know, you’re homeless. It’s not funny. People shouldn’t laugh at your misfortune. But think of it this way: if you make someone laugh, you’re not panhandling, you’re entertaining! And there’s far less shame in busking than there is in begging.
My two favorite examples of this were both spotted in Venice Beach. One was a man who was peacefully sitting on a blanket with a hat out next to a sign that just read “F*** You” (minus the asterisks, of course). And that guy had more money in that hat than I had in my wallet. (Which isn’t surprising because we’d already passed several homeless people and they were trailing behind me like baby ducks hoping I’d throw them another crumb at that point.) But the sign made me laugh. So he got a dollar.
My other favorite example was spotted in Venice Beach when I went to visit my brother for Thanksgiving this year. A man was walking around singing a song he’d written. I mean, it wasn’t exactly going to win a Grammy, but it was catchy and funny, so I’m pretty sure he was raking in the dough. The lyrics? “Jingle bells, jingle bells, help me get drunk,” repeated over and over all day. Honestly, I kind of wanted to go buy him a fifth and be like, Merry Christmas.
Rule #5: Don’t pee on the freaking road and then expect people to hand you money! I mean, come on! I’m not giving you cash if you give my car THAT kind of a car wash! Hand sanitizer? Sure. Money? HELL no.
Following these simple rules will make homelessness far more pleasant in this country.
Wait. Most homeless people probably don’t have internet access and therefore aren’t going to see these rules.
In that case, here are some of my favorite homeless signs from Google images... enjoy!