Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Spanger Claus

Sydney Brillo Duodenum is in the preliminary stages of planning his Christmastime ritual of visiting malls, shopping centers, standalone stores, tree lots, liquor stores, and food purveyors as neceesary to lay in the provisions, accoutrements, scene setters and joy dispensers critical for creating the Christmas he thinks he enjoyed as a child. He loves the festive neighborhood lights and wreathes crafted at the local garden center adorning doors and porch columns. He savors the merrymaking and the little children in their mini-me Brooks Brothers corduroys and sweater vests and velvetine party dresses. Nothing compares to picking out a grand fir tree on a cold evening on a corner lot while a fire burns in an old steel drum and the children drink free shots of apple cider. And so the last thing he wants to see when he is out and about at this time of deep reflection and joy and hope for salvation in the approaching new year is someone on the street begging for a handout.

In Syd's neck of the woods, he most often encounters the median spanger. A spanger is someone asking for spare change, but since they are slightly illiterate, it sounds like "spange" coming out of their mouth. Spread across the very rich Bethesda and Rockville Maryland network of roads, at any major intersection, one can always find a man, most often a man, in dirty clothes, but nicely wrapped nonetheless in a parka with scarf and hat, holding a piece of carboard on which is written some pathetic scribblings about lost work or benefits. When the light turns red, trapping his quary, this man will proceed down the row of cars, lamely bobbing his sign up and down while trying to catch the eye of the driver. He'll gamely try to point to the sign with a gnarled finger. And invariably, the row of idiots dutifully roll down their windows but two inches and ease out some change or even a few paper bills. The man will lift his head in gratitude and then shuffle to the next fool cleaning out his change bin. Given the glee that the traffic mandarins have in slowing everyone down and accomodating every side road and asshat needing to make a left turn, this man may have as many as three minutes to hoover up his donations and then get back to his spot at the median point before the whole damn cycle starts over again and a new row of dunces lamely tries to pick up pennies and nickels with their new Isotoner driving gloves. This man is a full time panhandler. The only edge he is living on is the median for about eight hours a day before he returns home to his government subsidized apartment or townhouse to count out his spange. He makes out very well, particularly around the holidays when everyone is feeling guilty and big hearted. His "job" is quite lucrative. His tell? The shoes. Almost always, these guys have on the latest athletic footwear. All those hours on foot can be taxing on one's feet.

Of course, there are real hardcases, the addle-brained, the addicts, the drunks, all knowable by their missing teeth, crazed eyes and the fact that they are wearing a vomit stained t-shirt in 30 degree weather. Cold hearted bastard that he is, Sydney B will on occasion lighten that fellow or madame's load, but usually only with foodstuffs - no money. Until the ACLU is shut down, these poor souls will be allowed to wander and die in the streets for fear of violating their civil rights by institutionalizing them and helping them beat their personal afflictions and addictions through the wonders of modern medicine. These are the downtrodden and lost souls in need of our focus.

But these others, the median hustlers, they are true relentless bastards and they crowd out the legitimate beggers. When Duodenum can not maneuver into the center lane, he'll give them the hard Duodenum stare and on some occasions the finger. They are the frauds of the panhandling world and need to be bum rushed sooner than later. What distinguishes them from the truly destitute is that they have ability; they have simply given up and have decided to live off the guilt and misplaced generosity of strangers. And that is unacceptable, particularly around the holidays when all the pretty lights and bangles are in full bloom. In some jurisdictions across this country, these professional lazybones are becoming quite belligerant and omnipresent. See Steve Malanga's article at City Journal discussing this growing problem across the country. Malanga points out in his article that there are entire websiters devoted to providing advice on the best strategies for shaking down the rest of us. Understand: these alleged homeless panhandlers have websites through which they can browse for the best advise on being a parasite.

In lower Montgomery County, MD, the elected do-gooders don't give a damn about these tradesman. Every other professional operating in Montgomery County must have a certificate or license to do what they do, except horse masseuses, who must have a veterinary license, but these hustlers must be hauling in $10-$15 an hour on a busy weekend and there is no monitoring by the county, no quality control, no list of regulations of where they can stand, how many cars they may approach in a given hour, the distance from the window they must maintain while verbally begging, the precise font size used on signs as well as proper disclaimers not to mention notice of bond and seal. Why do these small businessmen and women escape the pages and pages of soul sucking regulation that the average shoe repairman or the florist or buffet master must adhere to?

If we can not look to the enlightened elected, then what about those citizens who perpetuate this nonsense by throwing good money literally out the window? How pathetic and disgusting these people are because in the deepest nook of this muffin, these people believe they are purchasing an indulgence for an inexcusable transgression. Johnny Handout has figured these people out quite thoroughly. He knows they loath themselves and their success. He approaches the car and perhaps through some pheromonal agent, the driver becomes intoxicated with emotions of guilt and shame; they look inward and in the blink of an eye, say but for the grace of god, they could be on the street hustling dimes. Maybe if I pay this apparition a small sum he will protect my soul and shield me from the median hell. They believe they are purchasing insurance for a dollar an outing to the mall. They buy the spanger's story and pay him for the tale. It's a cheap salve. And perpetuating it cheapens true charity. Also, it creates the false notion that amidst the commerce and consumption of the boulevard or pikeway or route populated by Bed Bath and Beyond, Anthropologie, Michaels Arts and Crafts, Toys R Us, Bally Fitness, International House of Pancakes, Gladhil Furniture, Dunkin Donuts, REI, BMW, and any dozen other retail houses, there rests an underlayment of poverty and misery. Bullshit! What lies on that boulevard are any number of jobs these sponges could be doing. But collecting tolls from the easily shamed is so much easier.

Oh, but Sydney, what's a quarter here or some dimes there, because it's lost change anyway, right? What's a bit of change? And it's true - there are dimes and nickels and at least 50 cents in pennies in the change box in his car that have sat there for at least seven years undisturbed. Pennies do not feed the meter, so they will never be used. It's sort of like found money. Is it all the lost or stranded change that perpetuates this profession? No. It's the imposed obligation. Obligations can be imposed by authorities, by arbiters of justice. For example, lately, our government has taken upon itself the obligation to impose justice upon the market, which, in theory, has a built-in ability to impose its own justice. Many people across many industries have made terrible decisions and have acted in very bad faith or have committed serious crimes of stupidity and narrow judgement. They now stand in the median in new athletic shoes trying to look downtrodden by flying commercial with their poorly made Powerpoint signs and SEC filings asking for spare change. We must remember that WE ARE THE GOVERNMENT. WE are paying these spangers. And as always, when you pay the spanger, you reinforce the decisions of the spangers, not the decisions of the people who managed to collect the pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and paper bills that in the aggregate represent billions and billions of dollars of their work ethic. That work ethic is being taken for granted. The work ethic of their sons and daughters is being taken for granted. Everytime we pay the spanger we make the case for becoming a spanger in one form or another. In no time at all, we will be a nation of spangers. United Spangers of America. The spangers are all lining up on national median. And the new driver of the Z50 Hybrid America is getting ready to roll down the window much further than the last driver and he's scooping up handfuls of spare change and he's actually getting ready to write checks for the spanger. Don't forget, we pay the spanger to allieve our souls and it was Michelle Obama herself who identified our broken souls and that Barack Obama was going to fix them.

Sydney Brillo Duodenum says fuck the spangers and fuck the aiders and abettors. He's not paying what he isn't compelled to pay under threat of imprisonment. He's going to hoard his change. He won't use it on professional spangers or those who support them or make it easy for them. Fine, give Mr. GM his $18 billion in spange, but Sydney Brillo Duodenum will never purchase anything ever produced by Mr. GM or Mr. Ford. (He may make an exception for Mr. Jeep, though). You see, just as if Sydney had given the median spanger on Rockville Pike 50 cents or a dollar, he will get the same thing in return when his government gives Mr. GM a billion times that - nothing. And his soul will still be heading for hell.