There is an abundance of panhandlers in the nation’s capital—all shapes, shades and sizes.
On a recent day, Jessie was at 14th & G talking to himself until he saw someone who had once given him money. “Hey how you doin’?” he asked, making a mad dash to the person. The “Groper” walked the street silently with his fingers outstretched, squeezing his hand as if it had Charmin in it. And who could forget the guy in the wheelchair wearing boxing headgear or the lady at Au Bon Pain with shopping carts loaded full of more stuff than I had in my first apartment.
My co-worker calls me mean because I never give to these folks. I’m charitable, but I think begging is a racket. I did throw $1 into the case of a 10 year-old playing
“Donna Lee” at 12th & G one day. Kids playing Charlie Parker deserve encouragement. But I’ve seen too many people guzzling donations from a paper bag to give them my money.
Until one recent day.
I was walking north on 14th St. NW, moving pretty fast because it was chilly, when I got approached by a Black man, 30’s, scruffy, 5’10, knit hat, olive green coat. You get the picture. As he’s matching my stride, I’m planning how I could shoot him without taking out any bystanders.
Then he started talking.
Him: How do you get a drunk on the roof?
Him: Tell him drinks are on the house.
Me: (Still walking.)
Him: What did the fish say when he swam into a wall?
Him: Oh, you know that one. What did one house say to the other house...
This continued for two blocks.
Him: What did one butt cheek say to the other butt cheek?
Me: I don’t know.
He told me.
Me: (Shaking my head.) That’s bad.
Him: What’s the greatest nation in the world?
Me: I don’t know. I haven’t been to them all.
Him: (In one long, unpunctuated sentence.) Doe-nation brother I’m trying to work up enough money to get a good meal can you help me out?
Me: That’s worth $2, my man. That was hilarious.
He thanked me as I slid $2 into his beat up cup, then off he went.
Okay, I gave. But he wasn’t panhandling. He kept pace with me for two blocks and told me some jokes, the last of which kept me laughing for an hour. Think of it as a cover charge.
Notice to panhandlers: You want anything from me, you’ve gotta play some jazz or tell me a joke.
Mike Montgomery is a government worker and upright bass player who lives in Anne Arundel County.
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