Thursday, April 28, 2005

Leab's Laws of Looting

Ok, perhaps "Looting" is too strong of a word, but I want to talk a little bit about panhandling. While I was downtown today, a guy stopped me on the corner of 7th and Nicollet and asked me for a dollar. His exact pitch was:
"Hey, man, I need a dollar. Can you give it to me?"
Now, there's nothing in that statement that makes me want to give him a dollar, and I'm a generous guy. Hell, I'm generous to a fault. I once gave a woman the shirt off my back just because she asked for it and told me a story about why she loved it so much. I didn't need it. That's the way I feel about panhandlers. I have no problem giving someone a buck, but they have to earn it. It doesn't take much. Make me laugh, or tell me a good story, or just flat out entertain me, and I'll pony up the dough. My sister likes to say that I have, "SUCKER," tatooed on my forehead, but I don't care. I live comfortably enough, why not help others out when you can?
Before you go all, "How dare you," on me, realize this: In New York last year, seven people were found to be making over $100,000 a year by panhandling. They hit the right spots and said the right words. The New York Post followed one woman home and discovered that she lived on Park Avenue and would meticulously dress down every morning in order to gain the attention of pedestrians. It's brilliant.
Hence, here are my "Laws of Looting."
1. You must look the part. There's nothing more disheartening than when a guy in a power suit says he's homeless and needs a buck. This actually happened to me. I was in St. Louis and a guy in a black suit said, "I don't have any money, can you spare a dollar for the bus?" His jacket label flashed Armani. No dice...
2. You must be entertaining. If you just stand there are say a speech that sounds rehearsed, I won't look over. Be creative, and you get the cash. Sing a song, dance, recite Shakespeare, whatever! The best and most entertaning panhandlers for me were both in New York. One guy asked me for five dollars. I told him, "Entertain me, and you got it." He did a soft shoe routine and sang a song (Mr. Bojangles). Of course I gave him five bucks, and a round of applause. The other guy was outside of NBC Studios wearing a sign that said: "Attending Budweiser University, need money for books!" That's creative. He got two bucks.
3. Know when to quit hassling. There's a difference between a follow-up and being annoying. When I was in St. Louis, a guy sitting on a bench asked me for bus money. I told him (truthfully I might add) I didn't have any cash. He got off the bench and followed me up the street saying, "Well, there's an ATM right over there." Bad form my friend. That just annoys me that you know where the ATM is. Why not just camp out there and hope for change.
4. Be polite. Which sounds better to you. A. Excuse me sir/ms./maam, could you please give me a dollar for the bus? Or, B. Hey, man, I need a dollar. Can you spare it? People love people who are polite. We're all taught to be polite, so why not be? You have a better chance of scoring that way.
5. Don't get caught in the lie. Ok, this is a tricky one. If your schtick is that you live in a homeless shelter and need the money to pay for the night, then make sure your mark doesn't know otherwise. I was in a liqour store, and the guy in front of me bought a bottle of Allegrini Amarone 1999 with a debit card. That's a 70 dollar bottle of wine. After I made my purchase, I went outside and started to walk up the street. After going ten feet from the store, the guy who was in front of me in the store stops me and says, "Sir, I need a few bucks in order to pay for my homeless shelter tonight. Could you give me three dollars?" When I asked him what was in the bag, he lied and said, "A bottle to recycle." So, I called him on it. "You were in front of me in the store. You just paid $70 for wine. I think you got the money." He didn't follow me, so I must have been right.
6. Find the right position. Ok, here's the situation. You're on the corner, and there's another panhandler down the street from you. You see a mark you like. That mark is hit up for money by the guy down the street, he or she give the guy money. Do you think it's wise to hit him up for money now? If you answered yes, you will remain poor. If I already gave to one guy, it's going to be tough to convince me to pull out more money. I'm not a bank. Yes, I am generous, but there's a difference. So make sure you find a corner where you can work alone. If there are two or three people already on your block, move. New York, for example is two miles wide and thirteen miles long. You can find your own spot. And don't set up to close to exits. There's a guy who always waits right outside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. As soon as the door opens, he is right on the people there. You want to hit the "I'm cold and hungry angle"? Wait until they feel the cold.
And finally,
7. Keep It Simple, Stupid (or KISS). I was in Chicago with my wife. As we were walking to dinner, we were stopped by a guy who wanted some money. Instead of just simply asking for a few dollars, he launched into the following speech:
"Excuse me sir (at least he was polite).This is my ID (he pulls out a license). As you can see, I am not crazy or a drug addict (all of this because of an ID?) and pose no threat. I usually sleep at the Wacker shelter, but they kicked me out last night on account of some personal issues."
At this point I have been standing there listening to this guy talking for ten seconds. That's a long time. His pitch continued for a full minute. Now, as I said before a story is entertaining, but you have to make sure that it doesn't bore the listener or they're going to bolt. Finally, even though his story wasn't finished, I finally said, "Here's a buck. It's all I've got. Good luck."
This guy also broke rule #4 by calling me a "cheap bastard." Oh well. that's graditude for you.
So, if you follow these 7 simple rules, you should be able to get a few bucks for lunch. Good luck, and let me know how you do.

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