Penny For Your Thoughts; Quarter For A Beer

Our first night in New Orleans, my friend and I went to a nearby café for a bite to eat.  We were nervous about walking around an unfamiliar city after dark, but we were hungry enough to venture out anyway.

On the way back to our hotel, maybe half a block away, a man asked me for money.  I thought about how my wallet was wedged into the tiny purse I use for travelling and worried that pulling it out could invite a robbery.  So I lied and said I didn’t have any.

“You look like that and tell me you don’t have any money?”  His angry voice shouted after me as we continued walking.

I wasn’t sure what about my look made him think I had money.  Perhaps it was just the fact that all my sale-priced store-brand clothing was clean?  Still, I cringed because the man saw my lie.

When we got to our hotel room, I pulled my wallet out of my purse and dumped the change onto the desk.  I decided I wouldn’t let myself be in that position again.  At home, our area is free from poverty and homelessness.  If people are struggling, it is hidden behind their manicured yards and cars financed with 84-month loans.

Before we left the hotel each day, I shoved all my coins in my right jeans pocket.  When I made purchases throughout the day, I refilled my pocket with change and a few dollar bills.

We met a man with a dog named Charlie (oddly enough, the man didn’t give his own name.)  We visited with the panhandler and his dog for several minutes before we continued on our way.

We paused and listened to a guitar player, a jazz ensemble, and enjoyed the rhymes of “Bongo Man” as he played the drums and made up hilarious rhymes about passersby.  Here’s one he did for us:

"Bongo Man" earning tips one laugh at a time

And this lovely lady

You’re so kind,

You helped save my behind.

Now I can take my wife to dine,

And get some peace of mind.

I’m the Bongo Man

Some people say I’m crazy

But I work hard, and I ain’t lazy;

Some people say I’m a louse

But I would never rob your house-

Or your car…

(You people park too far)

He was flipping a different kind of bird...but isn't the Macaw lovely??

We paused to look at human statues – people painted silver and gold that held their poses without so much as a muscle spasm.  We watched street artists with their easels set up on sidewalks paint canvases while people gathered around.  I encountered a homeless man behind me in line at the convenience store wishing to purchase a can of beer, but worried he might be a bit short.

So many people were looking for money (with varying degrees of creativity).  Some may shake their heads and call me a fool for giving them money.  Maybe I am.  They could be exaggerating their need for money…they could have nice houses and a closet full of new clothes…they could be off to buy booze – or worse, drugs.  On the other hand, they could have a family to support…they could be saving coins for their next meal…they might need money for medical care.

I don’t need to know.

As for the man who needed help buying his beer?  Sure, I would personally opt to buy a food item rather than alcohol.  But then again, maybe an afternoon beer buzz is just what this man needed in that moment to make a less-than-perfect life shine for a little while.

Maybe beer was this man’s chocolate.  Shouldn’t we all be able to have a taste once in a while?

~~~God’s “2 Cents” on the subject~~~

Luke 6:20-21 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours in the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”

Deuteronomy 15:7 “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.”

Matthew 5:42 “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

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35 thoughts on “Penny For Your Thoughts; Quarter For A Beer

  1. Cloonan March 4, 2012 / 7:03 AM

    Someone may look poor but live with more freedom then any of us.

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 12:57 PM

      True enough, Cloonan. Everyone has burdens, but many of the troubles of those with more money are brought upon themselves (i.e., get the big house, flashy car, credit cards, etc.) There is a certain freedom in living with the ‘less is more’ mentality.

      • Cloonan March 4, 2012 / 2:48 PM

        I totally agree…once you lose everything you gain even more

        • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 4:07 PM

          To quote Nancy at SLTW, “Ahhh….that’s better.” 🙂

  2. momsomniac March 4, 2012 / 7:10 AM

    Love this.

    When I give $, it is a gift. I encounter few people who understand this, so this way a nice read on Sunday morning, when the little ones have me up hours before church. (yawn)

    Having spent much of my youth in New Orleans…I can tell you that it’s different there. In New Orleans, I give freely to street performers (I did so even back in the day when it meant I went hungry) but I avoid panhandlers there. Even stores can be problematic (I once got a fake phone card in a brick & mortor store in New Orleans & trying to do anything about it was like a Monty Python skit). Asking directions is a good way to find yourself on the opposite side of town.

    Though it certainly is not true of everyone in the city, and though it actually adds to the flavor of the city, there is an under-culture of “if you’re not from around here, you just might be a rube” in N’Orleans. So – it sounds to me like you gave at the right time and said “no” when it was wise. It’s easier for me here in Denver. I have a good feel for when “no” is wise here – not because it matters to me where the money goes, but because I’m being targeted. And the beer/you’re a liar guy sounds more like someone who wants you to get out your wallet than a panhandler.

    The hard part is feeling comfortanle simply saying “no”, so it’s not a lie. I have a hard time with that too.

    Am I rambling?

    More coffee….

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 1:09 PM

      Thanks, Momsomniac. You weren’t rambling at all – thanks for adding your thoughts to the post.

      I had to laugh at your comment about asking for directions. We were orienting ourselves to map we just picked up at the visitor’s center and this young man stopped and asked if we needed help. He pointed us in the direction we needed to go…but we realized after two blocks, that he sent us in the wrong direction. That explains why he chuckled as he sent us on our way!

      I enjoyed the street performers, but I had no idea there would be so many. I look at it the same as leaving a tip at a restaurant; they provided a service (entertainment) and I enjoyed it, so I tipped. Also, they are doing something to “earn” a living rather than sit on a curb with a can asking for money.

      I don’t like feeling threatened – and the guy the first night made me uneasy. My friend called me paranoid because I didn’t keep all of my money in one place – to me, it is a bit of security if I did have my wallet lifted. I have to say, it is easier to say ‘no’ when my husband is with me because he has the muscle to back it up if they won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. However, I did have an umbrella and I wasn’t afraid to use it if I had to 🙂

      • momsomniac March 4, 2012 / 5:32 PM

        To add to the conversation, I have been desperately poor (as in eating out of dumpsters poor) and I have been homeless. I was never on drugs or an alcoholic – I just didn’t start out middle class, and then had a series of…unfortunate events. I am blessedly a long, long, loooong way from that now, but it changes how you SEE people. I feel like I can see people on the street now – really SEE them. And again, it sounds like you made wise and compassionate choices. If someone who can give from the heart chooses not to because it feels risky, it probably is…

        And oh yeh, the direction thing!~ LOL!

        • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 10:37 PM

          You have an interesting story, Momsomniac. Ever consider writing a memoir? I’m glad you’re in a different situation now.

          Thankfully, I have always had a roof over my head, so I don’t have first-hand experience to draw from. Sure, there have been lean times, but I always had a safety net, whether it be family or friends.

  3. nrhatch March 4, 2012 / 7:11 AM

    I love the bongo man’s approach and DETEST the first man’s approach ~ he obviously has a sense of entitlement to OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY.

    I have had panhandlers get angry at me for not giving them money. I view their anger as something THEY need to work on. 😀

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 1:13 PM

      The Bongo Man was hilarious, Nancy. I would have put the video up, but my friend was in it too, and she’s very private (no pics on the internet!)

      I didn’t like the first guy’s approach, either. Thing is, I probably would have given him coins if I had them handy…not realizing the attitude he had. I agree that their anger is something they need to work on (love how you put that!)

  4. suzicate March 4, 2012 / 8:15 AM

    I agree with Nancy. And yes, maybe that man wanted a beer, ok,,,don’t we all want to escape for just a little while at times whether we’re savoring chocolate or sipping a beer!

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 1:16 PM

      I used to have a harder time with it because I didn’t agree with how they would spend the money. I’ve learned to look at it as I’m doing my part by helping, how the money is spent is their choice. A poor choice on their part has no reflection on me. Thanks for visiting, SuziCate!

  5. clarbojahn March 4, 2012 / 11:55 AM

    I like your idea of putting just enough tip money in your jeans for the homeless and street vendors. I do the same when I go into DC. Makes life easier and I agree about the beer and chocolate. Each to his own. 🙂

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 1:20 PM

      It worked out well, Clar. I had the money handy, if I felt the person wasn’t a threat to me. The street performers were my favorite because they were “earning” their money rather than relying on handouts by begging. The man with his dog got me because I’m sure he took better care of the dog than himself – the dog even wore a rain slicker to keep dry, while he walked around in T-shirt!

  6. newwhitebear March 4, 2012 / 1:02 PM

    Nice tale on a visit in New Orleans.
    I lke much.

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 1:20 PM

      Thanks so much, Newwhitebear. Glad you enjoyed!

  7. Debbie March 4, 2012 / 1:03 PM

    You’re a nicer person than I am, Janna. I commend you for that! Part of me sincerely wants to be able to help the less fortunate (and it’s gratifying on so many levels to actually see the person you’re helping, rather than just throwing money at a faceless charity). The other part of me is more callous, and the last thing I want is to see my money going to feed a drug habit or encourage someone to continue playing the helpless victim (especially if they look able-bodied). I know that’s judgmental — I’m working on it, okay?!

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 1:28 PM

      I feel your struggle, Nancy. It’s not always easy, and I have had to learn to not make conditions on money I give to someone else. Of course, I’d rather give the person a tangible item (like blankets, water, food, etc.) than money – but if they are bent on getting money for drugs or something else I don’t approve of, they will just sell whatever they get to buy drugs. I’ve had to look at it that I’ve done my part and their choices are not my burden.

      This being said, it is more difficult to give my hard-earned money to someone who appears to be waiting for a handout. I have to think of it differently – put myself in the beggar’s place. How do I know this person did not pound the pavement for a year looking for honest work and then gave up when all the doors were shut to them? How long would I keep trying before I accepted my fate and grabbed a donation cup? Sure, there are people who play on our sympathies, but I’ll let God deal with them 🙂

  8. pattyabr March 4, 2012 / 9:02 PM

    You are kind.

    I used to keep $2.00 of quarters, a toothbrush, travel toothpaste and a slip of paper with the phone number for the local homeless shelter in zip lock bags in my car. I would hand them out to the people who stand along the side of the street. Now I just hand out cash as long as I am not at risk at getting in a car accident.

    It’s always a tough call. But I also don’t think it’s okay to be badgered for not giving money. When I lived in Wash DC for a year I had heard that some homeless people who would hang out in prosperous neighborhoods actually would bang on windows of cars while sitting at an intersection.

    I have no answer for the problem but I am very glad there are programs in my community to help the homeless.

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 10:42 PM

      You were prepared, Patty. Were the bags well-received?

      That’s a scary story about homeless people pounding on windows. That would be upsetting, for sure! In that case, I wouldn’t feel bad at all for saying ‘no.’ Giving money to people with that behavior is like giving a kid a candy bar after they throw a tantrum in the grocery store check out lane.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

  9. pattisj March 4, 2012 / 9:12 PM

    That’s a good idea, Janna, to keep some change where you don’t have to pull out your entire wallet. Give, and it will be given unto you…:) The Bongo Man was quite entertaining.

    • jannatwrites March 4, 2012 / 10:44 PM

      We loved the Bongo Man. At first, I was taking the video from behind him. When he glanced over his shoulder and saw me, he told me to come around front and get a good shot. And of course, we did!

      If I am wearing something with pockets, I might do that in town, too. But I don’t come across many homeless people in our area.

      Thanks for stopping by, Patti!

  10. rerodan March 5, 2012 / 3:31 AM

    Great post the greatest command is to love 1st God with all your heart and secondly your neighbour as yourself, loving the neighbour/stranger you see is the vevidence of loving God you don’t see.

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2012 / 5:50 AM

      Well said, Rerodan. By loving our neighbor, we are also showing our love for God. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  11. GodGirl March 5, 2012 / 4:06 AM

    Love the grace and wisdom in this post.

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2012 / 5:51 AM

      Thanks so much, GodGirl. My experience in New Orleans affected me.

  12. philosophermouseofthehedge March 5, 2012 / 1:10 PM

    The street performers do their acts and you pay for the pleasure of watching. The other – bullies who have learned that frightened people will give money. Caution is always wise. Some are mentally ill ( and those often have family members trying to get them off the streets – and wish people would stop enabling them). Some in Houston actually have nice apartments and begging is their “job” and how they pay their bills. If this was all new to you, you must live someplace really wonderful. You sound very compassionate ( and wise to keep money in several places). Do take care!

    • jannatwrites March 5, 2012 / 6:40 PM

      I should clarify that the number and variety of street performers is what was totally new to me. I wouldn’t say I live in a wonderful place, but I do lead a somewhat sheltered life. I have seen a beggar here and there, but usually in the downtown area, which I only go to once or twice a year. For the most part, the police stay on top of panhandling in the suburbs.

      I’m not surprised that some panhandlers have nice housing…some of them are quite good at what they do 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Phil!

      • philosophermouseofthehedge March 5, 2012 / 6:48 PM

        The street performers and artists were always fun. The police do a good job in the Quarter. No one wants the visitors to be disturbed. Glad you had a nice visit!

        • jannatwrites March 6, 2012 / 12:42 AM

          Ah, yes, the police did do a fine job. No problems at all, Phil 🙂

  13. jeanne March 5, 2012 / 8:16 PM

    I would much rather give to those who are trying to make a living than those who are trying to guilt you into giving…Do you know if you came across a musician named Grandpa Elliott?

    • jannatwrites March 6, 2012 / 12:46 AM

      Me too, Jeanne. I don’t think I saw Grandpa Elliot – where does he usually play?

  14. mairzeebp March 7, 2012 / 2:00 PM

    Maybe beer was his chocolate. Ice cream is mine and although I know this won’t showcase me in the best light, I cannot wait until Lent is over so I can partake in my very own version of a Vermonster. Thank you for the pics. I love hearing about your trip :).

    • jannatwrites March 8, 2012 / 12:17 AM

      I love ice cream, too, Mairzeebp. You are stronger than I, because I would never pledge to give up ice cream (it would just make me want to eat more!)

      Good luck with Lent. I’m glad you stopped by!

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