Panhandle With Care

We're all just a home away from homeless.

Hobo-chic achieved, I need one last accessory: signs. A liquor-store clerk in Denver is kind enough to provide me with cardboard boxes and a blue marker, which I use to fashion three crude signs. The first message reads "Anything Helps" -- an oldie but a goodie that I'm eager to test. The next sign is a rhymer: "A few dollars for beer and I'll disappear." It's honest, and vaguely amusing. I want something really clever for the third; I've always been more inclined to give money to a panhandler who makes me laugh than one who makes me sad. This Christmas, for example, I was pulling off I-25 north onto Colorado Boulevard when I saw a man in a red Santa cap holding a sign that read "Ho Ho Homeless...and Disabled." I nearly emptied my wallet on the old bastard. Then again, I once saw a hobo with a sob-story sign about having been robbed and just trying to get money for a bus ticket back to Omaha, and it made me so sad that not only did I not give him any money, but I shivved him right in the back of the kneecap.

I need a hook. Since I'm headed halfway toward Colorado Springs, land of batshit insane evangelical Christians, I decide I'll commemorate a recent scandal in that town with "Ted Haggard Won't Return My Calls...Need $$$." Haggard, of course, is the former head of the New Life Church who fell from grace after he was outed by a male escort, who said the minister had not only bought his sexual services, but meth, too; the joke is that since Haggard has come to terms with his fuckup, the sign-bearer (read: male prostitute) has lost business and needs cash. Ha, ha! Who wouldn't give money to a homeless, hobo-chic guy with such audacity, such wit?

With the three signs in the back of my car, I hit the road. But as I near Castle Rock, I start to get nervous. I'm going to panhandle along the mean streets of Castle Rock. What if I get arrested? Worse, what if I land on an intersection that's some other guy's turf? Will he kick my ass? Some of the worst fights I've seen have been between homeless people, and we've all heard about the shrieking hobo knife-fights in which the winner not only flays the skin of the loser, but wears it all winter, both for added warmth and as a badge of honor.

Get the message? Denver likes funny signs. Castle Rock does not.
Get the message? Denver likes funny signs. Castle Rock does not.

I pull into the Walgreens parking lot at I-25 and Plum Creek, and am relieved to see that no panhandler is working this intersection -- even though the Castle Rock official had assured me that the spot was a haven for the homeless. As I carry my "Anything Helps" sign over to the corner and try to look pathetic, the sun disappears, clouds whip in across the foothills and snow starts to sprinkle. This is a sign from the heavens, I think, as car after car after car drives past. People are blatantly ignoring me, staring forward, blinders on: Oh, is there a homeless guy over there? Huh, I wouldn't know anything about it because I have absolutely no peripheral vision. In my previous life I was a horse that led carriage rides through Central Park, so I can only see straight ahead. Others were clearly overcompensating: What's that you say? There's a homeless guy in the intersection? Man, I'd love to acknowledge his existence, but here's the thing: Unless I bend over so that you can't see me from outside and stare into the tape deck, I can't change the station. Isn't that weird? I hear a lot of Hyundais have this quirk. What's that? Why am I still down here now that the radio has changed? It's so weird -- my cell phone only gets reception one foot from the floor of the car. I know, it must be Verizon or something. Some "network," right? Yeah, anyway, I'm just going to stay down here for a while...oh, light's green! Off we go. Too bad, because I would have totally helped out that homeless dude back there if I hadn't have been so busy.

I stand here for twenty minutes, enduring these people ignoring me. Two Douglas County Sheriff's Department vehicles also drive by and ignore me.

Finally, a car pulls up and the driver rolls down her window. As I trot into the street, she takes a spray bottle and gives her filthy windshield a couple of squirts, then turns on the wipers and drives off. Fucking tease!

After being invisible for another twenty minutes, I switch to the "A few dollars for beer and I'll disappear" sign. I figure some people might appreciate the honest approach -- but evidently, messages of this nature just make people feel like they are entitled to not give you money. You're just another wino, and no, they're not going to aid your addiction.

It's time to pull out the big gun.

Standing with my "Ted Haggard Won't Return My Calls" sign, I immediately feel better about what I'm doing. I have a funny message that I'm proud of, and even though I'm down on my luck, maybe old homeless Adam can brighten someone's day with a chuckle or two. Ha, ha, man, that Haggard was a freak, huh?

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