I'VE HAD IT! I've had it up to here with beggars. My compassion has finally withered until there is nothing left but a parched and twisted vine, its roots seeking sustenance in the cracking clay that was once fertile ground for an occasional "got any spare change?"
The beggars I'm talking about aren't the rag-clad human lumps who raise a disfigured hand in supplication at the village gates. No, the beggars that have put me over the edge work at what has become the modern version of the village. Every major supermarket is flanked by card shops, fast food outlets and the inevitable designer coffee dispensing clip joints. There was a time when one would go to the market, shop for weekly groceries and head for home. But now there are things to do, places to hang out. The shopping center has become the cultural equivalent of the ancient Greek agora...a meeting place. And the art of institutionalized begging has been refined to take advantage of the crowd gathered for no other purpose than to waste a little time and spend a little money.
Upon entering the modern marketplace it's not uncommon to to be immediately approached by the old school panhandler. Their approach hasn't changed much over the years. The real pros have upped the ante from asking for extra change to asking for a dollar and sometimes have the balls to wear better sneakers than their prey. Then there is the rented kid gambit. A doe-eyed woman roams the parking lot holding an infant of spurious origin and begs for everything from money for milk to gas money for the old Datsun crap wagon that sits steaming at the far end of the parking lot.
The latest scam is run by the ostensibly underpaid coffee jockeys who look you square in the eye as the translate your order of a "medium coffee" into Italian gibberish without cracking a smile. On the counter is a cup marked "TIPS." What it really says is "We don't get paid enough to pass a cup of coffee across the counter to you, but it's air-conditioned in here and we don't really know how to do anything else so can we have some of your 'extra' money?" Personally, drinking over-priced coffee with designer names from a paper cup goes against my grain and paying a guilt fee to a pimple-faced snot-nosed kid for pouring it adds insult to acidosis. I bought a nice espresso machine and at three bucks a day it will pay for itself in no time.
But the fun really starts when you hit the main attraction, the supermarket itself. Getting in the door is an exercise in avoiding eye contact with representatives of Greenpeace, Little League fund raisers, Girl Scout cookie hucksters and the guy who asks for a moment of my time to explain how horseback riding excursions for "teens at risk" will lower the odds of my car being stripped in the parking lot by youthful offenders pining for the smell of leather on sweating horseflesh. Jesus, it's like you have to run the beggars gauntlet just to get in the store.
With the price of energy going through the roof, it follows that the prices of everything in the store have risen proportionately. Everything has to be delivered by internal combustion engines and, once on the shelves, must be cooled or heated accordingly. I can almost feel the magnetic pull on my wallet as I walk up and down the aisles. Back in school I worked at a supermarket and was struck with a combination of disgust and pity whenever the local bums came in to buy crackers and canned cat food with their nickels and dimes. With a box of saltines at over three dollars and cat food out of reach it is no wonder these guys are asking for paper money in the parking lot.
The killer-diller of the day however, is reserved for the check-out counter. After dodging all the money-grabbers going in and choosing which groceries will look the biggest in the basket without having to take out a bank loan, the checkout clerk has the unmitigated balls to ask if I would be interested in donating something to prostrate cancer! That's not even grammatical begging! I mean, why can't she say " Would you like to donate something toward finding a cure for prostrate cancer?" Nope. It's just "Do you want to give something to prostate cancer?" with a finger pointing at the empty clear plastic cup next to the credit card reader. My first instinct was to pee in the cup.
After assuring the grocery bagger that yes, I could manage to carry my box of saltines and can of tuna livers out of the store under my own steam I am assailed by a last ditch effort to separate me from the last of my "extra" change. At the front of the store next to the managers station is a makeshift jail cell. Employees of the store take turns standing inside the bars and, with a hangdog expression, ask me if I could donate something to get him out of jail...all in the name of some goddamned charity or other.
Now, I can dig the motives of good people trying to raise money for a good cause. But Jesus Henry Christ! I'm paying more for less groceries everyday...and a portion of what I pay for those groceries is providing the hourly wage of a store employee pacing in a makeshift jail like a caged idiot and begging customers for money! I've had it! From now on I'll buy my produce at the farmers market, my meat at the discount supermarket on the other side of town where a chic overpriced coffee place would be laughed out of the parking lot, and my toilet paper and soap at some other goddamned place. I refuse to be guilted out of whatever I have left after battling the beggars just to get into the damned store, and then battling the beggars who I am paying with my grocery money to get back out again.
Beggars...I've had it!