I Really Appreciate an Honest Panhandler

I’m a firm believer in the old adage that “Honesty is the best policy” and these days honesty appears to be lacking in so many sectors of life.  Everybody has some sort of agenda.  I also have to admit that I’m not much on panhandlers and Lord knows I’ve encountered my share since coming to Memphis.  First, let me say that I have no doubt that there are folks who are down on their luck and need a helping hand.  Then there are those who want to  make an easy buck for what they need at the moment.  Some of these folks are reported to make 50-60 thousand a year tax free by working street corners.  That’s not bad money.  The trend of holding up signs that proclaimed “Will work for food” was just coming into vogue when I showed up in Memphis back in early 1989.  I’ve seen some who drag their kids out to be with them to increase the sympathy factor.  It actually has the opposite effect on me.  WMC used to have a great reporter by the name of Greeley Kyle who went on to teach in Missouri.  He did a story on one of these folks working a corner who held a sign stating “Will work for food”.  Kyle videotaped the man panhandling and then approached him and got him a job  somewhere locally  and a day or two later, the guy had quit and was back on the street and this time was ducking the camera”.  So much helping somebody out.

That’s why when I was approached Monday in the parking lot of Office Max on Union by a panhandler, I appreciated what I call his honesty.  This young man, probably in his early 20s came up and started talking to me as I left the O-M.  He told me that he did some odd jobs to make money.  He also told me, “Hey, I like to drink beer and smoke cigarettes like the next guy and I also even smoke a little weed now and then and I just don’t have enough cash on me to take care of everything right now and could I help him out”.   There was none of this “I’m from out of town and my car has broken down and I’m trying to get back home to Dallas” or “I haven’t had anything to eat in two days and could I help him with the price of a meal.”  No, this guy told me straight up what he needed some cash for.  I liked that.  I didn’t give him any cash as I didn’t have any on me but if I did, I probably would have handed him a couple of bucks.  It also reminds me of a panhandler my wife and I encountered at the entrance to a subway in New York a couple of years ago.  This guy was holding a sign that stated: “Need money for booze, broads and smokes”.  Hey, at least I’m not sh*tting you!”  He didn’t get any money either but it’s a good approach and I’ll bet you he makes a lot more than other panhandlers.   And one final story about panhandlers. There was a well known panhandler in the Midtown area by the name of “Dancing Jimmy”.   If you  traveled around anywhere in Midtown you  would encounter him  because he really got around.  I think  Councilman Jack Sammons told me this guy used to sleep under his front porch.  Anyway, one approach that Dancing Jimmy had was to walk up to someone and ask if they had change for a ten dollar bill.  If they said yes, he’d ask”Would you give me half of it?” A clever approach in my opinion.

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8 Comments on “I Really Appreciate an Honest Panhandler”

  1. Jack Church Says:

    Hey Joe, I must share my encounter with a homeless guy in San Francisco several years ago. He was sitting outside a Starbucks coffee near the Embarcadero. He was reading the paper and as I passed he said “I sure would like a cup of Starbucks, could you help me out?” Now I must say that was one of the more unusual request from a street person that I have heard. Anyway, it seemed like a simple request so I went inside and bought him a $10 gift card so he could come back again. I then sat down with the guy and drank a cup with him. I have no idea why I was moved to visit with him but there was something a little different about his character. I asked what had happened that he ended up on the streets of SF. Like your guy at OM he was very honest. He said he was a truck driver, got drunk one night and drove the truck through the store he was making a delivery to. Lost his job, license and things went downhill from there. I asked if he had a family and unfortnatley his wife and son had both died of cancer. But he said that was no excuse for his drinking but he simply gave up and this is where he ended up. I noticed he had a bit of a southern accent and I asked him where he was from. His answer quickly brought to light why I had been moved to sit down and talk with this guy from the streets. He said “you probably never heard of it, just a little town in Tennessee. I said, “hey I’m from Tennessee, you never know. He then told me he grew up near Buchanan and attended Grove High School in Paris back in the 60s. Immediately I knew this guy was no liar because unless you are from Paris like me you just don’t pull out Buchanan and Grove High School especially since Grove was closed in the early 70s when they opened the new Henry County HS. Before I went on my way I asked him if he would like some lunch and we went next store and had burgers at Johnny Rockets. I don’t remember the guys name but whenever I see a street person I always think back to this guy. Just proves that old theory about what a small country we really live in.

  2. the tall tv guy Says:

    A few weeks ago, my wife and I were going to a concert at FedEx Forum and we were approached by three panhanders between the parking lot and the building. I chose not to help them. Days later, coming out of a convenience store at Crump and Third (lovely area of town!), a young man asked me for a little help so he could sleep at the Y that night. As I gave him a couple of bucks, I asked him, You’re not going to smoke or drink on this money, are you? No.


  3. […] Larkins has a funny post about panhandlers and even better, it mentions Memphis most famous panhandler Dancing Jimmy. […]

  4. J Davis Says:

    Working in Midtown Memphis, I have encountered many panhandlers. I try to never give out money. I offer food and see what kind of response I get. Several years ago, I was going into work late because I had a doctor’s appointment that morning. On the way from out east, I stopped at Schlotzky’s and bought two deluxe sandwiches, one for me and one for my boss. Just before I got to work, I stopped at the post office drop box where a skinny, old woman was begging for change to get a chicken biscuit down the street. Instead of money, I offered her one of these $5 sandwiches. I was taken aback when she asked for mayonnaise. Then to make matters worse, she asked for money for a drink. I thought, “How ungrateful can you get?” This didn’t stop me from giving, it just made me more determined not to give away money. But for every bad experience, if it doesn’t get you down, there will be at least one good one to counter balance the effect.

    At Christmas time, I ran out to McDonald’s to grab a biscuit, & I met a homeless man outside who was just hungry. I bought him a biscuit and a cup of coffee, and you would have thought I had given him a millions bucks. Then not too long ago, I came out of Walgreen’s and heard another homeless man asking the man parked next to me for money for a sandwich. As the man was taking change out of his pocket, I reached in my purse for a coupon for a free sandwich at Arby’s. I told him, “Here. If you’re just hungry, go get a free sandwich.” Then to my surprise, he not only graciously thanked me, but turned to the man, held out his hand with the money in it, and asked, “Do you want your change back?” His response made my night.

  5. JD Says:

    Having dealt with the person known as “Dancing Jimmy” many times in mid-town around the “late” Overton Square area, I can tell you that due to people giving him money for drink…..He was a mean spirited, aggressive, viscious drunk. On many occasions he would acost female passers by and when they refused his entreaties, he would attempt to bite or hit them. He did in fact bite, spit, kick, or attempt to hurt people. People thought it was funny until he attempted to hurt them. Sad to say, his reign of terror on occasion, would have to be stopped by way of the stick, fist, or blackjack. Heartless, inhuman and equally viscious people would offer him money/drink in order to get him to degrade himself and entertain them by his self degrading behavior. And yes, I “dealt” with them too.

    Giving any panhandler money, only prolongs or enables these individuals to keep it up until they become aggressive and dangerous. Utlimatley, it leads to the untimely death of these unfortunate souls who in reality are crying out for help.

  6. b Says:

    JD is right. It’s better to try to help by giving to the agencies that are trained to deal with people like this.


  7. […] is the Center City Commission’s take on it. This is MBJ’s take on it. This is Joe Larkins‘ take on […]

  8. Mike Says:

    yeah, i deal with all the regulars downtown. a lot of them “want to buy a sandwhich” which really translates into, i need some crack. sad but true. that’s not to say all people asking for help are bad people, you just learn who the regulars are. i have a feeling JD and b are in the same line of work as me (my stickers are green instead of blue).

    ever search for your name on youtube joe?


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