Beaton column: Panhandling in paradise isn’t bad
I tried a new job here in Aspen. I was a panhandler.
I made a cardboard sign saying “SURVIVED CANCER BUT LOST MY JOB,” which happens to be true (albeit a little misleading) and put on an old pair of jeans and a work shirt.
Then I moseyed over to the police station. The police had no money for me, but did have advice. They advised me that panhandling in Aspen violates a city ordinance, and warned in that uber-polite Aspen police fashion that if anyone complains an officer will ask me to move on.
Sensing an opportunity for martyrdom, or at least victimhood, I asked, “Will you cuff me and throw me in jail?” That drew a smile. But still no money.
I started my new beat right in front of that icon of downtown Aspen, the Hotel Jerome. I figured that if I could provoke anyone into martyring me, it would be them. Sure enough, after a few minutes one of those bellhops in a cowboy costume came up to me.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“Ah ha, this is where they rough me up,” I silently hoped.
But no. Instead, he rolled alongside me a wheeled wardrobe loaded with luggage, and walked away. I thought about grabbing an Armani bag from the wardrobe in order to ensure my martyrdom, but decided that stealing would be cheating.
Later, another person appeared. This one wore a suit.
“Excuse me, sir, this is the unloading area for the hotel. Would it be possible for you to move just a few feet so that we can handle the luggage here?”
He asked so nicely, I had to comply.
After an hour, I’d received a bounty of politeness, but nothing that City Market would take in exchange for food. I concluded that people on that corner have no money to spare after they’ve spent a grand for a room and dinner at the Jerome.
So I walked over to the gondola. I figured that people buying tickets for a summer ride might have a few bucks to help a cancer survivor. I was wrong.
On the way back, I walked past the Wells Fargo Bank with its ATM machine. One might think that with all that money flying about, some would wind up in my hands. Wrong again.
A friend moseyed by. His head did a 180 as he gaped at me, and he accidentally walked into a lamppost. When I looked his direction, he pretended not to see me. Then he scurried away.
And so it went. I groused that rich residents of the town that uses taxpayer money to subsidize million-dollar houses for insiders making up to $186,000 a year had donated to a tattered, bald, cancer-surviving panhandler a total of $0.00.
Zero. Zip. Nada. And no martyrdom either. The most I could claim was to be a victim of benign neglect.
What would it take to get help? If I were bleeding, would they help? If I clutched my chest and fell to the ground, would they help? If I wore stripes with plaids, would they help?
I gave up.
Then outside of Carl’s Pharmacy, a man handed me a bill. As I walked away, I saw it was a $100 bill. I turned around and handed it back to him.
“Sir, I can’t take this much.”
“No, keep it. I’m just sorry that you’re in this predicament.”
“Ah, geez. Thank you for your generosity.”
“You’re welcome. God bless you.”
Stunned, I walked the few blocks to St. Mary’s and asked, “Could I talk with the priest?”
Part of me wanted to give confession. But not being Catholic, I settled for just giving them the $100 bill with directions to use it for their homeless program. As I left, I heard from them those words again, “God bless you.”
I don’t know if giving money to panhandlers makes their problems better or worse — more on that in another column. But today, I’m just a reporter.
Today’s report is that, on a net basis, I wound up with no money. But I did come away with sound advice from the police, polite requests from a hotel trying to run a business, a startling act of generosity from a stranger and two divine blessings from people I’d never met.
Aspen has its problems. Even Aspen is not actually paradise. But there just might be angels among us.
Correspond at theAspenbeat@gmail.com. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.
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