The Static Beggar
It all caught me a bit by surprise. My dread was dormant, what with the stoplight being so far ahead. I wasn’t even thinking about, and yet there he was, out of the corner of my eye, the static beggar. The stoplight turned red and I was about the fifth car in line. I passed directly in front of him and came to a complete stop a few feet ahead. The angles all matched up so that I could look at him through my rear view mirror.
Cars cars cars, no people. Cars cars cars. Why cars. I hate.
What struck me about the whole scene was that pity, like an old friend, was back with a youthful vigor. A vigor so strong that it managed to escape my defenses which have been so well trained from so many stops at so many stoplights. Those defenses that whisper, “yes yes, it’s normal. Poverty is rampant. Old news. Get on with your like and stop letting it get to you so much.”
But the static beggar’s image pierced through all of me until it reached the very core of some infinite point inside of me. I would not escape the feelings that accompanied the image of this man. A man of 35, kneeling on the abandoned sidewalk, his hands held palms-up – together – up near his chin. It was if he was about to splash cold water on his weary face. He waited for someone to fill his hand with something that would – theoretically – help him stay alive a little longer and lessen his suffering a little more.
Hot sidewalk. Desert. The farm we were boys. Young. Long road. Hot. Blurry horizon. Puddles don’t exist. Distance. Future. Knees hurt. Body hurts. Stomach empty. No one walk. Again, again, again. Nothing keeps passing. Again, again. Hands are heavy. Hands are empty. My fingers are friends. Again, again…
The man’s eyes bulged out slowly, he stared at some point between the sidewalk and the asphalt. I wondered who he was, why he was, how he was. This man – I realized – was different. He was passive. He knows people like me. People that get angry at the stoplight people for taking our money, our sense of being innately “good”, and our illusions that all is OK in this world. He understands me. He is like me. He doesn’t want to bother me, yet he needs any help anyone is willing to give him. He kneels on the sidelines, on an abandoned sidewalk, the personification of “excuse me, I’m really sorry to bother you but if you have any change that you wouldn’t mind giving me I would be eternally thankful. If not I understand and sorry to trouble you.” With manners and everything. All this he says to me by simply kneeling there like a man would kneel at church. His bowed head showing humility, his static nature an attempt at blending into the rest of the static world, so as not to cause anyone any grief. This man is my saint.
Mother would pray. Father would pray. I pray. Now knees pray. Stomach prays. Hungry. Knees hurt. More cars. Who are they? Why? I can’t move. Pain. Life. No one walks. I nothing. Again. More. Too much. Too much nothing. Where God leave? When? Why? Not pray enough? Knees hurt.
And the red turns to green and off I go, back to the bliss of driving freely without the tortured images of poverty right there in my face or rearview mirror. It’s always easier to be my old, rational self again once the poor are no longer right there in my face – rubbing it in. And I reflect on the static beggar. I think my emotions for him stayed at the red light, somewhere along the sidewalk, and evaporated when the light turned green.
What would it be like to kneel there all day while you hold your hands outstretched for no one at all? A spiritual awakening I’m sure.
But this guy, he did have something different. Did I notice him, feel more pity towards him, simply because he was NOT amongst all the other stoplight dwellers? Does he know what he’s doing? Is he a smart man underneath all the dirt and the stink? Has he gone against the grain and created a niche for himself? A different market? An alternative? Instead of competing with the other poor people at the stoplight, why not monopolize this one particular – albeit abandoned – sidewalk? Why not stay completely still instead of walking up and down amongst the cars? He has no fucking clue what’s going on. If he thinks that it will work he’s insane. Sure, it sounds good in theory, but he isn’t getting any change. As much as I would love to reward him for his savvy entrepreneur-ism right smack in the heart of poverty (what balls!), I’m not getting out of my car to give him any change. I’m certainly not going to throw it at him and risk either being lynched for harassing a poor person or breaking his Buddha-like trance of stasis. Too risky. Too many things can go wrong and it’s too much trouble to worry about. Plus no one is walking there, no one ever does. It won’t work. And that’s the beauty of it. That’s why I admire it so much.
But then the terrible possibilities start creeping into my head. What if we’re on the cusp of something huge, something trendy before the trend establishes itself as a trend? You know the feeling: you buy a CD and love every single track even though no one’s ever heard of it and it isn’t on MTV or the radio. Couple of weeks later the band is famous and, of course, everyone has the CD. It feels like your baby has been stolen.
But and so what if that’s the case? What if, somehow, more people think the way I do than I’ve been led to believe all these years? What if this static beggar is only the first of many to monopolize abandoned sidewalks?
What if stoplights become abandoned in favor of kneeling beggars covering every inch of sidewalk in the city? The horror! Not just for this first, original static beggar, as his original concept will probably be commercialized and bastardized, losing it’s pure essence – his income surely will be reduced from nothing to something worse than that. But also for the unfortunate souls that traverse this fair city by foot. Ahh the tables have turned, haven’t they you promenading sons of bitches? Your turn to suffer and feel bad about the poverty of the city. Leave me and my car free of guilt and pity for once! And I will be here, to tell the world that I was the only one who understood the Machiavellian illogic of the man who started it all. An ingenious poor man, rich with savvy vigor, who decided to revolutionize the begging industry by kneeling on an abandoned sidewalk, on his knees, remaining completely static. What a grand tale it will be!
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