You’d better save yourself!
Last night, I went out to dinner with my sister, her fiancé’s sister, and my sister’s fiancé’s sister’s cousin (whom I suppose could be more simply and just as accurately described as my sister’s fiancé’s cousin, but he doesn’t really figure in the story and won’t be mentioned again). I was dapper in my “Save Ferris” T-shirt (a direct reference to the movie, rather than an indirect reference to the movie via the band of the same name; I get asked this, so I might as well mention it now), which I am in fact recycling today, as I had it on only a couple of hours and it’s casual Friday.
Walking down the Danforth, we were approached by a fat panhandler. I’ve seen this guy before, and it makes you wonder how you get to be a fat panhandler. I suppose you might normally start out a fat panhandler and then gradually become a skinny one, but if you’re pretty good at it, you can start out fat and stay that way. And I’ve noticed several times from the good vantage point that I had while walking by him as he sat slumped on a stoop in his filthy shirt that he’s got a huge bald patch in an otherwise bushy head of hair that suggests some kind of brain injury in the past. So that’s probably how he got to be a panhandler.
“Could you buy my token so I can get something to eat?” he asked, holding out a subway token. “I’m starving.” One might say he didn’t look starving, but he asked in the most quavering, desperate voice I’ve ever heard a panhandler use. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything smaller than a twenty, and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be able to make change. Also, I have a transit pass, so I don’t really need any tokens anyway. What’s more, I’ve had people ask me to make this kind of deal just often enough in the past that it seems like some kind of scam. I’m not sure what kind of profit margins it could possibly have, unless he’s part of a counterfeiting ring. If not, where do the tokens even come from? He could buy them, but there’s a start-up cost, as he has to buy in bulk for the scheme to make any sense. And if he was paid the cash fare for the token — which he’d probably get, as you’d have to be a real jerk to dicker on the price and drive him down — he’d still only be making a 50-cent profit per token on the bulk rate. It’d probably be easier to skip that initial investment and just ask for 50 cents. Anyway, I told him as sincerely as possible that I was sorry, but just couldn’t help.
We continued to the restaurant, where we had an unsatisfying meal. We were ignored by the waitstaff. Getting a glass of water was almost impossible. Our table was missing three place settings (I was the only one who had one), and my sister had to resort to filching cutlery from another table. Half of us were just finishing our dinners when the others were finally served. The only cooking the saganaki seemed to have received was when it was set aflame in front of us; it was otherwise a cold brick. And when the cheque arrived, it hadn’t been split, as asked. As per the advice of Essential Manners for Men, I left a tip on the low end of normal and spoke to the manager. He apologized and gave us (effectively, me, since I was the Toronto resident/chief complainer) a $20 gift certificate, which is actually more than the cost of my meal. This is why I’m not naming names, though I still wasn’t happy.
On the way back, the same panhandler approached us again. I still didn’t have change, as I’d paid by credit card, but it didn’t come to that. He came from the other side, and my sister’s fiancé’s sister quickly waved him off (a little curtly, actually). “Forget Ferris!” he shouted at our backs. “You’d better save yourself!”
Great. Now he’s mad at me, and I’m probably going to go to hell or something. Why me? I’m not the one who waved him off. I was polite to him. Why’d he have to get all Jewel on me with the “Who will save your soul?” routine? A harbinger of my doom, I don’t need. Now I guess I’m screwed.
And the thing is, I was caught off guard. I’m only realizing now that if I’d thought of it then, I could have just given him the gift certificate. It would have helped him out, and it would have been a nice bit of revenge on the restaurant to send a fat, filthy, crazy (but evidently literate) panhandler in there for a meal.
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