Friday, October 23, 2009

Good w/ the 'Hood: New Marks on the Block

My father-in-law used to come to Rivertown and pass by homeless men, snarling: "I never give money to any man smoking ready-rolled cigarettes!" He was old enough to remember the Depression. He believed you could effin' roll-your-own tobacco if you were so damned down and out.

So that was his limit. It took me awhile to set my own limits in the right place, because I wanted to make alliances. Eventually I developed some kind of Donation Policy: No access, no jobs, very small amounts of money. That meant I would give donations to kids for sports uniforms, trips to Atlanta, NASA field trips, whatever of that type. Frequently they showed up with a piece of torn-out spiral paper and would write down your donation in pencil. Kids I knew got more than kids I didn't. I figured most of it went to candy bars.

If the Seventh Day Adventists came by, we exchanged a dollar per brochure up to four dollars. Religions or churches that I had never heard of Never got money. Politicians and activists never got money. That's what checks in the mail are for.

My husband had a different policy: He gave money to people he thought would be useful in the clinch. He paid more per hit, to many less people. That included one reliable-looking homeless man (former Vietnam Vet) with incredible manners and unfortunate drinking habits. He would have been one hell of a butler, concierge, or big-ticket salesman, but unfortunately, life had not been kind to him. He was a very kind man. He was probably also a bicycle thief.

My policy gave me the most interactions and friendly exposure to people on the street, and, I think, in the long run kept me out of more trouble. I knew more people. In general, I had many less annoyances down the road than my husband did.

The Scam Aspect
My donation policy meant that when I was scammed, I was able to enjoy the encounter, because I was cooperating within controlled limits. Naturally, getting scammed is only fun if you know in advance that's what's happening. I have been duped, and it stings. What follows was the worst, because it could have been true, and wasn't. We dupes always say that, especially when we get emotionally involved.

We Thought We Were Seasoned, but--La La La . . .
One weekend afternoon, my husband and I were having a Good Time Getting Stuff Done. A woman with five kids came down the street in some distress. She'd been kicked out of her home and needed a lot of money (remember, my dollar threshold is way low). She looked like a good risk--and--we are the new dumbasses on the block. We don't have money, but she says she needs to feed her kids. Everybody looks clean and decently dressed, all the kids have big unhappy eyes, and they're restless but not loud.

Okay, food I can do. Everybody trooped upstairs and I made soup and sandwiches.

But the kids weren't hungry. The story didn't hold up much. She and her kids eventually abandoned kitchen. And I grieved that Depression-era charity, the kind that begins at home, was gone--perhaps it was overrated--

In this case, I broke the access rule. We were stupid, and that's on us to learn. We were also lucky, with five potential lifters and one potential armed robber upstairs--lalala, come right on up--and all we lost was uneaten groceries. And, no big electronics in the house, so if she was casing the joint, it looked like a no-win for her later, too.

So nothing bad came of it. We learned what seemed a hard lesson that could have been so much harder.

I'm Salty Now . . . .
After the first twenty or so times, I no longer paid people's lost  bus fare. It is the least imaginative scam. I am far too seasoned a scam-ee to go for that one any longer.

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