Having grown up in the burbs, my homeless experiences were fairly limited until I went to college. My first encounter didn't go so well. A guy outside the 7-11 told me he was trying to get together $.50 for a hot dog. I was smart enough not to give him the money, but I thought I would go buy him the hot dog. Needless to say he kept asking people for $.50 for a hot dog. Something tells me he wasn't really trying to get a hot dog. Later we learned he was a fixture of that particular 7-11 and on any given day he was begging for change to actually pay one bill or another. So people would ask him, "so what are you working on today?" and he would reply, "cable". And such is life. This guy was fairly uninteresting in comparison.
"Will Work for Food" Lady
I haven't seen her in a long time but in the mid to late nineties she stood every day near 30th Street Station. She was a thin, middle aged, white lady with ratty blonde-ish hair. She always looked overly dirty and disheveled and had a small cardboard sign that said "Homeless & Hungry, Will Work for Food". She didn't say anything, she just stood there with the most painful look on her face you have ever experienced and watched cars drive by her.
At the time I was in college and a friend of mine worked in some sort of bakery/restaurant and she would bring home all the left over bagels at the end of the day. As she was driving by the WW4F Lady she thought she would give her the bag of bagels. She stopped, rolled down the window and offered her the bag. At this point WW4F Lady responded with something like, "I don't want your f*ing bagels, I want money bitch".
I knew those new fancy sneakers she always wore were some kind of clue...
Look Left Bob
Or as some people knew him, "Lefty". He wandered the streets in West Philly, mostly Lancaster Avenue in the 30's. He was called Lefty because his neck was permanently cemented in a left looking position. Who knows why but he was always looking left. He was a generally happy guy, always smiling and never really a problem...unless you were walking behind him. Apparently Bob didn't buy new pants and he also didn't own any underwear. If you were unlucky enough to be walking behind him you got an up close and personal view of Bob's Boys swinging around in all their glory.
Scary Homeless Kids with Animals
At some point very dirty looking teenagers with dogs would show up around campus begging for money. This was clearly a new angle - appeal to the animal lovers. There were stories of these grungy kids beating people up and taking their money. There were also stories of their dogs being trained to attack people. Who knows how much of that is true but I tended to avoid the scary people with the Rottweiler - you never can tell how hungry that dog is...
The Angry White Bum
I love it when you have what I like to call "The Homeless Trifecta" and this guy had it. To meet the criteria you have to be Homeless, Crazy and..this is the important part...have some sort of shtick. Something that was uniquely yours that everyone could look forward to and expect. The name sort of says it all but it's important to note that he didn't start off angry, he just immediately escalated from zero to crazy in about .4 seconds.
Basically all his interactions went something like this...
Example 1: Me, standing on campus smoking a cigarette.
AWB: Hey Honey, can I get a cigarette?
Me: I'm sorry, I bummed this from someone else (this could be a true or untrue statement)
AWB: F-You bitch!
Example 2: Me, standing on the porch of a house drinking a beer.
AWB: Hey Honey, can I have some of that beer you're drinking?
Me: Umm, sorry, I'm drinking this beer.
AWB: F-You bitch!
This was his standard reaction to all people & all situations. This is why he also got the nickname "The F-You Bum". Anyway so years passed and post college some of my girlfriends and I went on an ill fated trip to NYC. 50 ft. from the Holland Tunnel we broke down and eventually ended up taking the train back to Philly. As we sat in the McDonalds lamenting our lame weekend I saw none other than The Angry White Bum approaching our table. These were not college friends which would explain why they were tremendously confused by the following exchange...
Example 3: AWB approaches table with a limp and a cane (new additions to his usual ensemble)
AWB: Hey ladies, can you spare some change so I can get something to eat.
Me: Hey, the cane is a nice touch. I seem to recall you didn't have that before.
AWB: F-You bitch!
You can imagine my friends were a little disturbed as the McDonald's personnel removed the AWB from the premises.
A few years after that I heard one of the fraternities on campus shot him with an air rifle, penetrating his chest and missing his heart by a few centimeters. The funny part of that whole story is that the fraternity got kicked off campus and the AWB is still around. Should have just given him a beer and a smoke, would have been easier...
People complain about the pan handlers in the city, I think they add a certain flavor. I mean where else can you see the same one legged guy begging for change in all seasons every single day of the year? Next time you run into the "I'm going to my HIV meeting" guy or the "I just got out of the hospital and my car got towed" guy, appreciate the creativity and determination it takes to deliver that same tired story over and over again.