When I circled the base of the lamp post telling this to Richard, I could see some garbage, a few pieces of metal, a bolt and nut, an apple, an flattened beer can and some rice cakes. I explained to him that there are a group of street beggars that come here just as the university staff are leaving for home. They have signs that say “need money, spare change, God bless” and the men walk up and down the lines of the cars, able to intuit just when the line will change for that set of cars and to set themselves up going the other direction next. I told Richard that in my reading, the pan handlers have certain territories and fend off newcomers who want to move in. I also wondered how it is that they could always find a piece of cardboard and have a felt pen in their pocket.
Richard told me that the signs are used over and over again, and are just the right size to fold up, slip in their pockets, and then in a position to whip out again when needed. I told him that my colleagues at the university used to worry about the men they would see there, and would either save fruit from their own lunches are sandwiches and offer those instead. Then the light changed for us, that early morning, and we walked on, adding a different subject of conversation.
I walked alone the next morning and when I came to that spot, I cleaned it up, shoving the garbage into a plastic bag I found there, and cleaning the site up. So I was surprised to find it dirty this morning. “Look, 2 blackened bananas, a sandwich still in a plastic bag, some rice cakes and an empty juice bottle.”
“Yes, and look here at the electrical box that holds the buttons to activate the walk sign. There are pennies sitting on the top of this one. I guess they kept the silver change but don’t have use for the pennies.”
“I do, I said, sweeping them off the box and into my hand. “But they are right. Sometimes merchants won’t take the pennies anymore. I will. There is nothing that will brighten my day more finding five or 10 cents,” I said, slipping the change into my pocket and gathering up the food that hadn’t been useful to the beggars.
We slipped the food and plastic trash into the first recycling bin that we passed.
I love my neighbourhood.