Jul 15, 2006

On theories of begging

What are the odds that wasn't a scam? I said to my friend.
30, he said.
30? 30 percent, yeah whada you think? I guess I could go either way, a coin toss.

It couldn't have gone either way. The signs were there, the slightly off ion in the voice. I knew, or didn’t but decided not too.

There are two theories of begging, of bumming.

In the one the beggar tells a story about something horrible, something worse than has ever happened to the listener and can be imagined sympathetically and guiltily. He tells it simply, but not directly, leaving the horror as a blank spot in the story that has to be filled in by the listener, has to be supplied by them. The horror is a blank and the only horror too horrible is a blank horror and so the listener fills it, stops it, and makes it all go away.

In the other one the beggar tells a story about something common, something that happens to beggar and listener alike and which is the former's now where it has been the later's before and they are separated by almost nothing, see and the sympathy is as a bond against stacked-up common hole-deep horror so common it doesn't need to be explained.

If one was a scam and the other wasn't, then this would be useful.

Anything can be a scam. Anything can be true. So what do you do? Standing there as he starts, starts with a phrase a way to catch your eye away from passing and so he can say? You guess. You jump without knowing why and you try, later you try to justify it and say things were this way.

I guessed wrong. I knew it was wrong and decided to guess that way anyway. Hey truck driver man, he said and I knew it was a scam. Just a bottle of transmission fluid. Just $2.70, he said like he knew exactly and I knew it was a scam.

I have a whole case of oil and I'd give it all for a little transmission fluid, he said. Just a whole world and I'd give it for my soul, I thought. He said it to offer me something, an exchange, a reward, a pay off for a down payment now or maybe he said it so I could be generous twice, giving again and my sympathy and guilt would wash doubly away.

But I wanted the oil, not the oil but the substance of things hoped for. I wanted the oil sloshing golden inside the white plastic-capped can where I always am surprised it’s not dirty black, where I wonder that it comes up from the earth looking like honey. I wanted to find the oil left in the back of my truck where he said he would leave it not because I needed the oil but because I'd risked right. I'd know trust was okay, that faith worked out.

So? What, I had five dollars and he asked for it and I thought without time to think there were these signs it was a scam and on the other hand he offered me a sign that a little faith, a little unreasonable trust in the goodness of humans and even the humans who were so whatevered-over that they were begging were still, some way, trying to be good. I made the bad guess, the wrong bet, the guaranteed loser we named ourselves.

I gave him five and asked for a sign. Nothing came. There was no sign of redeemability and still, I threw away a bill on hope in him and me and us and so on. Let it go, maybe that's enough.