"Thank you!" he said, slightly confused.
Having successfully extorted twenty dollars out of an unsuspecting tourist, I asked Billy if he had change. I took out my 20% fee, then handed Billy the cup, which was filled with his $16 cut of the take. "We always use fresh Starbucks cups for stemming," I instructed. "Never crumpled or dirty. Starbucks conveys success, and Americans love successful people. Like you, Billy." I patted him on the back. "Now go get 'em, homeless guy."
I was either coaching him, or talking on the phone. I can't remember.
It's hard fucking work, panhandling. Hundreds of successful Americans, some with their pocketbooks out, walking right by. Next time you see a hobo, try to throw him some spare change. Billy was invisible to these people.
I considered fitting Billy with a hemmed jacket, but he was already clean and presentable: no rank, no stank, and only a cowboy's whiskey-breath. In his casual jeans and sweatshirt, Billy was Everyhomeless. I thought his best strategy was to stay his own bad self.
So I changed up Billy's signage instead, trying to draw a little more attention from the cruel, uncharitable residents of Boston.
Playing the sympathy card.
Billy received no donations with this sign, even though he really did need a hernia operation.
I thought this would get some sympathy votes, but forgot about the large recovering Jewish population.
Irony always sells.
With this sign, it was only minutes before someone dropped a dollar into Billy's cup.
Yes, my friends, in less than half an hour, Billy had seen his fortunes reversed from $0.00 per hour to $2.00 per hour,3 which is an increase of two hundred percent! When extrapolated to a full work year4, this would total a net income of one million dollars.5
1. "Homelessness" (1997). Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics. London: Academic Press.
2. "Stemming" is street slang for "begging."
3. $2.00/hour rate assumes a $1.00 donation every half hour.
4. Homeless Marketing Consultants defines a "full work year" as constant stemming 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, at $2.00/hour rate.
5. Also, it would require a rich uncle that would provide you $982,480 of the $1,000,000.
"I have a slogan." I was on my knees in the grass, pitching Dave, who was still inside his sleeping bag at 4:00 pm. "Do you want to hear the secret to real homeless success, Dave? This is completely free advice, no obligation."
"Okay," said Dave.
"ABB. Do you know what that stands for?"
Dave stared at me.
"ABB. A: Always. B: Be. B: Begging. Always Be Begging. ALWAYS BE BEGGING."
My Treo 650 chirped, interrupting me. "Hang on," I said, touching on my Bluetooth headset. "Hello? Yes. Right. And have the Mercedes waxed, please. Okay. Yes. Thanks, super-hot wife." I touched off the magnificently expensive Treo LCD display and shook it for emphasis. "This is what Homeless Marketing Consultants can do for you, Dave. We can unlock your homeless potential. All you have to do is follow the simple ABB philosophy."
Dave stretched and yawned.
"Fuck, I'll do it," said a filthy man seated beside him in the grass.
"No, this offer is exclusively for Dave," I said. I like to be choosy with my clients, and the other guy looked like he had been sleeping in gravel every night for the last six years. Which, it turns out, he had.
"Fuck you then," suggested the other homeless guy.