Money matters

There he stood, languishing at a busy intersection on a hot Friday afternoon. A beggar with a sign, asking for money at the semi-insane corner of McCarran and Northtowne. His sign read, “Out of money, out of gas. Please help.”

I pulled up to the crosswalk, the first in line to head east on McCarran when the light turned green. I saw him as I pulled up, and right off, I thought what everybody else thinks in that spot, “Nope.” The standard Scrooge-oid knee jerk. It’s probably the same in Finland and Namibia.

That chinchy reaction quickly passed, though, to be followed, as usual, by a spurt of conscience: “Gee, maybe I should give this guy a couple of bucks.” I checked my wallet: $87; four Andrews, an Abe and two Georges. Yes, it would be well within my power to bestow upon him the greenbacks of human kindness.

But then, another social flinch, “Hey, this guy may be a pro working a beggar scam.” Hmm, better check him out. He’s featuring the modern down-and-out look: ball cap, T-shirt, scruffy jeans. And he’s not looking too thrilled to be here, trying to wrench a little charity out of a steady stream of testy locals who just want to streak home without interaction with some loser.

So, what the hey? I decide to give him a couple of bucks. But hold on, there’s a logistical problem. I’m not in the far right lane, which is the one next to him. The far right lane is turning into Winco, and I’m in the next lane over, ready to go straight ahead. That means that if I wave the cash at this guy, he’ll have to make a risky move, jumping into a lane of traffic to score the dough. Well, gee, I sure don’t want to endanger the guy—and just like that, I’ve manufactured the excuse I’ve been feverishly seeking in order to stiff the poor slob.

While I broil in my scheming angst, the guy just looks on down the line of cars, seeking a friendly face that will give him a break. He has no clue as to the epic existentialist see-saw ride he’s triggered in the Idlewild Park of my mind.

My hand actually has $2 in it, but it doesn’t move. I could still offer, and he’d happily jump a lane to grab the money. But doggone it, I’ve got my rationalized exit scheme all worked out, and I’m clinging to it. If I were right next to him, in the far right lane, I have no doubt that I would give. But being one lane removed, I’ve now decided it’s way too much hassle. Sorry, buddy.

The light turns green. I lead the charge of the callous down McCarran. The beggar recedes, then vanishes. I had my chance to be a nice guy to a stranger in need. I opted instead to concoct a lame excuse and recoil.