There’s this one guy who panhandles on the L train (and sometimes the 6), and if you ride the L at all, there’s a pretty good chance you’d recognize him and his pitch. He’s a younger guy, usually with shaggy hair and scruffy proto-beard. Before you see him, you’ll hear his voice, a shrill, Northeastern U.S. working class drawl:
“EXCUSE ME, LADIES N’ GENTLEMEN. I DON’T MEAN TO BE A BOTHER. MY NAME IS MIKE, AN’ I’M GOING THROUGH A ROUGH TIME. I’M TRYNA FIND A JOB, AN’ I DON’T HAVE A PLACE TO LIVE. IT’S EMBARRASSING, ASKING ON THE SUBWAY, BUT I BEEN OUT ALL DAY, LOOKIN’ FOR WORK, AN’ I’M HUNGRY. IF YOU COULD SPARE A DOLLAR, A FEW CENTS, A PIECE OF FRUIT… I WOULD REALLY APPRECIATE IT.”
Then he’ll start walking slowly from one end of the train car to another, and this is where his spiel gets memorable. After a few steps, coming up dry so far, he’ll shout: “SEEEERIOUSLY?? NOBODY?? NOBODY’S GONNA HELP ME OUT?” He turns increasingly aggro as he makes his way down the train car. I should point out that I’ve been seeing Mike on the L train on and off since I first moved to Brooklyn three and a half years ago. He seems just as surprised by the response he typically gets now as he was then. “ANYONE?!… SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE?! NO ONE HAS ANYTHING THEY CAN GIVE ME?” This continues until the next stop, at which point he’ll step off the train and, presumably, try again at the next car down the line.
Yesterday evening I got on a Brooklyn-bound L train at Union Square, and once the train passed First Avenue and began descending under the East River, I heard a familiar voice. “EXCUSE ME, LADIES N’ GENTLEMEN. I DON’T MEAN TO BOTHER ANYONE.” It’s Mike, of course. “I’M HAVING A ROUGH TIME. I’M WORKIN’ TWO JOBS RIGHT NOW, AN’ I’M STAYIN’ AT MY FRIEND’S PLACE. I ONLY HAVE 23 CENTS ON ME, AND I HAVEN’T EATEN ALL DAY. I HAVE TO GO TO MY JOB AT CITY WINERY IN TWO HOURS. I’M THERE UNTIL 4:30 A.M., AND THEN I HAVE TO GO TO MY OTHER JOB. I’M HUNGRY, AND I’M JUST TRYIN’ TO GET SOMETHIN’ TO EAT BEFORE I GO TO WORK.” He started walking slowly down the length of the train car. “IF I JUST HAD 77 MORE CENTS, I COULD GET A DOLLAR SLICE OF PIZZA… MAYBE A ROLL WITH BUTTER ON IT. IF I HAD A DOLLAR AND 77 CENTS, I COULD GET LIKE TWO ONE-DOLLAR SLICES.” Pause. “SEEERIOUSLY, PEOPLE?! NOTHING?!” Pause. “NO ONE’S GONNA HELP ME GET SOMETHIN’ AT THE DELI? IF YOU WANNA BUY ME SOMETHIN’ TO EAT YOURSELF, I CAN COME WITH YOU.” Pause. “ANYBODY?! NOBODY WANTS TO HELP?!”
Hearing how Mike has updated his pitch, I started thinking… y’know… it’s been a really rough last five or so years, but I think we’re gonna be okay after all.
Although why Mike couldn’t just ask City Winery’s kitchen staff to make him a sandwich once he got to work, I have no idea. Aren’t the free meals half the point of working a food service job?