The Hobo Code

Bargain Hunting

My first mistake was allowing convenience, cost and proximity to convince me to shop at Marlborough Mall. I needed a keyboard and leather case for my iPad 2, which is to say I needed it as much as one needs a surround sound system in their living room – not at all. I could have gone to an Apple Store, yes. But what purpose do ghetto malls serve other than selling its wares cheaper than the modern and trendy; the Chinooks and Market malls of the world? So, I endured the calamitous crash of a hundred colliding strollers, uncountable foreign accents (delivered with the aggressive gusto of a Bond villain), the piercing shrieks of wild children and the first and only Calgary Flames wife beater ever worn in polite society. And I did it all for nothing. No discount. Nothing. I paid the same as I would have had I avoided that place entirely.

Who was Frere Jacques and what did he steal?

I suppose I am being unfair. Marlborough has other uses beyond the prospect of cheap goods and services. In its defense, there is no better place to measure how low the fringes of society have fallen  – excepting a blood-soaked Saturday at Jimmy Dean’s.  Since I’ve transformed myself from an unemployed douchebag into an unhappily employed douchebag, I’ve started to wonder if transience, teenage boredom and petty crime is as timeless as the insipid songs we sing as kids. How long have humans been singing about that lazy fool Frere Jacques anyway? At least 200 years? We keep passing those down.

Do rail-thin youths with a pubic dusting of facial hair still hang out at the train station with sullen expressions and rusty switchblades in their pockets? You better believe they do!

Do the women, who have applied their makeup with a paintbrush, bring all six of their kids to the mall – how a mother of six can afford to shop more than me is anyone’s guess – to scale displays, play tag in the Best Buy and eat gummi bears from the WalMart shelves? They sure do, partner!

Even more exciting, it appears as though they are revolutionizing the panhandling game here in the ghetto. I, unsurprisingly, am the loser.

The cheap "services" you can buy at Marlborough Mall

Slumming It Just Got A Whole Lot Easier

I’m what you would call “beg-bait”. Have you ever seen the pandemonium that erupts when a hot girl passes a construction site? That happens to me when I walk by skid row. No matter the crowd size I’m surrounded by, they seek me out and – this is my favorite part – get petulant and a little upset when I don’t give them anything. I guess I look like I have enough money to spare a few coins but not enough to make it worth robbing at knifepoint.

In all my years as beg-bait, I have never seen what I did at Marlborough. Beggars have stopped asking for money. Let me clarify. They still want your money, of course, but they no longer deign to ask you for it with words, breath and tongue. Instead, they slip you a piece of paper that says something like “I’m poor and unemployed. Give me money so I can feed my kids.” This happened to me twice before I escaped the mall with the wrong keyboard. Twice!

We are indeed marching to the apocalypse when people audaciously force me to burn calories reading chicken scratch on a paper scrap so I can give them my money. I used to rue the death of the working beggar. As a child, there was something engaging and terrifying about them. The juggler, the guitar player, the man who sings Coldplay tunes to unsuspecting victims who pass.  Don’t make me reflect longingly on the salad days when beggars actually respected me enough to talk.

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