Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Off Season Post 30: Will Blog for Food

Hello, Readers and welcome to the latest Off Season.  For the next six weeks or so I’ll be scrambling for subject matter to fill the blank screen in front of me.  As exciting as that possibility is to me, it can also be a frustrating and daunting item on the Some Guy To Do List.  Truth be told, I find less inspiration at the bottom of Lone Star bottles of beer than I used to and my life has forced me to focus on a lot of new things lately.  Still, I enjoy this part of the year because it doesn’t involve me chaining myself to my television set for a couple hours at a time in order to force feed myself the likes of Ben Flanjik and what’s her name. 

As always, your suggestions, comments, and feedback are appreciated more than usual in the Off Season.  This is, after all, your blog too so feel free to communicate with its writer as often as you wish.  In the meantime, I’d like to point out that Spring has sprung here in Austin, Texas and because of all of the rainfall we got in January and February the wildflowers abundant this year.  Personally, bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes are my favorites, but there are literally dozens to look at simply by driving through town. 

Indian paintbrushes

March and April are my two favorite months in Austin.  It’s not uncommon to see families parked along the sides of the freeways just to the West of town taking their yearly pictures amongst the bluebonnets.  That’s the state flower, by the way.  It’s also the perfect time a year to take a drive West through the Texas Hill Country and look at the fields of flowers while hopping from winery to winery before stopping off for some bar-b-que.  But first, let’s get to this week’s post.  


As I made my usual walk down Congress Avenue during the lunch hour the other day my plan was to contemplate my next blog post while enjoying my lunch.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a linear train of thought while in my office.  Phone calls, people entering and leaving, documents to sign, Internet to surf; they all add up to one big fat distraction.  I’m kind of a big deal, you know.  I’m often amazed at how little I get done when I’m getting a lot done. 

As I walked toward the Capitol, I noticed the usual array of deadbeats, derelicts, and drop outs congregating around the bus stop looking to bum cigarettes and God knows what else from each other.  Even Austin has an underbelly and, as is the case in a lot of cities, that underbelly catches the bus several times an hour during the work week.  I always wonder where they’re going and why they’re going there.  It’s difficult to suspend judgment at times, but I think I do a fair job of that.  Still, I think it’s safe to assume that  the majority of the people waiting on that particular street corner aren’t simply taking a vacation day to go and enjoy the Spring weather. 

As I strolled past, my thoughts ceased wandering and began to focus on “the other half” and how different their lives are in spite of the fact that we cross paths several times a week near the corner of 6th and Congress.  Mid-ponder and about a block away I noticed a familiar homeless man standing in front of me, sign in hand, begging for a handout.  I watched as dozens of people sidestepped their way around him in order to spend their money in local restaurants and shops along the way.  I heard the sound of change hitting the bottom of the metal can he’d strategically placed on the ground near the corner as a couple of people emptied their front pockets into it. 

Incidentally, when did the terms “bum” and “hobo” migrate from innocuous, albeit unflattering, ways to describe that segment of the population in favor of the politically acceptable “homeless person?”  I always imagine Brando’s famous lines from On the Waterfront had that been the case when that movie came out.

“You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a homeless person, which is what I am, let's face it.” 

Doesn’t really have the same effect, does it?  Annnyyyhooo . . .

Rather than mull over the conservative vs. liberal “causes of homelessness” argument, I decided to turn my focus inside out and asked myself, “what can I learn from that guy” instead of cursing him after holding my breath as I walked past.  After all, there exists a silver lining in every situation.  Besides, I was about to sit and eat lunch by myself and I needed something to think about.  Here’s what I figured out. 

Consistency and persistence pay off

It struck me that I’ve seen the same homeless person on the same street corner asking every person who walks by for money nearly every day I’ve walked to lunch over the past several years.  He subtly yet unapologetically asks every person within ear shot if they can spare some change.  His requests are met with responses spanning from indifference to open hostility.  Regardless, he keeps showing up, keeps asking, and keeps delivering the same message.  Occasionally, someone drops a few coins in the can.   

Granted, that’s not Tony Robbins on the corner and I doubt you’ll see him in a $5,000 suit with a microphone attached to his earpiece lecturing a group of wanna be entrepreneurs at the local convention hall about staying motivated, but the message is the same and he’s not charging me $3,500 and pretending to be someone he’s not.  (I can’t stand Tony Robbins, but that’s for another post). 

He’s learned that a consistent presence combined with a clear, simple message delivered in a persistent manner over an extended period of time equals results.  A lot of us paid quite a bit of tuition to learn that lesson in college and, lo and behold, there it is just blocks from the UT Campus being demonstrated for free. 

Giving up is not an option for him and I doubt there’s much further he can sink.  Still, we would all do well to apply his example to the empty spaces in our lives.  I’d be willing to bet that most of us have given up under less difficult circumstances. 

Exploit the resources you have

If you and I had a tin can, a cardboard box, and a Sharpie there’s not a lot that we’d do with it.  Notwithstanding Donna and Some Girls from Austin’s requests for me to sign certain areas of their anatomy with the aforementioned Sharpie, the other two items are likely trash to me.  However, to our homeless brethren, these are the tools of the trade.  Putting the items we possess and the gifts we’ve been given to their fullest and best use will often allow us to take a step forward from where we started.

For him, a can and a box make a sign and a receptacle.  The point is that if we can inventory what we have at our disposal and make a plan to use those resources we’re all likely to be in a better place than when we started.  Think about how much time we spend watching television, for instance. 

If we view “time” as a resource instead of dead space, it becomes apparent that all of us waste a good deal of it watching over-privileged housewives of (insert large city name here) yell at each other about nothing at inane cocktail parties and charity events.  Hell, we all just spent a combined 25 hours each watching The Bachelor last season.  I’m not advocating a Spartan existence in all things, but you get the point.  Unlike our homeless friend, we aren’t forced to act.  That often leads to complacency.    

It occurred to me that the reverse is also true.  If the fruits of those resources are misused, we may end up in a much worse position.  Bernie Madoff’s misuse of the status and influence he was given is the white collar equivalent to our homeless person taking the change at the end of the day and heading to the local liquor barn in search of strawberry wine and cigarettes.  The lesson here is to use what you’ve been given judiciously and constructively and to use the rewards it brings just as constructively and judiciously.  I wonder what Tony Robbins would charge me for sharing that?  

Don’t worry about being judged

I noticed that the sneers and look-aways often given in response to his requests for change did nothing to change his approach.  Even HE can’t be immune from that kind of overt, repeated rejection, I thought when I walked past him.  He is human, after all, and at one time in his life he was probably just someone else’s son on the playground or a child standing in right field contemplating the clouds and the bees as the crowd yelled in vain for him to notice the ball rolling past him while runners circled the bases. 

Regardless of what road he traveled to get to begging for change on the corner of 7th Street and Congress Avenue, he wasn’t born to be there.  Indeed, we are all probably much closer to that fate than we’d be comfortable admitting.  I noticed that he did not fear being judged, nor did he revel in it.  He simply WAS.  His focus was on the small percentage of people he could convince in that brief interaction to reach in their pockets for the change that would likely end up in a wine jug in the wet bar or in the console compartments of their cars collecting dust indefinitely. 

I suppose when it’s that change that buys the next meal, pays for a night at the local shelter, or even supports a bad habit, it’s much easier to ignore that judgment.   However, I think there’s a bigger point to be made.  So often we allow the unsolicited judgment of those around us to dictate how we act and, much worse, major life decisions.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the suburbs where the Keeping Up with the Joneses mentality substitutes for the Golden Rule. 

By virtue of his misfortune (intentional or accidental) our homeless person has learned a lesson that many of us may never appreciate:  His choices are his own to make and only he can define their worth.  Ultimately, it’s up to us as individuals to decide what direction we want to head.  Advice is helpful, but acting out of fear of being judged often leads to a large gap between what we know we need and what we ultimately settle for.  When failure means we won’t eat for a full day, that distinction becomes glaringly apparent.  It’s when we can’t put a price on that failure that the problems arise.        

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

“I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers,” proclaimed Blanche DuBois right before she was taken away to the looney bin in A Streetcar Named Desire.  As with every Tennessee Williams play, there’s no happy ending but I was reminded of Blanche when I saw our homeless person on the corner.  I think the struggle those of us with jobs, a home, an income, and taxes to pay have with handing that money to someone on the corner is that the person asking for it, no matter how haggard or downtrodden, seemingly does not deserve something for nothing.  Fair or unfair, I think that’s what prevents most of us (including me) from simply pulling out a dollar, handing it to him, and wishing him well. 


The fact remains that he is a human being simply asking for help and I, frankly, often struggle with the reconciliation of what I believe in my head and what I feel in my heart.  I refuse to give away half a handful of change that will ultimately make no difference in my daily existence, yet a few times a year, I load up my “junk” and donate it to Goodwill so they can sort it and sell it to people less needy than the guy on the corner---for a profit nonetheless.  Most of us are fearful of asking for help in our own lives and I think it shocks us that someone, arguably at least partially responsible for his own dilemma, has the audacity to ask for it literally thousands of times a day.  Setting that internal struggle aside and giving simply for the sake of giving is, I think, the nature of true charity.     

Chesterton took a much more robust stab at this point than I could ever take.  He wrote, “Charity is the power of defending that which we know to be indefensible. [C]harity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them. For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.”

By realizing that we all have people in our lives who will unconditionally offer help, we may also realize that there is no shame in asking for it.  Just a thought.  The same reasoning applies when we’re asked for help.  “No one has ever become poor by giving” said Anne Frank.  If she could come to that realization then perhaps the guy on the corner does, in fact, deserve the benefit of the doubt.   

Well, there it is.  This Off Season is officially up and running.  I’ll try and lighten things up a bit next week and throw in that filthy sense of humor you all seem to revert to requesting when things get a bit heavy here in Some Guy’s cyberspace.  Have a wonderful week.  In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be thanking my lucky stars.  DP



  1. The "deep" DP is always refreshing. Thank you. I drive by a lot of homeless people on my way to work and I've decided that several of them should be in marketing (I am, so I can say this). Their signs speak volumes of how they sell their stories, and their personality. My favorite is "Saving for a hooker." Perhaps I'll get up the courage to ask him for a picture, and give him a few bucks. But, at least he's being honest about what he wants or needs the money for. Or, maybe not. Maybe it was to just make someone laugh and take notice. Either way, I find the signs to be quite telling.
    Thanks for fighting the good fight -- keep up the excellent work!

  2. I just took a theology class this past semester and one of the topics of the class was homelessness. We hit on a lot of the ideas that you mentioned, so I found this post very compelling.

    I also love this part of the quote from Chesterton: "Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful." I couldn't agree more.

    Love reading your posts, especially the deep ones! I can tell it's going to be another great off-season :)

  3. I'm glad at least two of you have tuned in this week. Thanks for sticking around. DP

  4. Wow, talk about something to think about!
    Thanks, Kerry:)

  5. I often think of Christ when I pass by a homeless person. Sometimes I give change, sometimes I don't, but what if it were Christ that I just walked by and I didn't notice Him? I think about sitting on Christ's lap in heaven and childishly saying "I never saw you" and Him saying "I took many forms, you didn't see me". Look into the eyes of a homeless person, make eye contact next time, and see.... Matthew 25:40

  6. I love your ability to share your thoughts so eloquently on something I encounter everyday in my city. Thanks for giving me something to think about and discuss with my family. (I have my 20 something son reading your posts now)
    Jeanne from Toronto

  7. You hooked me - the Hill Country, Indian Paintbrush, Bluebonnets and a valuable lesson on humanity. I will pass this on to my English class of juniors. They are judgmental, negative and very self-righteous. Maybe there is hope for them after all....
    BTW you remind me of one of my favorite AP students years ago! oooops, just dated myself

    1. I'm glad to see that you are adding pictures now. I enjoyed the Blanche photo. However, you need to be careful. That last picture at the end of your post of the street person glaring at you with the sunglasses looks pretty unstable. I guess being broke and hungry can give anyone a look of hopelessness. I commend you is a hobby of mine and you did a great job of capturing a sense of despair and self hatred all in one simple frame.

      By the way, The Blog rocked this week. I'm glad this season is out of the way. I love reading The Bachelor posts, but your off season posts rule. Keep up the good work.


    2. I agree, MH. The homeless person in that last pic looked pretty annoyed that someone was taking his picture.

      ~Fancy Nancy

  8. I love the “off-season” and I love the pictures that you are incorporating! The last time I was in Fredericksburg, we went to a wildflower farm. It was beautiful; a wonderful place to visit.

    We don’t have an abundance of homelessness in my small town. It’s there just not as visible as it is in bigger cities. We mostly have people at the exit/entrance ramps to I20 looking for a ride and sometimes handouts. My philosophy is this: if I have it to spare and I don’t give it then I’m not the person I was raised to be. I hope that they spend the money on food/clothing/shelter but in the end it’s not up to me to judge them.

    I appreciate that you don't shy away from touchy subjects but are open and honest in sharing your thoughts with us.

    Denise in Alabama

  9. DP,

    Thanks for the off season posts. They are usually funny and witty. Today's post was different and enlightening. :)

    Thank you for this post, it really hit home for me.

  10. I find homeless people fascinating. I can't help but wonder at their story, their hopes and their dreams. No matter how far down the path of despair that we travel, it would be exceedingly rare to find someone who has NO hopes or dreams. I have been known to offer, "a dollar just because, or 5 to hear your story." There was once that the $5 turned into buying him lunch at a cafe down the street. His story was worth so much more in the long run. It's so easy to judge through the eyes of fear, but so freeing to open up and face it.

    I loved this post even more than the on season. Thanks, DP!

  11. It's refreshing to be reminded to simply BE. Life is much easier when I put my judgments of others and mostly myself, aside. It also reminds me of a story of a friend who purposely went "homeless" on a beach in CA. for a weekend. She was determined that she needed money and shelter to live. She took both of those away for a few days and learned that she did not. She even asked a homeless man to watch over her while she slept one night and he did. The entire night. I love people/stories that remind me of the good in others. Thanks for doing that this week. Also, I love your filthy sense of humor, but life as all about balance, right?

  12. DP, always loving the off-season! You have a true talent for writing and sharing in-depth prespectives on life. Thanks for being you and sharing with the rest of us. Kim in Nv

  13. I love your off season post so much and missed them. I think your better than Tony Robbins!!

    We have become a society of entitlement and the worst ones are not the poor, but the rich.... I have sadly witnessed the evil of money and what it does to people. As always you give us words that make us open our minds and consider the other side, as we do grow lazy, ie:complacent.....

    Thank you....

  14. I agree with you, Kim in NV. DP has always had a true talent for writing...even from a young age. I've even had the opportunity to benefit from his gifts. I remember once upon a time in college needing desperately to bring my grade up in an English course that I was taking. One important thing to known is that DP was enrolled at one of the more pretigious schools in our lovely state and I basically attended a college more known for its keg parties than its academics. Anyway, I had a term paper due at the end of the semester. If I could get an A on the paper it would raise my overall grade to a C. Considering I had not even been able to acheive a grade above B- on any test or paper so far that year, I figured that DP was my last and only hope. He was the one person that I knew that could produce an "A" paper quickly and with little effort. After all, DP was an English major and a straight A student. Producing a term paper that would merrit and "A" at my school would be a walk in the park for my good buddy.

    To make a long story short...I called him and asked for his help. He agreed and sometime the next day he instructed me to drive to Kinkos and pick up my term paper off their fax. I can still remember what he told me next....And I quote:

    "I tried to dummy it up the best I could, so your professor would actually beleive that it was your own work. By the way, this one was free. The next time you're paying for it."

    Back then there was no email, so I had to get in my car and drive to Kinkos. Faxes were printed on some type of thin paper on a roll that resembled tracing paper. As I sat there for 20 minutes waiting for my paper to print in it's entirety, what I thought was the last page finally fell off the fax. As I started to proceed to the front of the store to pay for my copies, one of the employees called my name and informed me that one additional page had printed. I assured him that it was not mine. He responded by insisting that it was part of the same fax from the same source. I walked over and to my surprise he handed me on last page of a middle finger sketched out with a quote at the bottom that read...

    "F&*K Y0@. You'll still have to type it. Next time write you own term paper!"

    Embarrassed, I took the final page from the kinkos employee and headed back toward the front of the store. Once I reached the front, I quickly paid for my fax and exited the store.

    There were always benefits to being friends with someone that I always thought of as gifted. However, there was always a price to pay for that friendship!



  15. By the way, for those of you who care.....the paper received an A+ and MH squeaked out with a C for the course.


  16. MH, hilarious. If I recall correctly you had to pay an extra $1.25 for that little salutation. I'm glad I could help. DP

  17. LOL. You are correct. Kinkos charged by the page. Like I said, there was always a price to pay. Was our friendship worth the price? Yes. But, still....there was a price.


  18. DP, You are very wise & smart which is why when you write the bachelor/bachelorette blog we love it so much. Comedians are the smarter of all actors. They have to be to see the "funny" in the situation and then tell the story so the rest of use think it is funny. Love your posts, or all kinds. LASS

  19. DP, that was interesting. I've been fascinated with the "homeless" on the street corners almost my entire life. It started when I was in elementary school when there was a man that would stand on the same corner with a homeless sign every day in our small town and you could follow him home to his house a few blocks over from me. There is something in me that just doesn't believe people with the signs are truly homeless and it ticks me off. I see too many meth heads at 1960 and 45 that are gnawing their jaws off...and they are holding signs that say "Hungry." Also, I used to ride the metro when I was in school in the Med Center and overheard a man bragging about making 300 dollars in one day after sitting in a wheel chair he had found. It's people like him that ruin it for people like me.

  20. Brilliant post! We all need to take a moment and count our blessings, don't we? Great food for thought! Thanks for sharing your insight.

  21. Indeed we do. Thanks for commenting. New post up soon! DP

  22. I tend to agree with hartamber. One thing to remember about the homeless here in Austin is that they have much more in the way of shelter and assitance available to them compared to other cities. Most of the people that beg on the streets of Austin are homeless because of addiction or because they choose to be. Austin provides many shelters that will not only provide a place to sleep and shower, but also provide food as well. The only requirement for breakfast and dinner is that you are in for the night by a certain time, remain sober and are respectful of other overnight guests. I got this infomation first hand from people at shelters that I used to employ. Austin does its best to give people starting over an opportunity to work or find work during the day without having to worry about where they will sleep that night or where their next meal might come from. I used to pick up a few people every Saturday morning from a shelter called the ARCH and listen to stories about how most homeless people refuse a cot and 2 hots with an overnight stay because they either can't sober up enough before the doors close at 7pm or they would rather spend the evening getting high or drunk and prefer to sleep during the day.

    It might be different in other cities, but a majority of the homeless in Austin are homeless because they choose to be. I realize that some homeless people out there are mentally ill or have other legit reasons as to why they live on the streets. But for the most part, I think that the bums and beggars are just THAT. My point of view: Too lazy to work? Too bad!


  23. Dennis, one of my all time favorites posts.. thank you for this one. :) Lily