Sunday, April 06, 2008

Helping on the Cheap

Thursday, I was in Harvard Square and took in the (lack of) interaction with the Spare Change News vendor. I buy these papers all the time and am astonished at how few people seem to do so.

I sat on a wall watching the clean, well-dressed Harvard types fairly leap sideways or hurry while they watched their shoes to avoid the vendor. He was a clean, not so well-dressed, homeless fellow.

Just in case you are unaware, the paper costs registered vendors a quarter each. They sell them for a dollar each (some of us give more), and get to keep the (ta da) change.

The publishing organization notes that there are 130 registered vendors, with up to 60 at a time selling issues to help support themselves. So, this is what so many here say street people should do — try to earn and don't beg.

The vendors are definitely not the dirty smellies so despised by the swells and nobs. I contend instead that there is no shame in any honest labor. This certainly is more honorable than how many college students ply their academic waters.

Spare Change News has a website. However, every biweekly hard-copy issue has from so-so to pretty damned good poetry, as well as news you sure won't find in the local dailies. Since it incorporated the WHATS UP insert and added color, I'm still adjusting to the look from the grittier older version.

If you are a checkbook liberal, you can donate directly to the Homelessness Empowerment Project. Then you can also buy Spare Change News to help the individual vendors or tuck your head and scurry by, like the church pledgers who don't also throw some bucks in the collection plate.

Back in the square, you would have thought the vendor was holding a severed infant's head the way passersby passed by. They avoided his gaze and seemed terrified to have any interaction with him. Perhaps they might have benefited by seeing my exchange of money for paper, mutual thanks and smiles. There, that didn't hurt me at all. Maybe they don't know that respect is free.

I do recall the limits of such street exchanges from my own youth, exchanges of the charitable sort. Right after college, I moved to Manhattan's Lower East Side, close to the main men's shelter. As most in the neighborhood, I became hardened, at least until I found my doppelganger. Those guys tended to be both dirty and smelly. They were between bottles of cheap alcohol and not aiming to support themselves, even literally.

Of course, it wouldn't harm the 20-year-old student in her Burberry top coat to buy a paper and have a brief contact with the vendor. My own prejudice flashed when I saw her hop sideways to avoid him. I thought of the privileged classist types who speak to waitrons, gas station attendants and other service people with churlish disdain. If that's what they have learned at home, it's no surprise they take it to college. It is distressing though that they have closed their minds and hearts when they are so young.

For you more humane sorts, remember to look a Spare Change News vendor in the eye. Disgorge a buck or more. It doesn't hurt you. It helps the vendor. It earns you good reading too.

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laurel said...

Nicely said. I've only tried once to pay a little extra for a paper, and probably will never try again. The reason is that doing so is obvious charity. The paper seller I offered it too was adamant that he would only accept the price of the paper. The implication was that if I pressed more money on him I was either trying to catch him fundging the price, or I was throwing charity at him. In any case, he was offended, and I can understand why. It's great if anyone can find a face saving way to help others, but apparently I don't have the knack beyond just buying the paper. And btw, you're absolutely right - they cover stories not found elsewhere. It is a worthy read beyond its employment function.

massmarrier said...

Glad you enjoy it too. I thought it might be because I'm a news junkie.

As for extra, I have had vendors object and I buy several, and give the others away or drop them at a library foyer.