Panhandlers: America's Vanishing Street Artists?

Commentator Andrei Codrescu gets corrected by a panhandler friend after Codrescu says in a public comment that "panhandlers are vanishing." This provides an opportunity for Codrescu to reflect on the art and meaning of asking for coins on the street.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Some great actors can be found right out on our city streets, and they are using their skills to stay alive.

Commentator Andrei Codrescu heard from one of them. A street person named Horst sent Andrei an e-mail about the world of panhandling.

ANDREI CODRESCU: I must say, Horst wrote, I currently have taken up temporary residence in New York City. And everyday, I go out and panhandle my ass off with at least six other people. This art is completely not dead, and it is actually getting harder.

I'm lucky if I finish with $30 by the end of the night. Thirty dollars is barely enough for my dog and I. I am now going to spange you through this e-mail. Please, if you have friends in New York City, talk them into being more wholehearted if they aren't already, and help with this dwindling financial problems that us nomadic panhandlers face each day.

I've taken the liberty of quoting Horst at some length, not just because he's an articulate spokesperson - for what I was sure was a lost art - but for his skillful use of the neologism, spange. A word that I never heard before and that could be worth - if this was a fair world - at least 100 grand. There are people, for instance, who are making 100 grand a year dreaming up names for nauseating new drinks.

Horst could jump right into the booze war and name a vodka drink spange. In fact, I'm willing to bet that anyone who can use the language in the Internet as admirably as Horst is not panhandling for money but for art. Sure, he's begging for a living. But he's doing people a favor by tossing neologisms their way. It is possible that some of Horst's beneficiaries walk right into their glass penthouses with a word like spange between their frappucino-glistening lips and make 100 grand by just dropping it.

Would Horst's dog drink a vodka drink called spange? Only test marketing can tell. I use to think that beggars served an ecological and spiritual function, that they were a monastic order that drained off societies excess. Now, I'm beginning to suspect that they are a lot more than that, an actual resource that creates opportunities and feeds a new urban class consisting of advertisers and copywriters.

In the spirit of spange, I join my voice to that of Horst to urge you to cough up the cash before your slick jobs evaporate.

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