I am a beggar magnet. There can be a thousand people walking in a crowd, and the panhandler will, 10 times out of 10, pick me.
Nor do they pick me once.
Yesterday I had the same panhandler hit me up three separate times. “This is the third time you’ve asked me for money,” I said.
“Really?” he answered, and I think he was surprised. My face is very nondescript; people don’t remember it exactly. I look like someone else.
How much of a beggar magnet am I? I was walking through the crowd and I saw a young man with a fuzzy beard on his chin. He didn’t look homeless but he looked odd; I don’t know why because he was normally dressed. We made the briefest of eye contact, I’m talking a half a second, and I kept going.
Four or five hours later I was coming back down Mariahilferstrasse, again in a thick pack, and I felt a tap on the shoulder. It was that guy. “Can I have some money?”
“Why me?” I asked. “Why did you pick me?”
He knew he had me. “Any money is okay.”
I emptied my pocket of change.
Earlier that morning I’d dropped some coins in the cup of a truly filthy and destitute beggar, but like a lot of beggars, he was clearly eating well. That evening I saw him again. He didn’t recognize me and stuck out his cup. “I already gave you money this morning,” I said.
“Oh, that’s right. Thank you.”
The beggars always talk to me in German, even the Nigerian ones. “You wanna buy my newspaper? Two euros.”
“Okay.” I gave him the money.
Farther on, another Nigerian beggar wanted me to buy the same newspaper. “I already bought it,” I said, pointing to the newspaper.
“But if you have two you can give one away.”
“I’m going to already give this one away.”
“Then you can give away two.”
I bought his newspaper.
On the other side of town, in front of the university, a Syrian refugee was soliciting for Amnesty International. “Please donate,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
“Are you Austrian?”
“Tourist?” he said doubtfully, and sadly.
“Then I can’t legally accept your donation.” We talked for a long time about Syria. He was 17 and had been in Vienna for six years. He spoke perfect German. “I understand why Austrians want us to integrate. We can’t come here and only stay in our Arab communities. We have to integrate.”
“We’ve been integrating in the US for 400 years,” I said.
Over at Wien Mitte a young man wanted me to donate to help a child with a rare type of cancer to get treatment not covered by national health insurance. I reached into my wallet.
“I can’t take cash or I will lose my soliciting license,” he said. “I can take a bank transfer or a credit card, though.”
He gave me a long form and I filled in my information. I couldn’t believe that I was giving my credit card information to stranger on the street. “Can you donate 200 euros?” he asked.
“27. I will donate 27.”
“Okay,” he said, and seemed satisfied. If it had been pocket change I would have given him two euros, but credit card money doesn’t hurt as much. I suppose he knew that. We talked for a long time about healthcare.
At the Museumsquartier I was standing up against a wall, minding my own business. A man dressed in a giant puffy suit that looked like a punching bag came up to me. “Punch me,” he said.
“I’m an art project. If you punch me you can get rid of your stress.”
“I don’t like to hit people, but I will recite a poem if you like.”
“Sure,” he said. It must have been a slow day for punching.
I recited the Miller’s Tale, which took almost an hour. He stood patiently. “That is amazing,” he said. “What is it?”
“A poem by Chaucer.”
“Who is that?”
“Oh. Why did you memorize it?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
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