Doug Bruns

…walking across town.

In Dogs, Life on February 18, 2011 at 9:59 pm

We have panhandlers in Portland. A lot of panhandlers. I walk across town almost every day (to the Y–no longer the Young Men’s Christian Association. Now just theĀ  Y.) and am always accosted (though that seems such a strong word). I give. I have been fortunate and recognize it. Most of these guys (always guys) have not (been fortunate, that is) and maybe a buck or two from me will make them feel more so. I recall reading a biography of Samuel Johnson. He was admonished by a friend for giving money away to every drunk and indigent who approached him. He said something to the effect that he did not care what they spent the money on, that he was not in a a position to judge; that he only hoped if, for instance, they liked to drink, his donation would give them happiness in more drink. It is probably a naive consideration, but I find it a refreshing perspective. Regardless, why justify? If someone asks me for a bit of change because they’re in a hard way, I wish to help. “Seek and ye shall find.”

And, while on the subject of walking across town. Why is it that people with pooping dogs (and all god’s creatures gotta poop) think that because their dogs shit in/on the snow they don’t have to pick up behind the beast? What?, does snow, as it melts, make the shit disappear? No, to the contrary, it rises to the top. Our town is littered with ever so much and canine poop seems to be in a pole position.


Enough ranting. I have a new (short) essay up at The Nervous Breakdown: Like Burned Coffee.

  1. You have identified a thorny, moral issue for me. I also observe the panhandlers and want to deal with them in an appropriate way. I fear that handing out money will provide incentive to continue the behavior. Not a result I would want. I thought about buying a pack of cigarettes and offering one when asked for “spare change” or whatever. However, that seems to go against my general objection to cigarette smoking. I have a policy to at least look them in the eye, smile and say “hello” though I do not always adhere to my policy. That being said, after receiving your email, I gave a buck to the red-bearded man who frequently sits outside Starbucks on Exchange Street.

    Perplexed in Portland

  2. About six years ago I did combo photography and writing project in Baltimore. I spent a year photographing and interviewing men living on the street. The project was one of, if not the most, profound experiences of my life. I self-published the project in a little book called, The Gentlemen of Baltimore. Part of the project is on permanent display at the University of Maryland. In summary, it forced me to not only look at these guys, but talk to them, get to know them and earn their trust. When the book was finished I took copies into Baltimore and handed them out to the guys who were in the book. When I found Robert, one of the first men I’d worked with and one I’d gotten to know pretty well, I gave him a copy of the book, open to his piece, he sat on a bench and wept. “I didn’t think anybody would ever do anything like this for me.” I was pretty moving, obviously. So, I forever look at these guys different. There was not a one of them who didn’t accept responsibility for the condition of their life. I was so impressed with their poise and strength, despite all the demons and history they carried. So, that’s the behind my feelings on the subject. I sure enjoy our exchanges.

    • What an amazing experience and you were able to give a precious gift! I would love to see the book.

      Coincidentally, if there are such things as coincidences, as I was rummaging in my bag to find a buck for our red-bearded friend, a young man approached and asked if he could take my picture. My introverted self thanked him for the interest and declined. Then he went to “Red” and asked him for a picture. The request was granted. In retrospect I wish I had asked the young man why he wanted to take the picture. I missed an opportunity.

      While in the pool this a.m., I came up with a panhandling-management idea and implemented it at Trader Joe’s thereafter (on special sale, no less). I now carry a couple of chocolate-peanut butter granola bars with me and intend to share them with those who request funds. Healthier than my cigarette idea!

      I agree with Samuel Johnson about the alcohol issue. If I were down to my last dollars, I would also want to spend them on a drink. However, I will see how the granola bars are received (I made a point to get some that were on the sweet and gooey side).

      Thanks for stirring up interesting thoughts!

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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