Entrepreneurial Spirit?

While in Seattle, my friends and I couldn’t help notice that the indigent population of Seattle has a sense of humor despite being homeless in a damp, gloomy, hilly city. As we walked around the Northwest Folklife Festival, one such person held up a sign that said something like, “Homeless. Hungry. Ugly. Please Help.” Another person had a sign held to his chest upon which was written “SEX!” in big black bold letters. Underneath it said something like, “Now that I have your attention, any help is appreciated”. People were not only donating, they were flocking around and taking pictures with the sign holders. Good work, I guess, if you can get it.

A little later, we encountered another, more aggressive, tactic than the benign humorous sign holding. As we settled on the grass for some lunch, a middle-aged woman came by and handed each of us one of these

It's a bookmark. About 6 inches long and 2 inches wide on gray cardstock. As you can see from the photo, it has photocopied ink drawings of sign language letters spelling out “I Love You”. The woman didn’t say anything, she just handed these to each of us and then hovered expectantly while we looked at them and each other in semi-confusion.

On the back of the bookmark, this is printed in black ink

It says:

“Hello! I am deaf, I drew and made the art work. I hope that you will accept my sale gratefully. This book mark costs any price you wish. Thank you and may you be blessed.”

I was sort of stunned and hurriedly fished out a dollar from my bag to hand to the woman in exchange for the bookmark she was “selling” me. Now, I suppose I could’ve handed the bookmark back and just smiled or politely declined, but I would’ve felt totally guilty doing that. It was like guerrilla pan-handling.

As soon as we all paid her, she moved on to the next unsuspecting group of tourists to “sell” more of her bookmarks. The more I thought about this incident, the more annoyed it made me. I mean really, who has the balls to hand strangers pieces of paper and expect them to “gratefully” pay you for them? I don’t care how unfortunate my circumstances, I wouldn’t have the nerve to pull something like that off.

Yes, it was only a dollar and no, I wasn’t forced to pay her, and yet it rankled me.

I’m over it, don’t worry.

You may not be able to tell from the photo, but the date on the drawing is 7/14/97. It makes me wonder if she’s been doing this for 11 years. And if she has, I wonder how much money she’s made? I mean, she can get at least 8 of those bookmarks printed on one 8.5 x 11 sheet of cardstock at Kinko’s for, what?, like a buck fifty maybe? She made four dollars just off of me and my friends in a matter of seconds and there were hundreds of people at the Festival. I’m no numbers geek, but that seems like a pretty sweet gig.

Seattle homeless…not your average panhandlers!


mom said...

Ha ! That tickles me. like you said, you wouldn't have the nerve to pull something like that off. maybe she deserves every dollar she gets just for having "the nerve".

Delirious said...

Hehehe reminds me when I first started college back in 1997 - in Beirut! I fell for the same trick :D

But it wasn't anything as romantic as "I Love You", the guy just thrust in my face a small business-like card stating that he is deaf and would I like to help him blablabla...

Think it was an emerging global movement or something? :)

cathryn said...

Del - ha! the global panhandling movement of 1997! :)