New Orleans, LA–97 to 284… 381 people in total. Sat on Decatur St in the French Quarter and tried to spange [to ask for spare change, panhandle--ed] on all of these people–but not for money, or cigarettes nor booze. No, I was pleading for smiles, or grins or even a small smirk. I turned down every offer of money and cigarettes (though I did accept a bag of cookies from one man, for it was food. And a tall boy of PBR from a couple, as we had quite a long conversation about my thoughts on several scientific topics, including the most likely form of the universe, to cryogenics.
I spanged this way for a number of reasons; one, because a smile can be quite contagious. And I was hoping for a domino effect. But more importantly for the next two reasons, the second being that it’s a break from the usual selfish plea that barrage the average passerby on any given day. The plea wasn’t for me, but instead for them, to make their nights slightly better, and yes, if only slightly… but the main reason for this performance art/social study was to gauge just how detached we as a society, and as a species, have become towards the cries of those desperate and in need. It was meant to pierce that bubble of indifference, a calyx many have formed over their conscience throughout the years from a steady form of indoctrinated false elitism, in hopes of exposing the empathy that lies underneath and, more importantly, the ability to preform acts of charity and good will. I understand why people feel the need to turn a blind eye, though I can never condone such a reason.
In this country of extreme privilege, it’s difficult to see how one can be so self-absorbed with such petty first world problems, that they can’t even acknowledge others who are in far dire circumstances–to push that line of comfort to the point of breaking, just to be seen and heard, not as a beggar, but as a human being. And for them to understand that, they both are one in the same. With only a dollar in my pocket I turned down (for certain) 18 dollars (and another 43 cents that was thrown at me from what appeared to be a man who became quite irate after I turned down his first advance of the change… also, this excludes the uncertain amount from the offers of money from people who hadn’t pulled any out yet) and 23 cigarettes. I did so because it would have sullied the entire project, to look the way I look and to respond to these people with “No thank you, but please share the same consideration and kindness to any brothers and sisters in need of it, down the road.” And to see their expression change to slight confusion, and then an unspoken acceptance of such a drastic diversion of the usual routine, only better solidifies the message. And that is, it isn’t about what one needs, but what one can spare to make this world a better place. If only just a few fleeting seconds, to hear a voice that is usually lost to the wind.
On a side note, the dollar was given to me by a homebum, he saw me outside of a gas station salvaging some food from the trash. He told me not to do that, and before even laying eye on my face had offered and insisted on buying me a burger, a gesture I couldn’t turn down–not because I was starving, but because that must have taken a lot, when one has so little. When buying the burger he handed me the dollar, to my usual “No, brother, I can’t,” to which he insisted further saying, “Take it, son, it will keep the gangs off you.” He gave me some pointers on stealing food from major supermarkets, and he went on his way, not expecting anything in return. And that’s what it’s really about–to have a sense of humanity. Hence why you can see how I can’t understand how someone can’t stop for a few seconds just to acknowledge someone else. And for all of those who think they can’t, the bullshit you’re rushing off to isn’t that fucking important, hate to break it to you…
-William Gunner Estrella-