I don’t know why, but I used to get all worked up whenever I saw crippled beggars on the streets. I felt embarrassed to the point of agitation. I felt resentful. I wished to hell they’d go away.
But really, when I think about it, crippled begging is like gay marriage. There’s no reason to feel threatened because it’s no skin off me.
I was probably worried about image— the image of cripples in general and, by association, me. I didn’t want the masses to see all cripples as beggars. But that’s stupid because if that’s the case, then there are countless other genres of cripples I should be equally worked up about. Like for instance, how about those crippled shot putters who heave steel balls from their wheelchairs in the cripple Olympics? I wouldn’t want the masses to think that everybody in a wheelchair can or even wants to heave a steel ball. I should feel more threatened by the false expectations potentially forced upon me by that image because no matter what weird twists my future may take, I’m far more likely to end up a crippled beggar than a crippled shot putter.
I’m still uneasy with the concept of crippled begging. I think that’s because it isn’t really commerce. There’s no exchange of goods. But even when there is, like when blind people sell pencils, I still don’t feel better about it. It’s not like a sighted person rounds the corner thinking “My kingdom for a pencil” and suddenly, as if a gift from the pencil Gods, there appears a blind beggar. Those are pity pencils. I suppose one could argue that crippled beggars are selling a service, the service of reminding the rest of us how lucky we are that we’re not crippled beggars. Humans seem to need that a whole lot more than we need pencils.
But I no longer resent crippled beggars for doing what they do because hell, they’re just moonlighting. They’re just trying to make a few extra bucks. Cripples who have jobs with 401ks and tenure don’t go out begging as a hobby. Crippled beggars live in the economic strata where when you take mental inventory of assets you might be able to quickly liquefy, you think about body parts. How much can I get for a kidney? A pint of blood? Hair? Bone marrow? Hell, if the tooth fairy was for real, I bet when times got especially rough, crippled beggars would yank out teeth using a pliers and a shot of whiskey as anesthetic. Just a few teeth at a time. They have to manage their assets strategically.
Cripples who are dirt poor have to be real creative. I knew a guy who supplemented his social security by making and selling sculptures of horse heads. They looked like giant knight chess pieces. He made them with a horse head mold, so he cranked them out fast. Peddling these sculptures probably got him by for a little while, until he ran out of aunts and uncles and cousins to sell them to.
So screw it. Crippled beggars are a part of the cripple spectrum and the collective cripple image. And it ain’t gonna change unless all the other cripples get together a hire some powerhouse New York image consultants to conduct a crippled beggar genocide.