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August 19, 2009 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Help, I'm trapped in a panhandler sign factory!
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:38 AM on August 19, 2009

Reminds me of a bit from Chris Rock:

If a homeless person
has a funny sign
he hasn't been homeless that long

A real homeless person
is too hungry
to be funny
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:44 AM on August 19, 2009 [9 favorites]

MetaFilter: VERBAL ABUSE -- $5
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:48 AM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

None of them are as funny as this, and most of them appear to be every bit as staged.
posted by dersins at 10:48 AM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think the "homeless jedi" guy is from Montreal. If it is the dude I am thinking of, the photograph was almost certainly followed one and a half seconds later by a torrent of verbal abuse on the photographer. Guy just about got into a fistfight with me in Sherbrooke métro station once because I had my camera in my hand when I walked by.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:55 AM on August 19, 2009

If a homeless person
has a funny sign
he hasn't been homeless that long

A real homeless person
is too hungry
to be funny

Maybe a blog about trampvert trends would do well? You know, kinda showing the newest and wittiest signs, tracking buzzwords and buzzphrases as they appear, showing regional or city differences (do all homeless people in NYC pretend to be sick? are Florida vagrants more traditional in their appeals?). We could also show them evolve from snappy newcomers to street living, down to seasoned empty-eyed vets of the sidewalk, and onwards to that still silence people mistake for sleeping for three days until they realize you're an ex-bum, gone that bench in the sky where the police never move you on.

You know, if you barge into a coffee shop smelling of shit and wearing clothes caked in sweat and dirt, the people actually give you a free empty cup if you leave. Now that's charity.
posted by Sova at 10:59 AM on August 19, 2009

I was getting the bus in LA from Union station out to Santa Monica, and about five minutes into the journey this old homeless guy got on. He was carrying one of those fold-up trolleys on which he had two bags. I was on that bus for about an hour and a half, and he was there for most of that. He pulled a laminated piece of paper out of his bag, and grabbed a black marker, and spent a lot of that time perfecting his sign - carefully going over bits that had been slightly worn or faded and perfecting the shape of various capital letters.

It read something like:
"If you can read this sign, you have good eyesight.
If you hire this man, you have good foresight.
Experienced gardener, handyman, will do any work"

I thought that was a pretty good sign.
posted by djgh at 11:06 AM on August 19, 2009 [4 favorites]

Sad, and kinda wrong, even here in less-densely-populated California, I saw a man at one of the more-trafficked offramps from Highway 101 who had a "TRY TO HIT ME WITH A QUARTER" sign. Otherwise, 70-80% of local panhandlers specify "VET" on their signs; of course, many of them may just be using keywords to get better response (panhandler SEO).
posted by wendell at 11:23 AM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

My favorite from my Washington DC days was a man with a bandage around his throat and a sign that said, "I am unable to say thank you for your contribution." When you gave him money, he said, "Thank you."
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:27 AM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I believe the gentleman with the "kick you in the face" sign:

-is from Cinci

-has no legs

-is really pretty scary and will actually chase you around and try to kick you :(((((
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:50 AM on August 19, 2009

I always give to women and those carrying clever signs. Certainly all of these would have separated me from at least a buck.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:52 AM on August 19, 2009

My favorite, and this is probably only funny to NYU students, is the guy who used to sit outside Tisch School of the Arts (generally considered the stingiest of all the schools in terms of how much they were willing to give out in scholarships), with a sign that said: "Need money for Tisch tuition."
posted by so much modern time at 11:55 AM on August 19, 2009

Gave money to a hippie chick playing classical violin the other day. She was really good.
posted by Xoebe at 12:04 PM on August 19, 2009

The United Negro Pizza Fund has been around since at least the early 90s (Manhattan, Upper West Side.) Back then there also used to be a guy who "held up" people with a banana.
posted by Violet Hour at 12:05 PM on August 19, 2009

Gave money to a hippie chick playing classical violin the other day.

Buskers and beggars are different, no?
posted by the cuban at 12:50 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

In my limited travelling experience, I find the funniest homeless to be in Austin, the "I wish we had proper social services in this country" homeless to be in NYC, and the most shameless probably has a rich dad homeless anarchists to be in Portland.

Then again, maybe the tiny puppies and kittens on a leash are just an indication of the abysmal lack of common sense that caused their original downfall.
posted by shownomercy at 1:01 PM on August 19, 2009

There is a ton of NSFW on that page, by the way.
posted by mkb at 1:18 PM on August 19, 2009

I'll second that, mkb. Holy Taco always does...please be advised, fellow MeFiers.
posted by oneironaut at 1:23 PM on August 19, 2009

LOL lack of social safety net ROFL.
posted by idiopath at 1:38 PM on August 19, 2009

Some of these are more sad than they are funny.
posted by ageispolis at 2:56 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

I saw several of the standard homeless people at Gen Con (in Indianapolis) who had altered their signs for the occasion, including one whose sign read: "Ran out of hit points and no paladin."

I gave one guy my spare change. Another guy had a sign asking for money specifically for food. I offered to buy him a full meal at the Steak 'n' Shake (all that was open at that point). He turned it down. This always kind of bugs me.
posted by Scattercat at 3:44 PM on August 19, 2009

Flying a sign is a living. It is a degrading, emotionally exhausting, last ditch way to pay the bills. You don't have to deal with a boss or the prospect of getting fired. You do have to deal with smartasses that offer to buy you a meal or throw trash at you or make insulting comments about you as they walk by. You can pull in about the same money in any given town flying a sign as you would working an entry level job, as a rule of thumb. But you have to look the part. You need to look like you need help but not be so scary that people are afraid to offer you help.

Most people will only give if they think their $5 is the difference between you eating or not that day. So you have to do some theatrics to live up to their expectations.

The fact is that some people have mental illnesses that prevent them from being able to hold a job, and those same mental illnesses also make it hard for them to get the support they could get in the best of cases. And really, in this country, there is only so much out there for them.

Luckily, you really need to go out of your way to starve in this country. Food is cheap, portions are large, and everything is full of extraneous calories. If you see people who are all skin and bones it is because of an illness (mental or physical) or a drug addiction rather than a simple lack of access to food. But a sign that says you need a meal is the best way to get someone to hand over cash. It just works.
posted by idiopath at 4:10 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some of these are more sad than they are funny.

Sort of like, hurry up and be jovial or die.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:31 PM on August 19, 2009

The New Yorker had a story maybe 10 years ago about a fairly rich guy (he had a chauffeur, and I seem to recall he was a judge) who would pull up to homeless people, squeegie guys, etc. and offer them cash to buy their signs. He figured this stuff would become collectable as folk art. It worked well for all: He had a nice collection, and the homeless were happy to sell their sign for for 25 bucks or so, since they could always make another one. But I imagine that moment has passed. In those days, the signs were for real. These are clearly manufactured for the purpose of getting a laugh, and perhaps even for the purpose of selling the sign.
posted by beagle at 5:49 PM on August 19, 2009

You do have to deal with smartasses that offer to buy you a meal

People who offer a meal to a homeless person are smartasses?
posted by JDC8 at 6:02 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

The sign mentions food because that brings maximum cashflow. They fly the sign because they want cash. Free food is pretty easy to find in the US, and really after three people buy you a meal in a day you don't need more meals. But there are plenty of reasons to need more cash.
posted by idiopath at 6:05 PM on August 19, 2009

Also, not to belabor the point, but not everyone flying a sign or spangeing is homeless, and not everyone homeless spanges or flies a sign. A significant number of the homeless actually hold sign flyers and spangers in contempt.
posted by idiopath at 6:17 PM on August 19, 2009

It may be geography but the most irritating thing about Austin's panhandlers' signs is that most of them have a "God Bless", a cross or some other equally obnoxious Christian insignia.....invoking the Christian card guarantees you won't get my dollar.
posted by lometogo at 10:07 PM on August 19, 2009

A lot of people's signs in Houston also have the "God Bless." I think it's a smart move, designed to shame the Christians who have "Christ died for our sins" bumper stickers and those metal fish attached to the back ends of their expensive vehicles into actually showing some compassion.
posted by Houstonian at 5:52 AM on August 20, 2009

invoking the Christian card guarantees you won't get my dollar.

Yeah, that'll show 'em. Good for you! Take that dollar and give yourself something nice for being above the cynics of the world.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:44 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would venture that, as opposed to trying to guilt the (allegedly) financially-better-off into parting with their money, some of the "God Bless"es written on signs are pointing out that said panhandler isn't going to be crazy-resentful if you don't throw change at him.

Unfortunately, in my experience that's never been the case. :P
posted by opossumnus at 5:46 PM on August 21, 2009

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