I was driving around and I came to a stop light. There, at the stop light, standing on the side of the road was a homeless man. A real regular Joe; this man had beat up shoes with mud all over them; tattered jeans that had obviously been slept in, he wore a corduroy button down shirt over his American flag t-shirt which had a hole in it and the most important aspect of his ensemble; the defining homeless man quirk that made this regular Joe truly homeless; a sign. A cardboard one at that; written on it in big letters, “ Homeless, Please Help, God Bless”.
The car in front of me rolled down its window and handed this Joe a couple bucks; Joe thanked them and shoved it into the pocket of his tattered jeans which I noticed had a bulge; I laughed to myself because I knew it was full of money.
I then recalled having watched this Dateline special on “street beggars” and how they went from intersection to intersection playing off of peoples pity; some especially clever regular Joes, in big cities, making up to 300 dollars a day. I thought how ripped off the lady in front of me would feel if she knew that this Joe pulled in 300 dollars a day, but at the same time I didn’t see anything wrong with it.
This Joe didn’t have the most honest job in the world, but wasn’t he just a business man like anybody else. Wasn’t Joe just selling a product. Imagine, if you will, all the people throughout the day that roll down their windows and give Joe money. Whether it be 1,2 or 5 bucks; or the occasional hot shot in a BMW that just got a promotion, who slides a 10 spot out of his money clip and smiles as Joe’s eyes pop out of his head with gratitude. The hot shot feels great about himself all day. He goes to work with a chip on his shoulder and carries it home with him that night. He shares the story of his charity with his wife and kids at the dinner table, who smile and nod with pride at their daddy’s great benevolence. The hot shot then lays in bed and thinks of his great gratitude, imagining Joe going out and buying a huge meal with his 10 dollars, the food then revitalizing him and at that moment Joe decides to turn his life around. Joe then goes out the next day, still full from last nights feast, and gets a job. He reunites with his long lost family, and so on and so on. And just like that the hot shot has saved Joe’s life. The hot shot then drifts to sleep still high on Joe’s unbelievable product; self – satisfaction.
Joe sells a product that is in high demand and unlimited in supply. The more money you “donate” the more satisfaction you get. Joe is now back at his apartment, out of his work uniform , and in his regular clothes, comfortably watching his T.V or sleeping in his comfortable bed. Joe makes 300 dollars a day, that is 1500 dollars a week, for the year Joe is taking home a mere 76 thousand tax free dollars.
Isn’t Joe’s simply enacting a clever form of marketing? Isn’t Joe’s manipulation of the decency of people, just like any large corporations manipulation of human need? What now, I ask, is keeping Joe, this phenomenal business man from the cover of Forbes Magazine, why isn’t Joe the Times Man of the Year? Joe’s monopoly of human generosity is downright brilliant, it’s downright entrepreneurial, it’s downright American.
Right before the light turned green I rolled down my window and held out a 5 spot, Joe scurried over like an appreciative puppy accepting a treat, a look he had no doubt perfected in the mirror a long time ago; he grabbed the money and with a grateful nod and said, “God bless you, sir”. What he meant was, “Ha, got another one”. I reciprocated the nod, and told Joe, “Good luck”. What I meant was, “Pleasure doing business with you.”