I tried a new job here in Aspen. I was a panhandler.
I made a cardboard sign saying “SURVIVED CANCER BUT LOST MY JOB,” which happens to be true (albeit a little misleading) and put on an old pair of jeans and a work shirt.
Then I moseyed over to the police station. The police had no money for me, but did have advice. They advised me that panhandling in Aspen violates a city ordinance, and warned in that uber-polite Aspen police fashion that if anyone complains an officer will ask me to move on.
Sensing an opportunity for martyrdom, or at least victimhood, I asked, “Will you cuff me and throw me in jail?” That drew a smile. But still no money.
I started my new beat right in front of that icon of downtown Aspen, the Hotel Jerome. I figured that if I could provoke anyone into martyring me, it would be them. Sure enough, after a few minutes one of those bellhops in a cowboy costume came up to me.
“Excuse me, sir.”
“Ah ha, this is where they rough me up,” I silently hoped.
But no. Instead, he rolled alongside me a wheeled wardrobe loaded with luggage, and walked away. I thought about grabbing an Armani bag from the wardrobe in order to ensure my martyrdom, but decided that stealing would be cheating.
Later, another person appeared. This one wore a suit.
“Excuse me, sir, this is the unloading area for the hotel. Would it be possible for you to move just a few feet so that we can handle the luggage here?”
He asked so nicely, I had to comply.
After an hour, I’d received a bounty of politeness, but nothing that City Market would take in exchange for food. I concluded that people on that corner have no money to spare after they’ve spent a grand for a room and dinner at the Jerome.
So I walked over to the gondola. I figured that people buying tickets for a summer ride might have a few bucks to help a cancer survivor. I was wrong.
On the way back, I walked past the Wells Fargo Bank with its ATM machine. One might think that with all that money flying about, some would wind up in my hands. Wrong again.
A friend moseyed by. His head did a 180 as he gaped at me, and he accidentally walked into a lamppost. When I looked his direction, he pretended not to see me. Then he scurried away.
And so it went. I groused that rich residents of the town that uses taxpayer money to subsidize million dollar houses for insiders making up to $186,000 a year had donated to a tattered, bald, cancer-surviving panhandler a total of $0.00.
Zero. Zip. Nada. And no martyrdom either. The most I could claim was to be a victim of benign neglect.
What would it take to get help? If I were bleeding, would they help? If I clutched my chest and fell to the ground, would they help? If I wore stripes with plaids, would they help?
I gave up.
Then outside of Carl’s Pharmacy, a man handed me a bill. As I walked away, I saw it was a $100 bill. I turned around and handed it back to him.
“Sir, I can’t take this much.”
“No, keep it. I’m just sorry that you’re in this predicament.”
“Ah, geez. Thank you for your generosity.”
“You’re welcome. God bless you.”
Stunned, I walked the few blocks to St. Mary’s and asked, “Could I talk with the priest?”
Part of me wanted to give confession. But not being Catholic, I settled for just giving them the $100 bill with directions to use it for their homeless program. As I left, I heard from them those words again, “God bless you.”
I don’t know if giving money to panhandlers makes their problems better or worse – more on that in another column. But today, I’m just a reporter.
Today’s report is that, on a net basis, I wound up with no money. But I did come away with sound advice from the police, polite requests from a hotel trying to run a business, a startling act of generosity from a stranger and two divine blessings from people I’d never met.
Aspen has its problems. Even Aspen is not actually Paradise. But there just might be angels among us.