Does This Pan Come With a Handle?

Stephen King wrote a short story in 1997 called “Blind Willie” about a guy who lives in a big ol’ house in the suburbs who has a lovely wife and has the neighbors over for dinner and the whole shebang.  Then we find out this guy panhandles for a living.

We’ve all heard this story about how there are people panhandling who are making enough money to put kids through college or some such.

I’ve decided that’s an urban legend.  Here’s why.

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the same story.  In 1891.  “The Man With the Twisted Lip” tells the story of a newspaper reporter who spent a week panhandling to write a column.  He earned more panhandling that week than he did writing so a month or so later when he needed a little extra cash he headed out again.  Until eventually he quit writing and took up begging full time.  So that by the end which is really the beginning of the story he has a big ‘ol house in the suburbs and a wife.  And there’s no mention of having folks over for dinner but I think it comes with the lifestyle.  Naturally Sherlock Holmes figured it all out.

But it just makes me wonder if there’s any truth to it.  Do you think people really can make a good, I mean a good living at it.  I’m not sure.

Oh and, please send money.

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 02:20:28

    It seems feasible to me. Of course it would depend on where you’re doing your begging, etc. Hmmm, maybe you wouldn’t make enough to be rich, but enough to live on? Definitely. MY question is, why would you do it? It seems like it would require at least as much time and energy as a regular job, and come with lots more humiliation and rejection.

  2. Annette
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 08:33:04

    I’m with you–probably urban legend material.

    For one thing, the guy would have to panhandle in another city, because if he’s got a big house and a family, he’d likely be recognized in his own town, right?

    Fun concept, but unlikely, I think.

  3. Annette
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 08:33:34

    (Oh, yeah. And I love the new look!)

  4. chronicler
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 09:00:13

    I think there is some substance to it. However, I think you have to be in a great location. I do one family that makes all the money the need to live by recycling. It is not an easy life, but there are no taxes to be paid!

    Stephen King, hmmmm. I’m not sure he’s written all his own stories. Ghost writing , or similar writing like the story you’ve illustrated is my guess.

  5. Natalie
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 12:02:03

    I do know of one family (who BTW had their children taken away by child protective services) that used their children to panhandle and made enough money at it that they slept in a nice hotel every night and ate out at restaurants 3 meals a day. The grandparents stepped in & fought for custody of the kids and won. The parents argued in court that they were providing the kids with a good quality of life (i.e. they were technically homeless but they were sleeping in nice hotels, etc.) Wierd. We have a two income family and we can’t afford to go to hotels and restaurants EVERY day.

  6. angela michelle
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 14:22:46

    I think it’s an urban legend people love because it justifies them in not being generous. My husband works in downtown SLC and he basically rides in to work in the morning with the panhandlers and they all get off the bus at the same place. So he can’t carry cash at all because he’d give it all away.

  7. Alison @ hairlinefracture
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 15:12:27

    My husband’s business partner has an uncle who (the partner says) did exactly this. He had a house but wore ragged clothes and panhandled all day claiming to be a disabled Vietnam veteran (he wasn’t.) It’s possible his wife may have worked, but still! As for the being recognized, it would be possible to do this in a metropolitan area like we live in. You’d live in one area and ride the bus to another suburb and no one would know you there. I still don’t know if it’s really possible to make a living that way.

  8. bythelbs
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 16:33:35

    I’m skeptical that anyone could get rich off of panhandling, but I can see how it could be a nice little supplemental income. I’m with Lisa, though–why would anyone really want to?

    I used to worry about what panhandlers would do with the money I gave them and what their motivations were–like are they really poor or just pretending or are they just going to go blow my $5 on booze and drugs. But now if I feel prompted to give someone money, I don’t worry about what they do with it. I just figure chances are they need it more than me.

  9. Melanie J
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 18:15:04

    There was a guy I used to see every time I went to Target who sat in his electric wheel chair selling roasted peanuts. He couldn’t talk so this strangely mechanized voice played on a loop from a small PA mounted to his chair. He had three different sizes of bags in the milk crate attached behind him. You’d stick your money in a little box and then take the size you wanted. I always kind of liked that guy and bought peanuts from time to time. He quit showing up for a while and I wondered why. So did a reporter from the local paper who tracked the guy down and found out his story. He was almost totally disabled (I forget why) but he was determined not to be dependent on his kids so he came up with his peanut idea. His adult children helped him rig the whole thing up and he claimed the turf at Target. He was able to live on his own, paying his mortgage and medical bills and everything, until Target asked him to leave. Then the uproar over the story caused Target to invite him back. And then I really liked that guy after that.

  10. marivic
    Aug 26, 2008 @ 23:36:03

    I have good timing. It seems like a great time to visit your blog. You have an interesting discussion going on. I like this thought-provoking topic.
    It’s probably possible to make a more than decent living begging, but why do it? It’s probably just as physically demanding and you are unneccesarily exposed to the hazards out there like psychos who hate panhandlers. Plus no medical benefits, 401K, etc. People who do it must rake it in to make up for that.
    I gave pandhandlers money when I have cash with me. I taught a class in relief society (church) once about charity, and Brigham Young (church leader) was quoted saying something to the effect that our duty is to help not to judge. If they misuse the money (for booze) then that’s their accountability. Our accountability is whether or not we helped our neighbor without judging.

  11. Dollie
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 08:54:43

    hey your website is nice I found a publisher friend but she only self publishes sorry I will keep pluggin for you though. Hey thanks for understand I think micah should get fixed so when we think we are ready it’s too late we have already made the decision =)

  12. sallygirl
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 11:50:05

    Dude, you should work for Snopes. They could use a criminal mastermind researcher like you!!! Plus, you could get lots of material to write about.

  13. A Free Man
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 17:42:01

    I’m pretty sure that the whole ‘beggars make more money than people with proper jobs’ thing is urban legend. Though, if you’ve got a skill – juggling, playing and singing, human statue – I bet you can get up near a Wal-Mart salary. But that’s not a living!

  14. zstitches
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 21:42:36

    I was a missionary in a town in Belgium called Namur, which is a bedroom community of Brussels, and we met an expatriate American beggar who said he was a Vietnam vet — I think he might have said he’d gone AWOL — and he told us that he lived in an apartment in Brussels but commuted to Namur to beg, and had other friends who did the same; he said that people were more relaxed and in a more generous mood when they came to Namur. We also observed gypsies who would change their story to suit the times — at one point they were pretending to be Russian immigrants who spoke no French, but if you kept watching, after people walked past, they’d switch back to French. Anyway, I didn’t get the impression that our expat friend was making it rich, but he seemed to have a stable income and was able to pay his rent.

  15. zstitches
    Aug 27, 2008 @ 21:44:19

    Oh, and my other (favorite) story about that same guy is that when we told him we were LDS a/k/a Mormon, he thought about it for a minute and said — “Mormons . . . Postum!”

  16. s'mee
    Aug 28, 2008 @ 20:04:01

    Coming way late to the party but here’s my 2 cents:

    1st to Chronicler: Steven King/Ghost Writer…heheh

    2nd. Thor worked in LA for some time. He loved it there because they had HUGE overtime by working on the weekends. One of his fellow workers denied all weekend OT, which got Thor wondering “why when the money was so good?” The answer: “That’s when I work the freeway ramp.” Turns out this guy and his wife put three kids through college on tax free begging money by working two different freeway off ramps selling oranges and/or washing windows. TRUE

    3rd. Deaf People and their cards at Costco and elsewhere begging for money. First off, if they are very hard of hearing or deaf, they qualify for SSI and can make a tidy sum on that. Second, chances are the person who is begging for money by handing you a card saying they are deaf is really a hearing person ACTING deaf. Most deaf are proud of their oral skills. I usually try to sign to the person, if they understand and sign back I tell them where they can go for help without begging. ugh. If they don’t understand I threaten to turn them into the police for illegal pandering. Thor doesn’t sign, but he has faked it and caught a few hearing folks as well.

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