These days must be hard times for panhandlers. I saw one outside the liquor store the other day, sitting in a wheelchair, both palms open and placed on the armrest, I'm guessing to avoid unpleasant cramps in the wrist and forearm.
He asks: "Spare change."
And I say: "Sorry man. There's a recession on." I stop, open the door to the liquor store and say, "I'm probably as poor as you!"
It wasn't a nice thing to say, by any means, but I wasn't necessarily in the wrong. The truth is, the homeless have it easier in some ways. Not many ways, but some. First, most aren't restricted by any sense of decency. Second, they don't work – and judging by the frequency of sightings of certain individuals milling about Kitsilano, day after day – they have no ambition of seeking work. They live mostly off the kindness of strangers (and, maybe, the kindness of taxpayers in disability and welfare cheques).
But the Regular Folk (myself, you, you and you), are feeling the squeeze during this Economic Downturn. We have rent or mortgages to pay; car payments, gas bills, bus passes to purchase; at least one mouth to feed, three times per day. We don't have excess income to be spending on panhandlers.
Students and recent grads, single parents and the elderly are especially feeling strapped during this Economic Crisis – with limited government assistance, job loss at every corner, and a barren job market, most of us are living off of bread crumbs and birdseed. Well, I am anyway.
Jobs are very, very limited in Vancouver at the moment. Whatever openings there are, they're swallowed up immediately by a) an experienced Somebodies who've recently lost their jobs due to company cutbacks, b) someone with very decent connections, or c) someone else who isn't me.
So, yes. I am poor, as are many Canadians during this Economic Meltdown. I can barely afford toilet paper or dish soap. Do I have a dime to spare? Please.
Now, some of you may be asking, "Why are you buying booze when you can hardly afford to feed yourself?" And this is a fine question, though I must say it's none of your business.
But if I must answer, I will say that during an Economic Apocalypse, alcohol is one of the few human inventions that temporarily washes away any feelings of discontent, maladjustment or whatever and helps those of us get through the night (or day, depending on who you are).
Which is exactly why the wheelchair-bound-man and myself found ourselves outside of Darby's Cold Beer and Wine on a Monday night. Only I can barely afford my drink and he certainly can't at all.
Hard times, indeed.