THE ROLEPLAYER

Panhandlers are abundant in the city of Vancouver. If I were to give spare change to every one that I saw, I’d have to panhandle myself. I also rarely have spare change on me, so it’s not like I have any other option other than keep on walking.

Let’s go back to sometime in November one Sunday around 5pm. I’ve finished some shopping downtown and heading to catch a bus back to Tatooine. I’m around the area of Hornby and Pender. As I’m walking, some guy stops me on the corner. I give him a once over. He’s probably late 30s to early 40s. He’s swearing a rain jacket, jeans, and sneakers. His clothes are clean and he doesn’t look homeless. A pair of glasses frame his face. He starts to speak.

“Listen, I swear to God I’m not homeless, I’m not a bum. I live in Vancouver over on 43rd Avenue. I’ve just finished work and I forgot my bus pass. My bank card doesn’t work for some reason. I need some bus fare. I feel really bad about this. I just need to get home. Can ya help me out?”

I need to catch my bus, so I don’t have a lot of time to assess his story. I make a snap judgement based on his overall cleanliness and believe his story. I root around in my pocket and fish out a twoonie. I hand it over. He’s extremely grateful. The light is about to change so I cross the street, leaving him behind.

Fast forward to about three weeks ago. It’s a Friday night just after midnight. After spending the evening having a few drinks with co-workers, I’m on my way home. I’m again near Hornby and Pender. I’m crossing westbound on Pender. The light is about to change as I cross. Some dude is stopped in the middle of the crosswalk, facing a stopped car. He’s gesturing to the occupants of the car. They look uneasy.

As I get closer to the guy, I recognize him. It’s the dude that I provided a one time endowment to a few months ago. As I go by him, his attention is off the car and now onto me. He spins around to follow me to the corner.

“Hey, listen… can ya help me out…”

A flurry of thoughts go through my head. The same guy is in almost the same clothes on the same corner, it can’t be a coincidence. Asking for help again? It smells like scam. I decide if he asks me for money, he’ll get none of mine this time.

The light has turned going in the perpendicular direction and I need to go that way to get to the bus. He’s a few steps behind me. I want to hear what he has to say this time.

“Walk with me… walk with me… let’s hear your story…”

“Hey, I swear to God I’m not a bum. I live in Vancouver. I ran out of gas for my car. I just need a few bucks to get some gas and go home. You can have my umbrella if you want.”

I look down and he is indeed holding a collapsible umbrella in his hand. I have no need for an additional umbrella and even if I believed him, I wouldn’t take his umbrella.

I tell him I have no money on me and that I couldn’t help him. This was in fact true since I had no cash and I certainly wasn’t going to the bank machine for this guy. I kept on walking and he turned to go back to the other corner where I first met up with him.

So was there a chance he was telling the truth both times I met up with him? Yeah, of course, but there’s also a small chance I’ll poop diamonds too. His story seems fishy because most people have access to their money via ATMs. He seemed like a guy that wasn’t homeless and would have a bank account.

My theory is that he indeed is not homeless and probably does have money. I think he gets off somehow in making people give him money. I think he likes to play the role of the normal guy who is forced to panhandle because of extenuating circumstances.

Anyways, if I see him again, I’m gonna call him on his schtick. Hell, I might even ask him for money. If you see him, tell I said hi.

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