Streetwise.

A rant against resentment.

Sometime last year, a bloggermom I was internetly acquainted with wrote her “confessions of a real housewife”--a list of “dirty little secrets”--which included the following: “I buy a Streetwise paper from the homeless guy every time I go to the grocery store, but I resent him for it.”

Hunh. I had to think about this. Privileged stay-at-home mom. Buys a paper. From “the homeless guy.” Resents
him for it. That just rubs me the wrong way and I’m trying to understand it. I mean, I have certainly felt uncomfortable passing the Streetwise vendors outside the grocery store, mostly because I have never purchased an issue, something I have long regretted.

But I struggle to comprehend her
resentment. A quick look-up shows resentment as: to feel or show displeasure or indignation at (a person, act, remark, etc.) from a sense of injury or insult. to feel bitter, indignant, or aggrieved. be in a huff, be insulted, be offended by, be put off by, take offense, take umbrage, etc. The list goes on. Injury? insult? offense? “Homeless guy, you injure me by asking me to buy your rag, and further offend me by taking my money in exchange for it!” Seriously? Did he demand she buy the paper? say unkind things to her when she didn’t? Not likely. Whenever she bought a copy OR turned him down, he probably said, “Thank you, and God bless you ma’am.” I’m hard-pressed to see how this could be construed as insult and injury resulting in bitterness or indignation.

And I’m wondering if “the homeless guy” were, instead, a group of cute li’l uniformed girl or boy scouts, would she resent
them for asking if she wants to buy cookies and popcorn? or would she happily fork over $4 each for several boxes of Thin Mints, or $10 for a bag of caramel corn, while sipping her $5 coffee, loading groceries into her shiny black Escalade, and texting on her smartphone. (DISCLAIMER: I don’t know if this woman owns an Escalade.)

But who am I to judge. My shyness has always made it difficult for me to buy a Streetwise. Having been a bit socially anxious from a young age (no longer, but once in a while it revisits me), I would feel too conspicuous--even embarrassed--standing there fiddling with my wallet. And to be honest, I was also conflicted about
giving money to, well, the homeless guy. But in retrospect I’ve wished that I had at least occasionally, if not regularly, bought a copy--and dropped coins into the Salvation Army Christmas buckets--especially when my school-age son was with me, to teach him that even if we feel pinched financially we always have enough to share with others. I didn’t. Now shyness = passed, child = grown, teachable moments = lost.

Or are they? Recently an opportunity to buy Streetwise with my son presented itself, when we were visiting our quaint suburban grocery store pumpkin patch. Said son is almost 20 years old so perhaps I’m starting this demonstration of sharing a bit late in the game. No matter, while we were in the checkout line I fished $2 out of my wallet and asked him to pick up a Streetwise for me. He refused. Wha...??? I’ve been awaiting this moment for
years ... and he turns me down? What possible reason! “He just kept asking. He asked too many times. Once is enough, isn’t it?”

Well, I couldn’t argue with that, although I’m sure he was exaggerating just a bit. When you’re asked to buy something and refuse, you don’t want to be asked again. And that might convince some folks that Streetwise vendors
deserve to be resented--it can be annoying hearing the Streetwise call on your way in AND out of the grocery store every time you go. Not buying, not just once but twice--from the homeless guy, fercrissakes--probably touches a zone of guilt and discomfort in people, especially right after they’ve loaded up on a week’s worth of groceries and hit Starbucks, the ATM and the DVD kiosk on their way out the door. Puzzling, though, that actually buying could inspire resentment. More on that in a sec.

Anyway, I was not going to be thwarted in this effort. I had the $2, the son, and the Streetwise vendor all in the same place at the same time. As we exited, I handed over the money and triumphantly took home my first copy! The importance of this event was likely was lost on my offspring, but not on me. I had done it. I had broken through years of shyness and conflict, bought a Streetwise, and felt
good about it. Now, to understand what the controversy was all about.

So I read it, cover to cover. It is slim, well-organized and attractive, printed in color on glossy paper. And the articles are good, useful, relevant--the current issue includes an eye-opening story about
efforts to end prostitution in Illinois and a feature on Cob Connection’s program of sustainable urban agriculture (read: farms on abandoned Chicago city plots)--issues certain North Shore stay-at-home bloggermoms have the luxury of ignoring. But I digress.

And now I understand how Streetwise works. Turns out the homeless or near-homeless
vendors (not “homeless guys”) themselves purchase magazines in advance (at $0.75 per) then sell them for $2 each, which nets them a nice 60+% profit from each sale. They’re like mini one-paper newsstands. And they work outside--not begging, but selling--standing on their feet throughout their shifts in all kinds of cruddy Chicago weather, while the rest of us sit in comfortably warm/air conditioned houses or offices with paid holiday and vacation time. Furthermore, the Streetwise site explains:

"StreetWise helps these people by offering them an opportunity to earn an income and become financially self-sufficient ... For some vendors, selling StreetWise is how they make their living. For others, it is a stepping stone to help them get back on their feet. In either case, StreetWise gives anyone an opportunity to earn an income provided he or she shows a willingness to improve his or her life ... Some vendors use the StreetWise opportunity to put themselves through school, start a business, get a full time roof over their heads, provide for their families or as simple as putting a hot meal on their plate each night."

I’m all for that. And I feel truly lucky that I already have a full-time roof over my head, that I graduated from a good high school and have studied at reputable local colleges, that I always had a decent job in a nice indoor office, and could pay my bills, provide for my family and put hot meals on the table each night. Can I afford two bucks a week to buy a paper whose sale helps someone else achieve the same thing? Yes. Can I do it without feeling pressure ... or resentment? Indeed. Can I confidently decline if I already have a copy, or don’t feel like buying one? Yep.

So, Streetwise vendors aren’t slacking through each work day asking for liquor money or pretending to need train fare or otherwise trying to swindle your hard-earned money out of you. They’re sales people, selling a commodity. They’re not hustling or looking for freebies, just an even trade: your $2 for their magazine. You don’t want it? Don’t buy it. Just smile and say “No thank you” and be on your way. Or skip the smiling part. Or tell them (preferably honestly) “I have this week’s issue.” Or ignore them completely if that’s easiest. On the other hand, don’t demean them by buying it in a phony display of face-saving “generosity” and then cutely “confess” your Real Housewifey disgust with the whole matter on your blog. But I guess you’re safe on your blog: those homeless guys probably don’t have internet access anyway.

Just remember that while you’re all but wishing the homeless guy would get a job and leave you in peace, Streetwise vendors DO have jobs. Isn’t that what people think when they pass the scruffy man or bag lady who is shaking a cup and asking for spare change? “Get a
real job, man, earn a living. Like I do.” That is exactly what your homeless guy is doing. He is making what is commonly called an “honest living” by working for his money. So that--like you--he can go into the grocery store for food, go home, sit down and have a nice hot meal.

And you resent him for it.

Feel free to leave a comment! Nothing mean or profane please. You don't have to like or agree with me, but I insist on civility.
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