Creative panhandlers make mooching an art

MIKE ROYKO

December 28, 1992|By MIKE ROYKO

Mike Royko is on vacation. This is a repeat of one of hi favorite columns.

The elderly man on the street corner was very businesslike in his approach.

"May I speak to you, please?" he said in a firm voice.

Without waiting for an answer, he took out a wallet and displayed two identification cards.

They showed that his name was George Fallon and he lived at an address on North Dearborn.

One of the cards showed him to be a member of a senior citizens' club. The other showed that he is now 69 years old.

"I am a senior citizen," he said, returning the wallet to his pocket. "And it happens that only a few minutes ago, I was released by the police after posting a bond of $25."

He took out a (Chicago) police department bond receipt.

He didn't look capable of a criminal act.

His eyes, behind steel-rimmed spectacles, were clear, his white hair neatly parted.

He wore a clean white shirt open at the throat, a dark green knit sweater, and a brown gabardine overcoat.

He appeared to be a kindly old man.

I asked him what he had been arrested for.

"I was picked up in the Loop for panhandling," he said. "Just like I'm doing now."

He held out his hand and, in a pleasant voice, said: "Anything you would care to contribute?"

No hard-luck story. No plea for a cup of coffee or a bowl of soup, or carfare to get to a job or to a welfare office.

It was the most direct panhandle I've ever been in on. Also, the most dignified and tasteful.

In fact, I wasn't sure, for a moment, that I was being mooched.

I handed him some loose change.

"Thank you," he said lightly. "Incidentally, the police were very nice. Two of them contributed 65 cents."

Then he nodded good-bye and walked jauntily away, looking for another contributor.

With his deft approach, he would probably earn more by nightfall than some of the people who give him money.

I was glad to see that another imaginative panhandler is working the streets.

There aren't many really good ones, at least not in the same class as the legendary Greasy Chin Smith, who used to be seen in the Loop almost every day. He was known as Greasy Chin because he gnawed on a long, old bone to dramatize how poor he was.

One of the better ones currently at work is an elderly man who stopped me on State Street one day and, in an urgent voice, said:

4 "I'm 67 years old and I must go to Minneapolis."

That's all he said. I don't have any idea what it was supposed to mean, but it sounded so important that I handed him a quarter.

I watched him hustle four others before he left for Minneapolis, by way of Elfman's Bar.

Then there is The Weeper, a kid about 12 who operates on the Near North Side and in the Wrigley Building area.

His tear ducts work like windshield washers.

When he stops someone and starts blubbering, and the tears flow down his cheeks, it's difficult to figure out what his problem is, except that he needs money.

The Weeper is no two-bit moocher, either.

He thinks big, howling that his mother and five little brothers and sisters are stuck at a railroad station and they need $4.90 to get home.

He cornered author Studs Terkel on the street one day and was sobbing so hard, Terkel handed him a dollar.

"That's not enough," the kid cried. Studs handed him another dollar.

"That's still not enough," he sobbed, holding both hands to his face. Another dollar.

"Mister, I need more, more," the kid said, tearing at his hair, so great was his grief.

He kept it up until he got Terkel for five dollars.

"I knew he was a moocher," Terkel said, "but what a performance! It was worth twice that much. The kid cried better than June Alyson."

Then there is the kid who works the south half of the Loop.

He carries an old charity card with holes in it for coins.

He points at his ears to indicate deafness and wiggles his fingers in what is meant to be sign language.

If you came up behind him and said, "Stickemup," he'd start running, that's how deaf he is.

Some people get mad when they realize they've been taken in by a phony hard-luck story.

Not me. After listening to enough political fund-raising speeches, I find The Weeper almost refreshing.

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