fter living in Berkeley for eight years, I finally got a slice of pizza at the much-fabled Cheese Board Collective. Actually, I ordered two slices, and they gave me two scraps to go along with it because it really is a generous cooperative.
As I was locking up my bike, I completely ignored the pandhandler across my way asking for money. I categorically do not give money to panhandlers. I think they’re in a complicated situation, and to put it simply, me giving them a dollar is not the most effective way to help. So, lock intact, eyes forward, I lined up for my pizza and ate it alone on the parkway.
Behold, my pizza pile:
I ate the scraps first, because every piece was piping hot and the smaller pieces were easier to handle. Then I ate the smaller of the two slices. As I worked my way through the plate, I thought of bringing my second slice to the panhandler. Having biked over with just my leather purse I didn’t have an appropriate container for leftovers, and he looked like he didn’t have a lunch option, so…wait. He was busy. He was on the phone. On his cell phone. Talking to…someone? In between asking for money he was talking to someone on his cell phone.
Massive Bay Area shrug.
I weighed my options. Stuff the pizza in my face and probably quickly expel it soon after. Probably uncomfortably, and probably making the bike ride a bad decision. Wrap it up like a burrito, lots of napkins, and hope no oil seeps into the belly of my unlined leather purse. Give it to a guy who looks like he doesn’t have lunch, even though he’s strategic enough to park himself on a busy sidewalk, and he has a milk crate to sit on, and he has two rolled-up yoga mats on which to prop his cell.
NOT ONLY IS HE TAKING CALLS IN BETWEEN ASKING FOR MONEY, HE USES TWO ROLLED-UP YOGA MATS AS A TABLE.
It was such a bizarre scene I decided I had to go with the lattermost solution. I walked over to him, asked him if he wanted pizza (to which he said yes), and gave him the slice, parchment paper, and extra napkins I pulled. I returned the tray, unlocked my bike, and said “you’re welcome” when he repeated thank yous and god blesses.
From the very get-go, I knew there was no way I wasn’t coming at this situation from some moral high ground. I am quite aware that there it’s a privilege to be generous. Yet, taking in the presence of external factors like a cell phone and multiple yoga mats, I’ve just started wondering if there can be a demerit system for who deserves an almost-free lunch. There are plenty of professional panhandlers out there, and they constitute a solid argument for why I categorically ignore requests for money. I probably just willingly gave a professional pandhandler another reason to return to that corner.
Ultimately I just decided that in that moment, he needed a meal while I needed nothing, and I went home.