The scariest panhandler I ever met


“Do NOT worry. I will not hurt you. All I want is a little bit of change.”

The menacing words boomed through the subway car just as I looked up. The door at the end of the subway car had been opened with a loud bang.  A huge guy had come in to our car as we pulled out of the station and into the tunnel.

His words were spoken slowly, sort of like he wasn’t altogether there mentally. His words sounded more like:

 “Dooo NOT woorree. I will not huuurt youuu …”

And he spoke with no expression. Retarded? On drugs? A cold blooded killer? Hard to say.

The guy didn’t just sound dangerous. He also looked the part. It wasn’t just his enormous size, a combination of fat and strength such that he filled the entire aisle in the subway car. He was also unkempt looking. He wore a ratty T-shirt and had a dirty knitted cap pulled down over his head despite the heat.

Whatever his story was, he immediately had everyone’s full attention on the subway car. As for me, I tried to ignore him like he wasn’t talking to me.

But he was. He was talking not just to me but to every single person – some 30 in all – sitting there in the car.

He quickly walked up to each person. He put his body in close to you; leaning just far enough in to break the bubble of comfort zone space people normally keep between themselves.

He then stuck out the palm of his empty hand and expressionlessly looked at you square in the eyes. He held a large cup in his other hand.

This aggressive panhandling – more like a shakedown – worked. Nearly every person in the subway car gave him money. Some even gave him paper money, I presume out of fear from not having enough change.

When he came to me I didn’t look him in the eye. I then shook my head side to side to say no. I was betting on my being just half way “in line” as he made his way through the car. I felt fairly sure he wouldn’t waste time on me and end up missing out on the money he was going to get from everyone else still left. Plus I’m a large size guy in my own right.

But still, every sense in my body was on high alert as I shook my head no. I wasn’t sure my “no” wouldn’t spark his craziness. Was he going to pull out a knife? Would he try to smash my face in? Or was his “craziness” just a well calculated act to get money? I’m not sure. At any rate, he went on to the next person and didn’t attack me.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

The above was back in the late 1970s in NY City. That was a time back when the subway cars were covered with graffiti. The subway air conditioners rarely worked. Beads of sweat would form on your head as you sat in the stifling heat.

All-in-all going down in the subway was like going to visit hell. And on this day it was like I had seen one of the devil’s minions at “work” on my visit.


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