By Tina Portelli
Fred was hanging out like a typical panhandler would in New York City,
positioned at a good location, dressed poorly enough to do well.
I love to save loose change and when the tin hits the rim I look forward to
cashing in. It's a thrill to see just how much I've saved without really
trying. Once it's cash in time, I look forward to hitting the Coin Star
machine. Coin Star takes nine cents on a dollar, but the time I saving in
rolling coins is worth it. I will usually take this extra cash and buy
myself something I don't really need.
As I entered the supermarket, heading toward the money machine, I noticed a
man standing against the wall near the machine. His appearance was one of
a homeless man in need of a few coins. Layer upon layer of ragged clothing,
not very clean, he was unshaven and seemed to have bad teeth. He had his
household with him, a busted up shopping cart filled to the top with stuff,
stuff and more stuff. Not an unusual sight to see in New York City, at ATM
machine entrances, in Subway Stations, all over the street of the city.
I knew the moment I saw him that I would offer him change on my out after I
had cashed in. Although we made eye contact, he did not approach me for
money nor did he speak a word or give any gesture.
With the $78.00 dollar cash receipt spit from Coin Star, I cashed out. The
uneven amount of change was returned to me, about eighty cents. I fished
into my pocket for an additional three quarters and offered it to him as I
In a very articulate voice and a gentlemanly manner, he said "No thank you
Miss." I was startled and could not believe what I was hearing. I said to
him, "Please, take it, get yourself some coffee."
He smiled at me and said, "My name is Fred and I don't want money, but
thank you for your kindness."
I pulled out two dollar bills from my pocket, thrust it in his hand and
said, "Fred, I insist that you take this". And, before he had a chance to
protest, I ran out of the store.
This man made me curious, I wanted to know why he refused my money. Why
was he standing by a coin machine if he did not want money? He looked like
he needed it and he stood at a perfect target site to rake it in.
Was he playing me, knowing the outcome would result in a better take? Did
I have an invisible sign across my face that read "Sucker".
Two days later I went back to that store to observe him from a distance.
I wanted to watch him, to see him interact with other people, but there
was no interaction at all. For the twenty minutes that I observed him, he
did not beg or approach anyone. No one offered him money.
I want to know why he silently stands for hours, not begging, just
observing, this grubby, well spoken, well mannered man. I would never
ask, but I am drawn to pass there often and look for him, just to see what
he's up to.
And, I will give him money on my next trip to Coin Star.