Volume 22, Number 3

The Post-Communist Beggar
(Variations on a theme)

Joseph Grim Feinberg

A student, upon seeing a beggar, reached into his backpack to look for change. But when he drew close to the beggar, the old fellow withdrew his hand and looked away.

“A strange beggar you are,” said the student, “who hides his hand when someone tries to give him money.”

“I don’t take money from students,” said the beggar. “Only from rich men.”

“But if a student offers you money …” insisted the student.

“Just the same,” said the beggar.

Still the student would not give in. “If you don’t take the money from people who offer it,” he said, “who will finance your work? And if there are no beggars on the streets, who will be there to tell the people that this rotten world has got to be changed?” He clasped the beggar’s hand and forced coins into it.

* * *

A beggar knelt at a street corner beside a pile of dirty snow, his naked hand reaching out into the cold.

A well-dressed man walked by with a well-dressed woman at his side. As they passed, the man turned and snapped, “Get a job!”

“But I have a job,” said the beggar.

The well-dressed man stopped and wrinkled his eyebrows, while the woman pulled at his shoulder, urging him to walk on.

The beggar asked, “What do you do?”

“I work for a private company,” said the well-dressed man. “I work hard, from sunrise to sunset.”

“Well,” said the beggar, “I can do better than that. I’m a politician.” Then he smiled and again held out his hand.

* * *

While walking to her car, an elegant middle-aged woman saw a beggar. After a crowd of people passed him by without so much as turning in his direction, she went and dropped several coins into his hat. She said, “These people! Under the old system they got used to never giving charity. Their souls are empty. They must develop a culture of giving, as we are doing at the Rotary Club. But none of them join the Rotary Club.” She shook her head and said, “God bless your soul.”

“I thank you ma’am,” said the beggar. “Only, I don’t want their money. I want yours.”

* * *

“Gypsy!” came a shout. “The Gypsy stole my money!”

Then a Gypsy came running to where a beggar sat begging, just around the corner. “Give me your hat!” said the Gypsy, who then dropped down and humbly hung his head. The beggar jumped up, and with a sweep of his foot he slid the up-turned hat in front of the new arrival.

“The man said I stole his money,” said the Gypsy.

“Did you?” asked the beggar.

“Sure I did,” said the Gypsy. “But he didn’t need it. He was too busy reading the Financial Times.

Then a large man came barreling around the corner, gasping for breath. “Where is that Gypsy?” he said.

The beggar straightened his back, put an elegant look into his eyes and strode calmly past the Gypsy-beggar. As the rich man passed, the beggar reached into his pocket, pulled out a few coins and dropped them into the beggar’s hat.

When the large rich man was gone, the Gypsy stood up. He took out some of the money he had stolen and left it in the hat, and he went along his way.

* * *

As a rich man passed a beggar in the streets, the beggar shouted at him, “Get a job!”

“But,” said the rich man, “I don’t need a job. I’m rich.”

“Same here,” said the beggar, “except for the second part.” And he held out his hand expectantly.

* * *

A rich man slipped on the ice and broke his leg. A beggar ran to him and helped him to his feet. The beggar then held him by the arm as they hobbled to a bench, near a telephone, where the beggar called for a doctor.

When the event was over and the rich man was saved, another beggar went to his colleague and said, “Now what did you do that for? You think a rich man needs help?”

“A rich man needs help most of all,” said the first beggar. “Every time he drops me a coin, it’s like spitting in my face. I thought I’d return him the favor.”

* * *

One day a prostitute gave money to a beggar.

“Since when do you have money to give me?” asked the beggar.

“Since last night,” said the prostitute, “when I took it from the Mafia boss while he was sleeping.”

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll come after you?” asked the beggar.

“No,” said the prostitute, “at least not until his election campaign is over.”

“Then you’d better hope he wins.”

* * *

Upon leaving a store, having gone Christmas shopping for his kids, a rich man passed a beggar. The beggar looked so pitiful that the rich man could hardly keep from laughing. But it was Christmas, so he sifted through his pockets until he found a coin of appropriate size. He handed it to the poor guy, muttering that he was sure to spend it on booze.

The beggar heard him, and noted, “You’re right. I just might do that. But then, you’d just spend it on champagne. And who’s got more reason to drink, me or you?”

Some weeks later, having decided to launch a political campaign, the rich man held a fundraiser. The beggar found out and was curious. He put on a wrinkled suit and a nice fur coat, which he had bought in the old days when he still had a job, and he got himself into the fundraiser. The rich man went from table to table, complimenting and chatting lightly with his guests, before entreating them to help him with his worthy cause. When the rich man came to the beggar, he could hardly believe his eyes.

“Ha!” he said. “I knew you were just pretending to need the money!”

“And you,” said the beggar, “I could tell you were just pretending to be rich. Now I see you’re nothing but a beggar.”

The rich man was taken aback. He insisted, “With a coat like that, you could buy months’ worth of food.”

“And with a campaign like that,” said the beggar, “you could get me a job.”

The rich man moved on to the next table without requesting a donation.

* * *

A stern-faced man approached a beggar. “Look here,” he said. “This is our territory, but we don’t mind you here. If you give us ten percent of your earnings, we’ll give you exclusive rights to the corner.”

The beggar laughed. “The Mafia’s come begging money from a beggar! Just for that, I’ll give it to you this time. But don’t try it again, or we’ll start to get confused.”

* * *

“Look,” said a tour guide. “A genuine beggar! You see? Finally we are a normal country.”

* * *

A crowd gathered for a political rally in the central plaza. The organizers of the rally offered beer and goulash, so a beggar showed up too. Then a man called out from on stage, “I want to ask you, the people, to tell us what you love about the democracy we have worked so hard to build.”

The beggar thought for a moment and then raised his hand. The host, before recognizing him as a beggar, called on him. “Well,” said the beggar, hesitating, “I have the freedom to cross myself and bless God when I beg.” He began to say, “On the other hand …,” but the rest of his words were drowned out by the crowd’s applause.