Begging: An Honorably Traditional Profession

When I was a college student way back in the late 1940s, the only tenant in our Philly apartment building with a TV set was a professional beggar. We gathered with him at night in his living room in front of his Stromberg Carlson eight-inch-screen to watch Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Lawrence Welk.

Every morning he walked several blocks to Gimbel’s Department Store on Market Street and placed a small wheeled platform near the entrance. He wore a tattered Army uniform, complete with rows of combat ribbons on his chest.

He sat all day on his platform, legs folded under him, his faithful dog by his side. His overturned Army hat was nearby on the pavement to take donations. As people passed by, he strummed a small guitar and sang.

Sometimes, when we didn’t have class, we hung around to observe him. World War 2 had ended just a few years earlier. Many of his songs were from that era, including Sentimental Journey, Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer, G.I. Jive and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.

Most of us were veterans of WW2 on the GI Bill, and in addition to free college tuition, we each received $100 a month. Our neighbor told us he only worked the streets about six months a year, from September through December, and January through May.

He spent winters in Florida and summers in Canada, because of his then-fantastic annual income of $50,000. The professional beggar could well afford it.

Now 70 years later, I’m again observing beggars practicing their profession. My daily hikes are a continent away, along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Because the very busy street makes up the last miles of Route 66, among the heavy sidewalk traffic are many homeless wanderers begging their way to the ocean or downtown Los Angeles.

Do I condemn them for taking money from kindhearted people? Hell, no! When considering that many of today’s most successful people are also beggars. Consider the two candidates running for leader of the free world, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

They put on frequent fundraisers, speeches and other ways to gather millions of dollars. Most of the money doesn’t just go to hotels and airlines. It pays their professional writers and scores of other helpers who travel with them. Of course, some of the money goes into tax-free funds that both Hillary and Donald can scoop into whenever their personal fancy pleases.

Of course, politicians aren’t the only professional beggars. Those super-religious TV preachers frequently interrupt their promises of heavenly salvation to beg viewers to send in money to keep up their fight against the Devil. Of course, most of those donations go for devilish lifestyles of the rich and famous TV preachers.

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