As I prepare to go to a conference of my own, I was reminded of this story which I’ve had tucked in the corner of my brain for a good long time. It’s a sad, sad little corner, but, it’s the only thing I have for…
It looked like any conference. Ordinary people in casual clothing, with name tags hanging from lanyards milled about the convention center. Some consulted the schedule, others talked with new acquaintances, and still others walked around staring at room signs looking lost.
The only hint someone from the “outside” might have that there was anything unusual about the gathering might come from studying the signs posted outside doors, or making a study of the schedule.
Sessions titles ran the gambit of much needed, but highly specialized skills and research in one of the world’s oldest professions. Highly anticipated sessions included “Picking the most Profitable Signs, Maladies vs. Social Soft Spots,” “Choosing your Territory, Foot Traffic, Curb and Shoulder Space,” and “Maintaining your Persona: The Key is Consistent Claudication.”
In these sessions, attendees learned which cardboard signs tended to earn the holders the most cash from passersby. Does a misspelled sign earn more cash? Does a “Homeless Diabetic” find more sympathetic and generous benefactors than a “Homeless Single Mother?” Does honesty “sell?”
Said one attendee, who refused to give her name, “I’ve learned so much at this conference! All of the speakers are so knowledgeable, and so generous with their experience. I’ve learned how to invest all the donations I receive, to retire comfortably, and I now know what to put on my sign to increase my earnings by 30%!”
Many attendees shared that they are worried about the storms of economic woes sweeping across the country.
“If the foreclosure crisis continues, I’m worried that competition might seriously cut into my bottom line. I don’t know if I can compete with people who are *actually* homeless. Some of these people really do have children! They might bring them on the job. How can I compete with that?”
Is it wrong of me to think that this story might actually reflect more truth than any of us is willing to admit? My sister and I used to ponder many of these very questions after watching the guy who “worked” a very busy intersection on our route to work. He wasn’t out everyday, but, his “limp” switched to the “upstage” leg as he paced up and down the shoulder of the road. This story is dedicated to him, whose sign was stored from a curl in the guardrail with several others. He occasionally had a different sign if someone had gotten there before he did. Most of the time, he was simply “Homeless Diabetic.”
claudication \ clod – ICK – a – shun\ the quality or state of being lame: limping.