After reading "The Lonely American Just Got a Bit Lonelier," I remembered how a few years ago, I had a friend visit me here in Pittsburgh, and we went strolling down a street with bookstores and cafes.Huh? What puzzles me about the writer's apparently fond remembrance of this story is not so much that the friend deceived her and implicitly expressed opprobrium by extracting money from her to give to the beggar she'd just passed by, it's that the guy made her stand around waiting while he had a five minute conversation with the beggar and then delivered a sermonette about it. "For two bucks, I bought myself five minutes of conversation"? Damn, I would have said we were just having a conversation for free and then you made me stand around with no one to talk to while you had to act like you were befriending him so you could think especially well about yourself -- and come back and brag about it. I sure as hell wouldn't have treasured the memory for years and then written to the NYT about it as if the friend had taught me an important life lesson.
After passing a beggar with his can, my friend asked me if I could give him a couple of bucks, and thinking it was for a coffee at the adjacent cafe, I handed him the money.
To my amazement, he returned his steps and handed the money to the beggar. He then struck up a conversation.
A good five minutes later, he walked back toward me, and I told him that if I knew it was to give out free money, I wouldn't have given it to him.
He answered: "Here in America nobody talks to you. But for two bucks, I bought myself five minutes of conversation." Alexis Rzewski
ADDED: This item got me thinking about the horrid Bette Midler song (written by John Prine), "Hello in There," you know the one that ends:
So if you're walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care, say, hello in there, hello.