It’s disconcerting to get off a city bus after midnight in a dodgy neighborhood with almost no cops and run into a glaring, violent Samuel L. Jackson sort who wants alms for the poor.

This happened to me in March 2010 on Century Boulevard in Inglewood, CA, just east of La Brea Avenue. Glaring at me, Mr. Jackson asked, in a tone that sounded like an order, “help a homeless guy out?” Since he looked like a punk who had routinely beaten his jailers, I refused: “Uh, no.”

Jackson’s response: “Well, fuck you, motherfucker!”

I hurried off at a slow run and got my bags from the Adventurer hostel where I had been staying, then went out front to wait for the cab that I’d called and, importantly, get the front desk ladies out of my face, since there’s no reasonable way to describe them other than weird, nosy bitches.

No more than fifteen minutes after calling me a motherfucker, Samuel walked by the hostel again, very slowly, glaring at me with dripping hatred. I told him, “You know, I can have them call the police on you. The women at the front desk won’t hesitate to call the police.”

This didn’t bother him. “Go ahead and make that fucking call!” he bellowed. “I don’t care!”

Jackson was playing the First Amendment card. Disturbingly, I had the strong gut feeling that he would be able to play it successfully if questioned by the police: “’Motherfucker’ wasn’t a threat, it was an insult! I was just telling him that in my opinion anyone who doesn’t help a homeless guy out is a motherfucker!” I was getting ready to tell a responding officer that what alarmed me wasn’t his salty language but his glare, which looked for all the world like a prelude to battery. The cop probably would have told him to leave me alone, but the First Amendment street practicum was canceled when the Big J walked away, looking at me like the stingy motherfucker that I was.

This wasn’t the first incident that had made me wonder where the Inglewood police were when they were needed. Earlier that evening, I had been on the verge of calling 911 on a raging tweaker, dressed and coiffed somewhat in the fashion of John the Baptist, who was repeatedly and violently overturning his shopping cart in the parking lot in front of Yoshinoya. The really appalling thing about this rampage was that it was conducted not ten feet from a very sane-looking Mexican fellow who appeared to be living out of his car. The Mexican was trying to fold his laundry in front of this wacked-out druggie who was constantly threatening to take out a window, a pain in the ass for anyone but a potential calamity for someone living in his car. I don’t know whether this poor fellow’s car got through the evening unscathed, but the southbound shelter for the 40 and 740 buses didn’t. When I returned from downtown LA that night, its southern window panel lay in one-inch shards on the ground, obliterated. Responsible party: John the Crank Baptist and his Chariot of Wrath. These incidents made me wonder about the priorities of the Inglewood police and the LA Sheriff’s Department’s Lennox station deputies, who had enough cops to escalate with Donovan Jackson over an expired vehicle registration but evidently not enough to police up violent nutball meth freaks.

As belligerent or malicious or just plain fucking nuts as Samuel L. Jackson and John the Baptist could be, oddly enough I didn’t find either of them fundamentally offensive. John the Baptist was just a druggie who needed detox, and there was something perversely admirable about SLJ’s eagerness to explore the boundaries of the First Amendment, something that I’m pretty sure he had done before with the police. In any event, he was just a straightforward mean motherfucker, and I’ve seen worse.

Honest belligerence can be scary, and it often warrants a quick, definitive police response, but unless the belligerent is a straight-up murderous thug, dealing with it is easy enough for the street smart, mainly a matter of making it clear that theoretical violence may be reported to the police and that applied violence will result in the aggressor getting three hots and a cot, or more accurately three colds and a slab, starting at 0500 the next morning. You’re really mixed up with the wrong crowd if your associates aren’t deterred by that threat; it takes more than just being around 77th Street to get involved with people who aren’t scared of the cops.

Much harder to deal with are sanctimonious, disingenuous, passive-aggressive activist bastards who accost passersby on the street to whinge for charitable contributions to lift up the White Man’s Burden by educating the poor melanin-blessed. I was accosted by three such losers on Saturday afternoon in Seattle, two of them within five minutes and one city block.

The first was a naive-looking young Jewish woman who didn’t act like she’d ever set foot in Seattle’s rougher neighborhoods on the way to hip places out of state and abroad. Her pitch was for a program to educate poor African children in Benin. To that end she showed me a picture of an African woman in traditional dress who was allegedly the organization’s lead in-country contact for the uplifting of benighted darkies, although I had no way to know who the hell she really was, and neither did probably 97% of her marks on Sixth Avenue. The sorts of people capable of assessing sob stories about poor dark people from Darkest Africa, namely African immigrants and long-term expatriate missionaries, businessmen, NGO workers and so forth, don’t spend a lot of time around the original Nordstrom’s. Activist pitchmen do not choose their hunting grounds at random.

This lady told me that her program would “kick poverty in the face.” To illustrate, she kicked the decidedly unimpoverished air on a busy section of Sixth Avenue at 12:30 on a Saturday afternoon. Evidently, poverty is a malevolent cocker spaniel to be vanquished on the silver screen by the sure foot of Chuck Norris. I’d always thought that the solutions were more complex, but I’m a simple layman, so what do I know?

But that was just hot air and stupid interpretive dance by a doofus. What was disgusting and offensive was the disingenuous way that this chick complemented me on my safari hat and aloha shirt to lure me in, and asked me whether I’d traveled much by way of small talk and marketing research. Instead of answering the latter, I asked her, “where are you trying to go with this?” She told me that I could help eradicate poverty and ignorance in Africa by sponsoring her organization, so I told her that I’d research it online and consider donating. That was a blatant lie, and I’m proud of it, because I wasn’t going to waste my time reading about bullshit that she was wasting my time by discussing, and I consider it perfectly moral to lie to shyster pitchmen. She clearly didn’t believe me, but I didn’t care; I could dupe a dope or offend an annoying jerk, but either way, I would inevitably make Charlie Sheen proud by WINNING!

In ideal circumstances, I don’t mind a woman complimenting me on my clothes, especially if I’m wearing what Junior Bear calls my puppy-dog sweater: I like Labs, girls like Labs, I like girls, and a sweatshirt is a lot cheaper and more convienient than the real thing, so, to again quote Mr. Sheen, DUH! WINNING! WINNING is possible in an Aloha shirt, too, but not with this activist gal, who wasn’t really my type physically and really wasn’t my type in any sense of interpersonal compatibility.

The key difference between this lady and the profoundly ignorant, low-IQ Oregon bank tellers who manipulate me on occasion with their feminine wiles is that the tellers are smoking hot. Let me clarify that statement: smoking hot to the extent that I can ignore their blithering idiocy. Not being Hugh Hefner, I find blithering idiocy a great turnoff. Sexual union with a nubile, receptive, engaging woman sounds great until that faint but distinct voice in the back of my mind tells me, “She is a fool of idle and divisive talk, young man; down that road have gone Hugh Hefner, Silvio Berlusconi and Kelsey Grammer; it is the path of great men laid low by their lusts.” Verily, I come equipped with a built-in Book of Proverbs—sort of. That voice in my head doesn’t usually tell me, “shun her, for she is a harlot,” but, “stay away from her, for her boyfriend is more trouble to third wheels than he’s worth,” or, perhaps most often, “shun that fool, for if you cleave to her for the evening, you will have to listen till the morrow to THAT.” No amount of orgasmic dopamine release can compensate for the existential degradation of being sexually manipulated by a dumb woman who wants you to support her dubious enterprise.

The activist was doing almost the same thing, but without eliciting the sexual tension common in interactions with bank tellers because I didn’t find her attractive and she was rather shabbily dressed to boot. That said, I’m obviously missing some part of that alpha male success thing, as I don’t consider being robbed by disingenuous pseudo-Jezebels an aphrodisiac. (The genuine sluts, as opposed to eye-batting poseurs, aren’t in it for mercenery reasons.)

By the end, I was wearing a shit-eating grin worthy of Eric Cantor, so this gal asked me what was so funny. Instead of answering her, I either mumbled something semicoherent or changed the subject; I don’t remember which, and the specifics are arguably immaterial because by making the pitch impossible for her I was WINNING! Had I been in the mood to be blunt with her, I might have told her, “I’m laughing at you because you’re a parody of yourself and of the entire Seattle activist community!” Alas, I was taken too short to deliver a timely and articulate rebuttal.

A block after losing this karate-chopping twit, I saw a middle-aged black guy, like his younger colleague also wearing a visible ID, who accosted me from a distance in the hope that I’d pour money into his rat hole. I made quick work of him by mumbling, “yeah, yeah, yeah,” as I walked by. Evidently offended, he shouted at me, “It was just a hello!” And I’m Bill Gates; give me a call if you have trouble with Excel.

The third activist of the day was handing out flyers, again for education, a block or so from the Pike Place Market. A lily-white guy with long red hair, a beard and an ostentatiously hip, laid-back attitude, his big goal was to get my name, clearly because he didn’t know me from Adam and wanted to establish false intimacy for the purpose of taking my money. He was too jumpy and inattentive to catch my name the first time I gave it, so the second time I just said something brusque, the content of which I completely forget, and walked away, to his visible and audible offense.

An important thing to remember about these assholes is that they aren’t the rude ones for harassing strangers with disingenuous small talk; the rude ones are those targets who have enough honesty, self-respect and respect for public manners and morals not to suffer their manipulation and bullying gladly. Credence before bullshit and deference to fraudulent shysters are among their first principles. These bottomfeeders, when told to get on with their damn sales pitches or chewed out by prospective marks for being slime molds, react as one might expect a Baptist minister to react if an obnoxious atheist provocateur walked into the sanctuary and called Jesus of Nazareth a no-good lying bastard. Few people like being told that their whole worldview is a crock of shit, but some people ask for it by imposing their worldview on all within earshot.

The sentient part of the audience then faces a decision: respond in the early postwar tradition of Hirohito (“ah, soh”), or level with the nuts and likely face unpleasant consequences. Since the Seattle activist freaks were strangers whose good graces I had no interest in maintaining, I chose the latter and had the pleasure of briefly smiting them in their slippery little enterprises. Ideally, I would have walked up to these douches and told them, in Russian, “It’s so strange, but I just sort of forgot how to speak English;” unfortunately, I’m too easily amused to keep a poker face for such righteous street theater. What I should have done was turn around when I realized that I was mumbling practice lines for the Russian soliloquy that I never delivered, and walked by Just a Hello and Facekicker, mumbling like a schizophrenic. Making them think that I had become nuts over the preceding five minutes would have golden. Blagojevich fucking golden. And I gave it away for fucking nothing.

I seem to be a shit magnet for street hucksters. As far as I can tell, it’s because I appear so easygoing and friendly. Maybe I also appear more trusting and less streetsmart than I actually am; I may look like a nerdy buffoon of a tourist, but I’m bloody well streetsmart for a dude raised in the exurbs of rural Pennsylvania. The thing is, the Seattle street activists weren’t flagging down every tourist who walked by. Big Shaggy had his pick of out-of-place tourists from the suburbs who barely knew where they were, but he chose me. It seems that I attracted him and his asshole colleagues because I was too well-oriented, too engaged with my surroundings, too civil to strangers.

What these asshats do is prey on virtue. They preferentially attack the virtuous because they perceive virtue as weakness. They punish petty virtue, reward petty vice, and twist the public culture into one of incivility and distrust, greatly weakening it. This is exactly what panhandlers do when they dishonestly beg for alms. The difference is that the panhandler usually claims that he wants money for food for himself, when what he really wants to buy himself is a fifth of Thunderbird. Or, in the case of a dissipated alcoholic doing pushups in Army fatigue bottoms in downtown Olympia, claiming that he wanted money to get a coffee at Batdorf and Bronson Roasters when smart money says that he was more interested in getting his sloppy on at the Big Whiskey Saloon.

The other difference between the panhandler and the professional street pitchman is that the pahandler usually claims to act solely on his own behalf. At worst, he’ll use his young children as part of his sob story. Our friend from Olympia with the fatigue bottoms and the upper body strength wanted people to think that his goal was to drink overpriced stimulants among hip, aesthetically discerning people at Batdorf and Bronson, but really he wanted to drink overpriced depressants among trashy people at the Big Whiskey. That was the diagnosis made by both physicians in my party, in any event.

But does his little white lie even register on the scales of immoral deception? For White People, it does. Exhibit: http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/02/10/62-knowing-whats-best-for-poor-people/

Of course, a lot of addicts insist that they’re begging for food money, when in fact they’re itching to buy something mind-altering. Which seems like an affront, until you realize that you’re giving them money to spend however they wish at any restaurant or bar of their choice instead of, say, donating to the Rescue Mission, which buys cheap but nutritious food in bulk and serves it to the hard-up two or three times a day.

One way around that bit of deception is to be guilted into buying the most expensive sandwich on the menu for a pushy, abrasive homeless lady and let her hang around you waiting for it while you don’t enjoy your meal at a trendy delicatessen in Northwest Portland. Because you feel guilty about having a pricey sandwich if this poor lady can’t also have a pricey sandwich, regardless of what the genuine hard cases are or aren’t eating closer to the waterfront or in various neighborhoods where you never set foot.

Do I feel good about such guilt cases being duped? Not really. Do I feel bad about it? Hell, no. I’m not getting a case of outrage fatigue over that.

Am I willing to risk contracting outrage fatigue over sanctimonious professional activists trying to manipulate concern for the education of the poor into donations to their nonprofit, with God only knows what overhead rate? Damn straight I am. That’s a bullshit approach to improving education, probably in effect a scam, and an affront to public manners on the offensively false pretext of making the world a better place. I try not to think about it because, as many more pressing problems as there are in the world, that sort of thing is disgusting.

“Think globally, act locally” is a trite platitude for the mentally addled bleeding heart liberal, but it’s also sage advice for Facekicker, who wanted me to help her kick poverty in the face not in Seattle, or in Spanaway, but in Benin. There’s something very disordered about people who make a big deal of helping poor villagers halfway around the world but ignore the homeless and the boarding house denizens by the train station a mile to the south. On a more pragmatic level, it’s a safe rule of thumb that this sort is a bunch of dilletantes and flakes.

I can deal with a guy flying a sign in front of Pike Place reading, “Need $ for pot.” (If he could engage just a bit more, he might make a good beat cop.) I can deal with an alcoholic who does pushups in doorways because he needs coffee money for booze.

Sanctimonious, passive-aggressive pitchmen who use allegedly helpless third parties to bait gentle hearts are another matter entirely. When they come out, I need Samuel L. Jackson, the real one or his Inglewood clone, to come north and back me up.

Somebody get these motherfucking activists out of my motherfucking universe

Advertisements