Another 7-11 Ethics Moment

Regular readers here know that my local 7-11 (on Quaker Lane in Alexandria, Va.) has been the site of multiple ethics dramas and lessons. Another occurred yesterday.

For about a year now, a middle-aged man and a middle-aged woman have routinely sat outside the store, trying to make eye-contact with customers and persuade them into handing over money, cigarettes, or to buy them something inside. (The two are never there at the same time: maybe they have a schedule.) We think, but it is just speculation, that they are residents of a local half-way house that is a few blocks away. Yesterday, it was the woman’s turn. She knows both me and my wife, especially Grace, who has often replied positively to her entreaties over the last 12 months, as have I, though less often.  Yesterday we were in a rush, and entered the store without interacting with her. She followed my wife into the 7-11, knew I was behind her, and let the door close right in my face, nearly knocking me flat. Later she managed to beg four cigarettes off my wife.

I know. The woman is probably mentally ill. She was dealt a poor hand of whist, to use Clarence Darrow’s favorite analogy for life. Nevertheless, she is very aware that we have been kind and generous to her. I don’t ask much or expect much, but I do not like being treated as a mark or a chump. I have held the door open for her at that 7-11; I always acknowledged her existence: she received the same respect and civility that everyone does whom I encounter at that neighborhood establishment. The least she could do is hold the door open and not let it swing shut just as I am trying to enter. The message her actions conveyed was that if I am a not submitting to her charity extortion, I’m a non-person, as far as she is concerned.

Got it. She can now look elsewhere for her free hot dogs, cigarettes, and ten dollar bills. I know she doesn’t regard me as a neighbor, or a benefactor, or an ally, but as a gullible, inexhaustible  resource to be taken advantage of.

The hell with that.

I’ll still hold the door open for her, however, like I do for everyone else.

23 thoughts on “Another 7-11 Ethics Moment

  1. My standard is I do not give away money to people like that, never; however, since I don’t like that some people are hungry I will purchase food, hand it to them, and walk away expecting nothing in return. If they eat it and say thanks that a plus but I expect nothing. If they throw it away because the burger didn’t have cheese (yes that’s happened before) I ignore it and walk away. I did what I set out to do.

    My point is, choose your way of acknowledging others and don’t expect anything in return, ever, we don’t know the burdens others silently carry.

  2. I have no problem giving the occasional loose change or a single handout. Begging is hard work and demeaning even with a screw loose, but oh the stories! I may have shared this before but here it goes. A few years back on the streets of Boston a woman came up to my truck with Babe in arms – possibly 2-3 years old. Her request was a simple one – money for food. A BK was across the street so I told her to go over to BK and I’ll get her anything she wants. “F**k you” was the reply.

    • Back when I lived in Chicago, I had more than a few interactions that followed that pattern. They would always hit you up politely, often with a clearly-bullshit story. When rebuffed, those nice manners would evaporate instantly, replaced by rage and foul language. More than once I explained, “Hey, dude, I come by here every day. Today I didn’t have anything to spare for you, but your attitude means I will now never have anything for you. If you’re panhandling the same corner every day, you’re building a customer base, whether you want to look at it that way or not. Don’t piss off your ‘customers’, dummy.”

      • In NJ they rarely even bother with the clearly-bullshit story, it’s just “excuse me, but do you think you could help me out?”

  3. Sadly, Jack, most of the time these marginal people don’t see the rest of us as benefactors, friends, or anything other than resources to be tapped, and if we ignore them or give them the brush-off, we might as well not exist. The more gullible the better, too. Dunno what’s worse, actual panhandlers or getting hit up for contributions (to lefty causes, ALWAYS) after a show by the actors.

  4. ”as a gullible, inexhaustible resource to be taken advantage of.”

    One of life’s lessons I’ve had to learn many times over and why I’m reluctant to donate to individuals. Welp, that and a personal history of making poor choices when doing so.

    16 years ago at Christmas, some guy came to the door, dropped some neighborhood references, piqued me with an impassioned tale of considerable woe, and left with $20. As he was driving away, I observed a smug “I sure fucked him” smirk leveled toward his passenger.

    Overcome by 2nd thoughts, I called a street-wise pal who, while barely suppressing an audible guffaw, informed me that I’d just “made a donation.” To add insult to injury, her mother’s laughing her ass off in the background and says: “You tell Paul I’m on my way over, and he ain’t gonna get rid of me for less than Fiddy.”


    Later that day, I went up the block to the house we were refurbishing and told my story to the carpet guy. Sez he: “You know, he stopped by here too. I told him he should set aside some of his haul for acting lessons.”

    Ouch 2.0!

    Not quite two years ago I was on my way to the car wash and at a median enroute stood a young blond woman holding one of those “request” signs. After my car wash, not 15 minutes later, I headed back through that same intersection. Lo-n-behold, a young man had assumed the site and was holding the exact same sign.

    Couple of weeks before that at Sam’s Club, I saw a reasonably well-dressed adult male with two children holding “request” signs on the median at the entrance/exit.

    As I was stowing my purchases ~ 1/2 an hour later (~04:30 p.m.) I observed all three leaving their posts and heading over to a late model van parked in the shade. There, I assume mom was seated comfortably in a lawn chair; resting up after her shift?

    They all piled in and as they drove away, I noticed “Land Of Lincoln” license plates.

    ”The hell with that.”

    Words to live by; there are plenty of other ways to give back.

      • Yes, out of state; I live in America’s Dairyland, or WESconsin as Other Bill would put it.

        I once had a guy, after I told him I had no cash (way more of a response than I typically supply) tell me I should use my credit card to renew a, presumably his, prescription.

  5. This is what happens when people begin to think they deserve something for nothing. We have trained many to think that way. A court just invalidated a work/community service requirement for medicaid recipients because Trump did not weigh the numbers that would lose coverage when granting the states waiver request.

  6. I spent 20 years in the Convenience Store and Gasoline Industry. The kind of people of which you speak was the bain of our existence and a fixture at every location. They know their rights better than a constitutional scholar and make more in booty than one also. For the most part, they may be technically mentally ill, but they are smart like a fox. I take all people as they come, which is one at a time. I judge them as individuals, not as a group, but I would have to say this specific class of criminal, which is what they are, are basically all the same. They all have the same schtick and the same modus operandi. Their goal is to do exactly as little as humanly possible while fleecing good-hearted people out of their hard-earned dollars. You nailed this one Jack. She let her guard down for a moment and you got a glimpse of her true character. Don’t spend a moments time worrying about her wellbeing. If she disappears tomorrow there are already ten more just like her waiting to steal her lucrative claim/spot. A few years ago in Colorado, one of the news channels did an undercover report on one of these parasites that sat at an intersection and pulled these same stunts for people’s charity. It turns out she was making nearly $90,000.00 each year and had a beautiful home in Boulder. They give the truly needy a bad name.

    • An old Irish proverb, courtesy of Margaret Schroeder (the eminently fetching Kelly Macdonald in Boardwalk Empire)

      “Charity degrades those who receive it and hardens those who dispense it.”

  7. Realizing that it is after noon on Sunday, I’m going to comment anyway. When I was living in Temple, Texas there was a kid at the corner of Loop 33 and I-35, with a big sign “Vietnam(sic) Vet”. This was in ’87, and the kid was maybe 25. He approached my truck and I rolled down my window. He stuck his hand out and I asked him what outfit he served in. He said he was a Ranger. I then asked him if was RA or US. He clearly had no idea what I was talking about but decided to try something and said “US”. I then asked him when the Army started drafting 10 year olds and putting them through RIP (my oldest son was a Ranger at Ft. Lewis at the time and had just completed Ranger Indoctrination Program). Then I drove away. I heard him say “F**k you” as I drove away. He apparently had a very short memory, as he was there again. Flat learning curve. He approached my truck, and, to make a long story short, informed him that there were a number of people in Temple who were legitimate Viet Nam vets and who wouldn’t take kindly to his scam. I never saw him again.

          • I hope their cookies are as good as the originals…unlikely, that.

            For the record, I, also, define myself as a Conservative Independent, but my youngest son and brother-in-law define me as a bigoted, racist, EVIL Republican. Neither is speaking to me at the moment.

            And yes, my modesty is one of my more endearing traits. I’M SO GOOD I SCARE MYSELF SOMETIMES!

            • ”my youngest son and brother-in-law define me as a bigoted, racist, EVIL Republican.”

              Their baggage they’re asking you to carry.

              “Neither is speaking to me at the moment.”

              That’s seriously fucked!


              I thought I was wrong once; turned out I was mistaken…

  8. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies; — though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

      • The solution to the spiritual malady of self-centeredness will not be cured by non-spiritual methods. Another well known person stated it in the profound quote: “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
        If people choose to live a selfish life, why would a good person, observing this, continue to enable this behaviour, when even the remote possibility of moving these people to fulfilling lives exist?
        Please, for their sake then, keep your false charity. Have the courage to do the right thing even if it feels wrong. Then you will be really helping others.

  9. “…I do not like being treated like a mark or a chump.”

    What could this woman gain by treating you as a mark or a chump? You wrote this woman knows you and obviously knows you have been kind in the past. As intelligent as you are, you are just now seeing this woman has no common decency? She must be a great actress or maybe it could just be that pesky Hanlon thing? I don’t know. You were there. I wasn’t. But if she is that good of an actress…and I know you have seen many good actresses and this woman had you fooled for a year…surely you have the connections to point her in the right direction to hone this gift she has? Either way, does the woman need help? You felt she did until she didn’t hold the door open for you. Doors can really have a lot of meaning for people, huh?

  10. We have this sort of thing, enabled by bleeding heart low information wishy washy types, sprouting up in our area. I have made a game of studying them:

    – look at the shoes: are they intentionally scuffed, but the soles in good shape? Comfortable shoes are important if you are standing on asphalt all day. Most looking for a meal will not spring for good shoes.

    -look at the clothes: are they the same each day? Have they been washed? Same stains as yesterday? This in of itself proves nothing, but can tie into other observations.

    -Same person/same corner? Working in a team? Same teammates? Others at that corner with same sign? Are they there at the same times, and are others there at other, different times? Shift workers?

    -How do they look, physically? Living under a bridge is harsh. Do they look ill used? Saw a guy yesterday who had a pot belly, sign asking for a meal. Saw a guy staggering, obviously under some sort of influence.

    -Are they aggressive? (This is rare where I live: the police dislike their citizens being intimidated) What is their attitude, especially in moments when they think no one is looking?

    None of these observations are probitive, by themselves. Give if you wish.

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