I got an email from Horse at email@example.com excoriating me for having written that panhandlers are getting rare in American cities. "I must say," Horse wrote, "that this is completely not the case right now. i currently have taken up temporary residence in NYC and every day i go out and panhandle my ass off with at least 6 other people. this 'art' is completely not dead and it is actually getting harder. i'm lucky if i finish with 30 dollars by the end of the night. 30 dollars is barely enough for my dog and i. i am now going to spange you through this email. please, if you have friends in NYC, talk them into being more wholehearted (if they aren't already) and help with this dwindling financial problem that us nomadic panhandlers face each day."
I've taken the liberty of quoting Horse at some length, not just because he is an articulate spokesperson for what I was sure was a lost art, but for his skilful use of the neologism "spange," a word I never heard before and that could be worth, if this was a fair world, at least a hundred grand. If Horse could sell "spange" for that amount neither he nor his dog would have to go without for the foreseeable future. There are people a lot less swift than my correspondent who are making a hundred grand a year dreaming up stupid new words for phone companies and sickly new drinks. Horse could jump right into the booze war and name a vodka that even dogs might drink. In fact, I'm willing to bet that anyone who can use the language and the Internet as admirably as Horse is not panhandling for money, but for art. Sure, he's begging for a living, but he's doing people a favor. He relieves them of change and guilt, and gives them, no doubt, a thrill or two by tossing neologisms their way. It is possible also that some of Horse's benefactors walked into their glass penthouses with a word like "spange" between their frapuccino-glistening lips and made a hundred grand by just dropping it. I am also willing to bet that Horse's dog, whose name I don't know, wouldn't drink the vodka Horse might have involuntarily baptized.
I used to think that beggars served an ecological and spiritual function, that they were a monastic order that drained off society's excess. Now I'm beginning to suspect that they are a lot more than that, an actual resource that creates opportunities and feeds a truly parasitic new urban class, consisting of advertisers, copy-writers, etc.
In the spirit of "spange" I join my voice to that of Horse to urge the people of New York and those of other cities where beggars ply their art to give immediately and a lot if they don't want their slick jobs to evaporate. Overpaid metrosexuals, you have nothing to lose by giving but your unimaginatively earned cash. Your souls will never be as free as Horse's dog, but your guilt will be cleansed.
Andrei Codrescu's new book is Mon Amour: Twenty Years Of Writing From the City (Algonquin).