July 6, 2011

Meet Roger, the coolest panhandler in New York City.

There’s a dude I pass most days on the way to my office in New York City. He’s always in the same spot, standing curbside by a dark green mailbox, on 40th Street between Madison and Fifth.

His name is Roger. (I’ve included two pictures of him on this page.) He dresses like a long lost member of Parliament-Funkadelic. Colorful scarves and head wraps, flowing coats, sometimes a walking stick and an ever-changing pair of super-cool sunglasses.

I suppose he’s a panhandler, of sorts, but he’s not that good at it. You see, I’ve never actually seen Roger ask for money.  Plus, he stands at the very edge of the sidewalk, almost in the street. He holds different containers to accept any change passersby might give him, but he holds them down by his waist so they’re hard to notice.

For a while his money receptacle of choice was a beat-up blue and white fisherman’s cap. Then, a ceramic coffee cup. More recently, he’s been holding a small yellow beach pail, the kind you might see a toddler using to collect shells at the beach.

I drop change or a dollar into Roger’s hat/cup/pail a few times a week. Funny, but over the year I’ve become acquainted with him, I’ve not seen even a single coin in his hat/cap/pail. Either he pockets the money quickly, or no one else chooses to contribute to Roger but me.

He usually stands stoically, barely moving except for an ever so slight swaying from side-to-side. To my surprise, one day I saw him dancing, not the funky, soulful steps you might expect. He danced more like a hippie chick at a Phish concert, his arms slowing poking into the sky as his hips wiggled and he shimmied up and down.

For a long time, I contemplated asking Roger if he was homeless. But I don’t think he is. He doesn’t have the rank smell you often associate with the homeless and he’s always so nattily dressed.

Still, I wanted to engage with him beyond just learning his name and, uncertain what to say, I asked my 11-year old daughter what I might ask him. She suggested, “Are you happy?” So I’m going to ask him that the next time I see him—if I see him again.

Roger is suddenly gone from his usual spot, it’s been almost two weeks since he was last there. Maybe he’s moved to a new location or moved on to a non-panhandling life. Either way, the world feels slightly less special without Roger in it.

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