But Missoula takes it to a whole other level. This time of year, you can’t go a single block without encountering at least a cardboard sign and semi-aggressive pitch from the holder. Unlike Jax, the beggars here are mostly young and lean. They have nose jewelry and complicated hair. They are not what you’d call down on their luck.
I suppose that’s at least partly because the Rainbow Family of Living Light had another of their gatherings in southwestern Montana earlier this month. The Rainbows are a lot like the bikers of Sturgis, bound together mostly by wardrobe and a misplaced sense of nonconformity. They gather for the big party, then take weeks to disperse to other climes. In the meantime, despite their philosophical rejection of conventional culture, they could really use some conventional cash.
It has become increasingly annoying. At least bikers don’t beg. I got mad at a guy today. My brother and I were walking back from breakfast when he came running down the sidewalk toward us. “Can you help me out, man? I just got carded!”
Leaving aside the question of what the hell that was supposed to mean, I wanted to punch the kid in the face. I settled for some sharp words. Here he was: Early 20s, in decent physical shape, not bad-looking, having the time of his life in this kingdom of summer called Missoula. And he would like some of my money.
This is so wrong on so many levels. But the most irritating thing is the utter disrespect it conveys. To this kid, other people are nothing more than walking wallets. He sees no shame in begging, because in his world nobody else really exists apart from the cash they might dispense.
Yeah, I know all about real homelessness, and those who suffer because of mental illness or genuine misfortune. Sometimes people do actually need help — delivered in a way that goes beyond spare change. But here’s my impression of Missoula in summer: For every beggar in dire need, there there are dozen who aren’t. They need my money a lot less than they need a kick in the ass and a glimpse of themselves in middle age.
Around here there’s a popular rejoinder when healthy young adults ask for spare change. You smile beatifically and say, “Change comes from within.”