Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Alpha Bum

I've wondered for years about the Alpha Bum. Some say he's a myth, but I tell ya he lives on these here streets.

No, just kidding. I had to write that second sentence in the voice of some old-timer con artist in a Scooby-Doo episode. Because if I didn't, my head might've exploded, or at the very least I would have had my poetic license suspended.

Now, where was I?

Right, the Alpha Bum.

I probably first started noticing the "Why lie? I need a beer!" signs in use by panhandlers ten years ago. I'm sure they've been around longer, and had I been paying more attention would have noticed at least one in college, where the sales pitch seems particularly suited.

It occurred to me at some point that there must have been some first use of this begging tactic, some panhandler who struck upon the reverse psychology in a moment of inspiration. In short, an Alpha Bum. And, somehow, the stories of this one Alpha Bum's success spread, maybe along the rails, until bums across America, nay, across the globe, were using this now-familiar tactic.

How familiar? It has become self-referential, capable of its own shorthand. On the way to pick up the Munchkin at school today, I passed a panhandler holding a sign that said only "Why lie?"

That is how might the legacy of the Alpha Bum is - it is an accepted meme, capable of carrying it's meaning with an ultimate economy of words.

I'd like to meet the Alpha Bum someday, and give a quarter to Greatness.