Breaking News: Panhandler Successfully Avoided
New York NY (AP) – Bruce Feiler, 28, scored a coup this morning when, on his way out of Grand Central Station on 42nd Street, he managed to maintain a buffer of other pedestrians between him and a panhandler. Feiler thus averted eye contact with the pathetic soul, and thus prevented the profound awkwardness of encountering a fellow human in such dire straits and not offering substantial assistance.
The incident marks the second time this week that the accountant has evaded the massive guilt he would otherwise feel had he walked directly past the panhandler and given the man nothing. Instead, minuscule pangs picked at Feiler’s conscience for approximately 2.8 seconds, the time elapsed between the non-encounter with the beggar and arrival at the nearest crosswalk, where Feiler’s focus shifted to the red-light-green-light dynamic that governs the remainder of his walk to work.
Feiler selected the route within the first few days of his employment at his current firm, as he had observed that crossing 42nd Street any farther east would bring him into potential contact with at least two other panhandlers. He works on the north side of 42nd at Third Avenue, which requires him to cross back over the east-west artery. On several occasions he rationalized the specifics of the route by electing to use the ATM at the Bank of New York branch at 42nd and Park, which would necessitate crossing the street almost immediately upon exiting the terminal.
Other times, he bought coffee from a streetcart vendor on the south side, and felt compelled to praise the superiority of that purveyor’s wares over those of a competing seller on the north side of the street, despite the utter lack of distinction in quality or flavor between the two. Twice, Feiler also manufactured an intention to visit a housewares store on the south side of the street in order to justify his roundabout itinerary.
In an average workweek, Feiler succeeds about half the time in avoiding the awkwardness of direct proximity with the panhandler at the Grand Central exit, which is an excellent achievement, says Hope Liss, an analyst with GOP Poverty Solutions, a for-profit research firm. “Most working pedestrians have to plan their beggar-avoidance path at least twenty feet in advance of the panhandler, but emerging from the station on a crowded weekday morning during rush hour doesn’t afford you that wiggle room,” she explained. “So managing with such consistency to create a convincing image of not noticing the beggar takes considerable skill.”
The beggar in question, Felix Henderson, 50, has a history of drug addiction and unemployment, though he is currently clean, and is considered by veteran Grand Central commuters to be relatively adept at forcing eye contact and engendering sufficient empathy to warrant a donation of at least a dime, sometimes a whole dollar. He pleasantly thanks each contributor, and praises Feiler’s skill at pretending the panhandler does not exist.
“That guy with the gray suit and always-polished shoes? Yeah, I seen him. He one of the guys who happen to remember to be on the phone as they approaches,” said the homeless man.
He shook his head. “Never seen a more pathetic sight.”
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