Exiting the bodega today I was accosted by a beggar, which is unusual in itself; I’ve lived in New York for twenty-odd years and by now wear an invisible sign that reads “Don’t Even THINK of Asking Me for Money.” Today’s mendicant hadn’t perfected his invisible-sign-reading skills, or maybe he had, because his opening line was, “I don’t want money,” and he had me hooked.
“You don’t want money. What do you want then?”
“Coffee, juice, anything.”
“How do you plan to buy these things?”
“You can buy them for me.”
“OK, let me clarify. You don’t want money. You want consumer goods that must be purchased with money.”
“But you can buy them!”
And as he wandered off, a scene from The Jerk suddenly, unbidden, flashed through my mind. Steve Martin, having made his fortune from the Opti-Grip, has lost it all in a class-action suit (paging Wally Olson!), for making customers permanently cross-eyed. His wife, Bernadette Peters, sits despondent in an empty living room as the repo men cart away their worldly goods. “It isn’t the money I’ll miss,” she says. “It’s all the stuuuuuuuuff!”