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Beggar with a baby 

How to suck all the fun out of irresponsibility

I refuse to feel guilty about not breaking into Lary's house just yet. I know he's been waiting patiently for me to bust in while at the same time percolating all these rumors about the drug cargo he keeps inside, and I know if I don't act fast he could snork everything in his stash so that by the time I finally get there he'll probably be dead on the damp tile with nothing but a hard-on and a hose up his nose. I know all this and I mean to break in to save him, I do, but dammit, the day just keeps getting away from me.

It's true. I'm, like, busy lately, which is such a foreign feeling to me. Until fairly recently, in order to maintain a livelihood, my standard process had been to simply lay around with my hand out and hope money fell into it, and you'd be surprised at how effective that method was. There are actual cases of panhandlers in San Diego who were making $60,000 a year doing just that, and that was back in the '80s. In today's dollars that would equal approximately twice the GNP of a country populated solely by early dot-com dickheads.

But then I had a child and that sucked all the fun out of irresponsibility. I know it would have been possible to continue the path I was on, or even to panhandle with a baby, because I've visited many places where mothers do just that to incredible effect -- or I should say it has an incredible effect on me, anyway, as I am a sucker for a beggar with a baby. It's true. I'm impervious to regular beggars to the point where I could pass a parade of blind cripples with their cups out without once reaching for my wallet, but if I see a beggar with a baby I'll empty my purse on her.

There are exceptions, though. Like I never give money to beggars in Switzerland and Germany, whether they have a baby or even a puppy, because in those countries the citizenry is generally so privileged that to supplement their down-and-out would be like me taking money from my own daughter's welfare and putting it toward the Lindsay Lohan DUI attorney-fee fundraiser.

And there was also the time when I was visiting my sister Cheryl in Nicaragua, about to unload a backpack of bills on this decrepit woman with a bandaged child in her arms, when Cheryl flew through the saloon doors of the bar she owns to body-block the transaction.

"Don't you dare give that witch any money!" Cheryl insisted. Then she turned to the woman, who looked like a mummy dug up from a peat bog, and hissed a stream of Spanish expletives at her. Later Cheryl explained that this woman was the mother of a well-off Granada businessman who borrowed his kids with his behest to further pad the family slush fund by begging. "She has more money than any of us," Cheryl said, disgusted.

Later we went to the local mercado and this beggar kept following us around, wagging the baby's bandaged leg at us and trying, with great success, to appear as pathetic as possible. Cheryl had no problem ignoring her as she stocked up on Lary's request for prescription Ritalin at one of the 50 pharmacies to choose from, but Cheryl was not the person for whose attention the beggar campaigned. Looking back, I have to marvel at that woman's marketing technique. She knew how hard it is to resist a beggar with a baby. If not for my sister, I would still have given her money.

So now Lary is patiently waiting for me to break into his house with the intent to try and help save him from something. But he doesn't need saving. He doesn't even need my attention; he is just trying to see if he can get it. "I got a pressure cooker full of drugs over here," he taunts, "and the lid is off."

"I'm busy," I whine. "For chrissakes, you are the most selfish sack of turd I know."

Besides, in all my attempts I have never once saved Lary, while he, on the other hand, is almost always saving me. Even now, with his suspiciously subdued behavior and lukewarm proddings about possible drug dangers, I have to wonder whether he doesn't have prescriptions for most of the crap he takes. I also have to wonder if he even takes it at all. For all I know, his drugs are just a beard for his behavior, and all the nutty tangents, fly-by-night conspiracies and manic bouts of measuring everything in sight might just comprise his natural state.

"When the hell are you getting here?" he asked me over the phone. "You said you were breaking in; now get over here and break in," and it occurred to me then that he's doing this to make me choose. That's it. All of this -- the questionable drug addiction, the abnormally dim demeanor of late, the bloodied butcher aprons draping the railing to his basement -- all this is just his way of helping me affirm my priorities. What a guy.

"I'm going to Disney World this weekend with my girl. You'll have to wait until after that," I said, adding, "please?" very contritely, because I know how hard it is to resist a beggar with a baby.

Hollis Gillespie is an NPR commentator and author of two acclaimed memoirs. To register for her writing workshops, visit www.hollisgillespie.com.

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