I was in traffic the other day. There was a homeless woman on the side of the road with a sign that read “Need Money To Feed My Dog, God Bless.” At her side was an Australian Sheppard, cowering in the bushes. When I’m trapped at a traffic signal with a homeless person begging for money, I usually stare right at them. The woman took this as an offer for money, but gave up after I didn’t roll my window down. She had a good look at my car—a heap of shattered plastic and divot ridden pot metal filled with garbage. In her defense, it looks like I live in my car, and in a way I do. According to the IRS, the woman begging at the side of the road and I were probably in the same tax bracket.
I was surprised by the woman’s resourcefulness, to use her dog to make people feel bad enough to give her some money. There’s a good chance that she got the dog in order to improve her haul. I was angry with her for putting the dog in her situation. She obviously couldn’t take care of herself, but she had chosen to be unable to take care of that poor dog too. Then it occurred to me that this woman, her mismatched clothes and broken sunglasses, was doing something that most people with MFAs would never be able to accomplish. She was getting paid for what she wrote. Those eight words on a piece of cardboard probably took care of dinner, a couple of tall boys, and a pack of cigarettes—more than most literary magazines are able to pay. Hell, she was making Seventeen Magazine money (two dollars a word).
Now I could whine about the good old gilded days when short stories paid Fitzgerald-money, or try to deconstruct where literary magazines went wrong, or try to rationalize why most of them are nothing more than a cottage industry for other MFA programs, but I’d rather discuss the value of a good hobo sign because that’s where the money’s at.
My Favorite Signs:
Need fuel for my spaceship.
Hair of the Dog fund
Ninjas killed my family, need money for kung fu lessons.