One of the worst things about being a Northwestern student is being treated like a rich, stupid brat. Advertisers know that we’re living in a land of milk and honey. Our money is not our own: Our parents slave away so that we can complain about our midterms and drunkenly wallow in our sorrows late night in BK. Or, if you’re like me, you’re sucking the government’s or the bank’s teats instead and digging a sizeable debt to fall into when you’re living in that post-graduation box.
Advertisers aren’t the only ones aware of our finances. Since Evanston is Chicago’s rich, stupid cousin, it makes sense that the homeless population and those planet pushers in the green coats down by the Arch will treat you like a walking money bag. And by the second group I mean Greenpeace, whose disarming smiles and dripping noses almost tug your heartstrings enough to make you pause on your way to University Hall.
But this isn’t a fact vs. fiction article about global warming or nuclear energy. I’d just like to offer a few strategies I’ve used to preserve the pennies and quarters in my pockets. You never know when you’ll need to buy some Homies.
1. Work on your “city face.” That’s the squinty, hard look you see on a lot of city folk. Try to look angry or constipated. You can also try looking preoccupied with something particularly gruesome, like murder. This is the easiest strategy since you won’t actually have to talk to anyone — if you are doing it correctly, nobody will dare approach you.
It’s similar to playing the game where you walk in the center of the sidewalk and refuse to break your pace or move for others. If you go downtown during rush hour, you’ll notice this game and the “city face” strategy are favorites among urban professionals.
2. Be polite. Very polite. If the homeless person or the Greenpeace guy has initiated conversation, you’ve lost half the battle. You look like a sucker. But it’s too late now, so be polite. When they ask for money, tell them thanks. I try to say it at least five times, and do it while I’m still walking. Smile, and tell them, “No, thanks, though! Thanks so much! Thanks, no! No, thank you! Naw, thanks! Nope, but thanks!” They’ll be disarmed and confused by your politeness, and by the fact that it’s totally senseless to thank somebody asking for your money.
3. Make a funny face. This is my favorite approach. Nobody’s feelings get hurt, and it raises everyone’s spirits. It gives them something to talk about, and it gives you the chance to test out that face outside of the bathroom.
This strategy can also be used to save somebody else from money-grubbing. If you notice that Greenpeace has one of your peers in its verdant clutches, walk behind the Greenpeacian and make a face at him or her that only the victim can see. You’ll sleep easy knowing that you made those uncomfortable moments when someone is forced to lie about his wallet easier.
4. Think of a short, inarguable and melodramatic statement. Memorize and recite. It’s easy. My favorite is, “I don’t try to validate my existence by supporting global causes.” A ham-handed statement about your worldview has no possible comeback, especially from somebody with his own pre-recorded script rumbling around in his brain. No matter what they say, they implicitly agree with you and let you pass by. Even something as inane as, “I’m too busy living my life!” should do the trick.
Just don’t make an excuse, because that gives them something to respond to. Unless you approach knowing today is the day that you want to put your money somewhere you’ll never see again, you’re only wasting your time (read: life) by talking to them.
Even a valid excuse, like the one I used a month ago on my way to Ogilvie Transportation Center (“I’m going to miss my train!”), didn’t stop a homeless person from chasing me down Washington Street yelling, “I’m better than you!” Life, as they say, is like a box of chocolates, and you never know which nougat creation is inedible. I do know that I might’ve missed my train if I hadn’t been running from that homeless guy.