The Politically Incorrect Mom


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Sea and The Gall

I just got back from being at the beach for a few days with my daughter. We came home refreshed (not really), tan and ready to start a new school year (her). We visited Atlantic City, NJ, which is not our normal digs but our favorite team happened to be playing in A.C., so we were able to do the beach thing AND catch a few games.

I learned something very interesting about myself while I was visiting Atlantic City. As we strolled the boardwalk in the evenings, I found myself doling money out to the beggars on the boards – but with some prejudice. The people who know me know that I don’t have much tolerance for people who don’t help themselves. The people who know me well know that the preceding statement is really only the surface. I am really quite a push-over and can be hoodwinked at the drop of a hat – especially if there are children involved. I want to be strong when it comes to things like that - and often times I am 99.9% sure that I'm being conned - but on the odd chance that the woman really does have a child that she left in Guadalajara who was born with no arms, legs or head and needs an operation.....I just gotta give her some money.

My mind goes back a few years to when my daughters and I were in Mexico. I had a very difficult time saying no to most of the vagabonds we encountered because most of them were smart enough to bring their barefoot, filthy, sad-eyed little children along for the begging. I remember, quite specifically, a comment my older daughter made, “Mom, do you ever think these people might be living better than we are and this is how they do it?” She wasn’t begrudging the hand-outs. In fact, I think she was digging in her purse for another Peso to give away.

Later that day we got on a bus to go back to our hotel and realized very quickly that we had boarded the wrong bus. Of course the bus driver didn’t speak English. Why would he? So, my oldest daughter and I wracked our brains trying to come up with the words we knew in Spanish to form a sentence that would let the driver know we needed to get off the bus (this is after 4 years of Spanish classes???). Before we knew it (and before we had formed a sentence) we found ourselves in the trenches of poverty.

The dirt road leading up a hill and out of town was strewn with ramshackle houses without windows or doors. Skinny, filthy children played in mud puddles in the grassless front “lawns” to stay cool. Garbage and filth were everywhere. Working class people began to get on and off the bus at each corner. Women dressed in hotel uniforms and men with lunch pails. We stopped worrying about where we were for a few minutes and sat silently, taking in our surroundings.

Before long, a bus headed in the opposite direction approached our bus and we managed to piece together a word or two of Spanish to let the driver know we needed to get on the other bus. By the time we reached our beautiful hotel with comfortable beds, swimming pool and spa, I’m pretty sure my girls had learned a very valuable lesson. I know I had.

Fast forward a couple of years and there I was, walking the boards at Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States of America. Home of the brave and free. Land of opportunity. Anyone who has been to an east coast shore town knows that the shops and restaurants are full of foreigners, working for the summer at the beach because the opportunities are many. Several of the stores, restaurants and attractions had “HELP WANTED” signs posted on their doors. Why, then, do you suppose there was a beggar on every block?

With the exception of the guy in a wheelchair who had about 12 inches of body and a head and arms, every single one of them could stand, walk, talk…. Some of them beat on 5 gallon buckets to earn their hand-outs (one who was particularly talented and could have easily had a real job playing the drums) while others played a trumpet or harmonica. Then there was the one-man-band guy – he was actually semi-entertaining. I found myself giving money to those who where at least trying to entertain or "earn" the spare change that was filling their buckets.

What’s my point? What IS my point? I guess the point is this… I learned that although I tend to have a bleeding heart when it comes to some things, I still believe that if you can help yourself – you should. You owe it to yourself. People say it takes courage to beg. Perhaps that’s true at first, but I didn’t see a single beggar in A.C. who looked as though he was embarrassed or ashamed of what he was doing. Many of them standing right in front of establishments with "HELP WANTED" signs posted. I suspect it gets easier and easier until the person somehow feels justified in what he or she is doing. In fact, I actually had quite an encounter with a guy who goes by the name of “Tony Pots and Pans”. This guy was quite entertaining as he beat on his buckets, bowls and pans. Occasionally he would shout out something while he played that made the crowd laugh and each time we passed, there was a crowd of 20-25 people standing near him to listen and "donate" to the cause. I had dropped a dollar into his bucket each time we went by, which was every night of our stay. On the last night of our stay, as I walked by his “perch” for the 8th or 9th time, I took out my camera to get a picture of him beating on his five-gallon buckets and bowls. Mr. Pots and Pans wasn’t the slightest bit ashamed to stop drumming and tell me that it would cost $10 to take a photo. Where I come from, we don’t call that courage – we call it gall.


  • At 2:38 AM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Colin C. said…

    Dear Politically Incorrect Mom:

    I was born and raised in New York City and grew up hearing "Tony Pots and Pans," the man you mention in your post, banging away on his buckets, pans, and assorted metal objects on 42nd Street for at least a decade and a half. This past Christmas Eve (2005), I saw him perform and wondered if Tony had a website. I did a Google search and came up with very little except your post in which you refer to him as a beggar. I really think this is atrocious. The term "beggar" has connotations of drug and alcohol problems, homelessness, insanity, filth and disease. While I don't know the man personally, I know he is not a homeless beggar. He is a street performer licensed to perform under the MTA's "Music Under New York" program ( He is a man of urban culture, the first person (as far as I know and can remember) to use buckets and pans as drums, a style which has spawned many subway copycats throughout the years. As his banner and newspaper articles indicate, he is "The Original Tony Pots and Pans" and has been a staple of NYC for countless years. New York City is not middle America. And I feel sorry that you, Politically Incorrect Mom, are a symptom of your own whitebread, Wal-Mart driven, American culture. You display obvious xenophobia and shudder at the thought of anything different or offbeat. The labeling of a street performer as a "beggar" shows your ignorance. “Gall” better describes your post. By the way, Tony asks for $2, not $10.

  • At 5:34 PM, December 28, 2005, Blogger P.I. Mom said…

    Well, Colin, your observations are quite interesting. I would love to know what, in your opinion, draws the line between an "artist" and a beggar? If you read the post, you would notice that I did give Mr. Pots and Pans credit for having talent. Enough talent, even, to get a real job. I would suggest that it's easier to sleep till noon and only go out and bang on your pots and pans when the spirit moves you or the rent is due. Perhaps beggar is a strong word - maybe gypsie is a better way to describe him. At any rate - you know nothing about my "middle American" culture or where I've been or haven't been. I'm well aware that Tony Pots and Pans has been at it for years - which would also indicate he's probably had several offers of real employment and hasn't taken anyone up on it.
    Please don't feel sorry for me. I have a real job.
    Oh yes, and one more thing...
    Evidently inflation has taken it's toll on Mr. Pots and Pans because I guarantee he asked for TEN dollars - not two. In fact, I just re-watched the clip I have and he clearly said "ONLY TEN DOLLARS!"

  • At 7:07 PM, April 30, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 6:18 PM, May 04, 2006, Blogger P.I. Mom said…

    Can't keep profane comments from punks - sorry.

  • At 9:26 PM, December 28, 2007, Anonymous martha23 said…

    I'm a conservative and I agree with Colin that your assessment of Tony is pretty ignorant. If you appreciate a free market economy, then you might realize that he's an entrepeneur.

    He has a great gimic, and he goes out there in the heat and cold and sells it. It's people like that who invented the companies that give you your "real" 9-6 job.

    Furthermore, Tony has been in films, is iconic of New York subway musician culture, and was in the original cast of rent. I recently saw him in Times Square with a manager. I even had a discussion with him regarding his frustration with people's cultural misconceptions of him. How it upset him that people think he's a bum because of his art- he doesn't look like a bum, he doesn't dress like one, and he plays like a pro. If you knew anything about music, you would hear that the structure and intelligent use of polyrhythms would only be employed by someone with professional training and experience.

    What he is doing is far more stressful than just going to an office every day, and may require him to stay out there until midnight. You get off at 6. You get weekends off, but he does not. He may sleep to noon, but so do hard working waiters and professional orchestral cellists.

    As a true conservative, and not just some middle management self-righteous person with a full time job (and yes, I work at a full time 9-6 job), I applaud Tony for his creativity, hard work, entrepeunerial spirt. I applaud him for continuing with it for many years.

    I would like to define the line between artist and beggar. A beggar expects something for nothing- this could be homeless, drug addict, welfare, or many government workers who do almost no work for a generous salary and waste our tax dollars.

    An artist expresses his/herself with a creation of their own. They hone a craft and work independent of criticism. They believe in what they're doing, and if that translates to entertaining others, can make a great living on the street in tourist-frequented areas.

    Music for "found objects" dates back to John Cage in high art- you can find it at Stomp, or at the Lincoln Center, or in the very unique street art of New York City.

    Also, from the myself and my friends/other fans in New York, "Thanks for the great beats Tony Pots-n-Pans!"

  • At 12:13 AM, December 29, 2007, Blogger P.I. Mom said…

    Martha - since you weren't on the boards that night - let me clue you in on something...
    Mr. Pots and Pans DID look like a bum. He was dressed like a bum - his family looked like bums and he smelled. YES - you could smell him from a mile away! He had his wife and children (I assume they belonged to him) on the boards - late at night - with no shoes and none of them looked like they had bathed in a week.
    Again - I have never argued that the man isn't POINT (if you actually cared that there was one) is that a man with talent and AMBITION, wouldn't be out there asking for spare change (and dollars!). It's not people like Tony Pots and Pans who created MY free market economy - it was men and women with ambition. Ambition enough to get out there and exercise a little thing I like to call work ethic.

    Oh yeah - and I love your comment, "if you knew anything about music...". Just for the record - I am a musician. My daughters are musicians. In fact, my oldest just graduated with high honors with a degree in music and spent 2 years studying abroad in one of the most prestigious creative arts schools in the world.

    Call him an him a him a friggin' genious for all I care....but the man was begging for money.

  • At 5:11 PM, November 30, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well I am a representive of Mr Pots and Pans and you are in violation . You can/will be sued if this post is not tooken down immediately thanks


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