Paul Smith baby boomer commentary
You don't hear the word panhandle much these days and it doesn't appear in some dictionaries. It's not archaic, not even remotely, and it comes with two meanings, one geographic, the other 'to beg'.
As a language, English quite likes the word handle. We fly off the handle. We manhandle and unfortunately amidst the wealth of New Zealand, we panhandle. It's a singularly American term, as foreign to our Anglo inheritance and vocab as say, gridiron. It's not only an unfamiliar word, but a practice which for years was unseen on our streets. Now it's back, driven as much by top level laissez-faire as by the recession.
In city streets and Auckland 'burbs panhandlers ask for money - a dollar here, some bus fares there. In a Pak 'n' Save supermarket carpark a twenty-something woman waits as cars park and shoppers climb out. Then she asks if they can spare a dollar. She and her partner have to drive back to Papakura, she says, and they've run out of petrol…
At a city bus stop a man asks for a few dollars to get home, all the while eyeing notes in an open wallet. All this is happening amidst reports of more burglaries in wealthier suburbs which is why some properties shelter behind the palisades of electronic gates and high fences.
Years ago a friend who had worked most of her life in African countries returned home, shaking her head at what she saw around her. Her New Zealand, the once classless society, was in the early stages of a class war she said.
You see people shrugging off panhandlers. But what happens when instead of the open, begging palm, there's a knife or a gun?