Monday, December 16, 2013

Don't get scammed! Don't give money to beggars in New York City!

The police officer in this photo bought a new pair of boots for this guy who was lying in the streets without shoes and socks.  The officer wasn't a hero, though; he got scammed. The guy without shoes was not homeless - he chose to sit on the street without shoes to make money by begging.  The guy actually had an apartment and was getting free money from the government.  "To be scammed" means that someone tells you something false in order to get money from you.

I wrote a pretty good book for people who are interested in New York City.  

The book is called:
New York City Sucks, But You'll Want To Come Here Anyway
(If something 'sucks' it is bad.)

Here's the link on amazon.  It's very inexpensive, so please buy it if you want to work on your vocabulary. :)

I wrote a new, little chapter for the book. It is called: Don't give money to beggars!

I hope you like it:

5. Please don’t give money to beggars!
(underlined words are defined after the reading passage)
One night, around Christmastime, a police officer in Times Square saw a man lying on the sidewalk who wasn’t wearing any shoes or socks.  It was extremely cold outside and the cop felt sorry for the man.  He was afraid that the man’s feet might freeze in such cold weather.  And, of course, it was around Christmastime, when everyone in America feels very generous. 

So the cop realized that there was a shoe store right next to where the guy was lying and he decided to do a good deed.  He asked the man what his shoe size was, then he went into the store and bought a pair of beautiful boots for the homeless man.  He paid over $100 of his hard earned money for those boots.

The police officer didn’t realize it, but there were some tourists standing nearby who not only observed what he did, but they also took photos of him handing the new boots to the homeless man. (You can see one of the photos above.)  Then they sent the photos to the local newspapers and the cop’s photo was on the front page of newspapers, not just in New York City, but all over the country.  The cop became an instant hero and was on many TV shows.

But, this whole situation seemed very strange to me from the start.  I have a lot of experience in this city and I can smell a rat a mile away.  In another chapter of this book I wrote about my volunteer experience with homeless people and I knew from that experience that there are many places in Manhattan where homeless people can get free clothes.  There are churches all over the city that give homeless people free food and free clothes.  In fact, there are very good people who travel around at night looking for homeless people who might need clothes.  So how could this guy be sitting on the street with no shoes on his feet?  It didn’t make sense.  Honestly, some homeless people are better dressed than I am!  I’ve thought about going to these churches to get free food and clothing too! (I'm joking.)

So the situation didn’t make sense.  You just don't see people sitting around Manhattan without shoes.  The homeless know where to go to get food and clothing.  In fact, there are homeless 'shelters' that are provided by the city where they can sleep at night for free.  

Apparently a couple journalists didn’t think the situation made sense either because they began looking for the homeless guy who got the free shoes.  They wanted to ask him a few questions.  And, in fact, one journalist found the guy near Columbia University – walking around with no shoes on his feet again!

When the journalist asked the man where his beautiful new boots were, the man stated that the boots were so nice that he was afraid other homeless people might try to kill him and steal the boots.  But, this was, of course, a lie.

It turned out that this guy wasn’t even homeless!  People from his apartment building saw him in the newspaper and called the newspaper and said that this guy had free housing from the government because he had been in the military and was suffering, apparently, from a psychological disorder.  So he wasn’t homeless, he was getting free housing, free food and free money from the government.  But, sometimes he would walk around in the cold without any shoes just to make people really pity him!  

He would deliberately sit on the sidewalk without shoes and socks because this made him look more pitiful and, therefore, people would be more likely to give him money.

It all made sense now.  This is why he was literally lying right outside of a shoe store. He wanted someone to feel sorry for him and buy him a pair of expensive shoes, so that he could take the shoes back later and get a refund.  So, basically, the cop got scammed.  He wasn’t a hero, he was a guy who got taken advantage of by a shady fake homeless guy who was already getting lots of free stuff from the tax payers.

So what’s the lesson you should learn?  Please!  Please please pretty please!  Don’t give money to anyone.  They are all trying to scam you.  Sometimes you’ll even see mothers on the subway holding babies.  The woman will say, “My baby and I can’t find a shelter…we are so hungry…..” No.  Not true.  There’s definitely a shelter that will take a homeless mother and baby.  This is America not India.  There are not people starving and dying in the streets here.  You’ll hear beggars giving you all kinds of sob stories.  No!  Don’t believe them! 

The homeless people I helped as a volunteer even told me this – the people who are begging are just trying to make money, usually for drugs or alcohol.  If you give them money you are probably hurting them more than helping them.  Sometimes people will stand in subway stations and say, “Please….I just need $1 to get on the subway and get home…” No!  They are lying.  In fact, my language exchange partner Bob once made a stupid mistake.  He had to make a quick subway trip and just grabbed a leather packet with his Metrocard in it.  After he got to where he was going he tried to use the card again for a return trip and it wouldn’t work. There was no more money on the Metrocard.  Bob then realized he had not brought his other wallet with his credit cards and money.  So now he was far from his apartment without any money and without any Metrocard.

So what would you have done?  Some people might have explained their situation to the subway attendant, but, realistically, this person wouldn’t have believed Bob.  Some people might have tried turnstyle jumping, but this is illegal and Bob doesn’t do anything illegal.  So Bob walked.  It was in the summer, the weather was OK, and he just walked home.  It took him 3 and ½ hours, but he simply walked home.  Basically, that’s what honest people do.  He was in desperate need of a little money, but he could not bring himself to beg.  It was beneath his dignity. Listen to Suzy, if you come here, please don’t give these beggars a penny.

Definitions of terms:

a beggar – someone who asks for money from strangers

the sidewalk – this is the long area of concrete that people walk on. The sidewalk is separated from the street by a curb.  You always park your car next to a curb.

a cop – police officers are called cops.  What’s interesting is that in previous generations there were often negative and nasty terms for police in America.  Young people usually used these terms. For instance, in the 60s and 70s cops were called ‘pigs.’ That might be because of how the police acted toward young people who protested the Vietnam War. Now, in America, I don’t think there are any slang or nasty terms for the police.

the guy – you hear ‘guy’ all the time.  He’s the guy I told you about. He’s the guy who lives near me.  He’s the guy who was in the newspapers. Etc.  So ‘guy’ refers to a man.  There’s really no term like this for women.

to do a good deed - to do something good for someone; a deed is an action.  For example:  I saw an elderly woman who was having trouble carrying her groceries, so I did a good deed and helped her carry her bags home.

my hard earned money – this is an expression you hear a lot of. I am not wasting my hard earned money on such a bad movie!  A person could say, “I am not going to waste my money on…” but people will often say, “I am not going to waste my hard earned money on…”  Adding ‘hard earned’ provides greater emphasis. It implies that the person works very hard and does not want to waste money he/she worked hard for.

I can smell a rat – this means that you can sense that something is wrong.  A rat is like a big mouse.  It is an animal that likes to eat garbage and that nobody likes.  You can’t say for sure, or you can’t prove it, but if you ‘smell a rat’ you feel as if something is very wrong.  ‘I can smell a rat a mile away’ means you are really good at sensing when something is not as it should be.

It didn’t make sense – this means something really looks or is strange.  If something doesn’t make sense, you don’t expect to see it and the fact that it exists indicates something is wrong.

It turned out that… - you hear this a lot.  If a person wants to jump to the end of the story quickly, he/she’ll say, “It turns out that…”   So “it turns out that…” means basically, “the result was that…”

suffering from a psychological disorder - if a person has any type of illness, physical or psychological, we can say he/she is 'suffering' from this illness.  i.e. Where is Joe today?  Oh, he's suffering from a cold. he won't be back to work until next week.  i.e. Did you hear that Bob's father suffered a heart attack yesterday?  i.e.  I have been suffering from a headache this afternoon.

to feel pity – to feel sympathy or to feel sorry for a person

deliberately - if someone does something deliberately, he chooses to do it, he does not do it accidentally

pitiful - if a person is pitiful he/she is in a bad situation that makes you feel sorry for that person

a scam – this is when someone creates a plan to take your money from you, or to ‘cheat’ or ‘trick’ you out of money. Basically they want to steal your money from you through some plan.

shady – dishonest, not to be trusted

a shelter – this is a place, either provided by the government or a charity, which provides a place for people to stay and sleep at night. It is free.

starving – not getting enough food to the point where it has become painful and you might die.

a sob story – this is a story the person thinks will make you cry or make you feel pity for them.  The proper response to a sob story is: I don’t want to hear your sob story!  To sob means to cry.

a Metrocard – this is the magnetic card that you need to use to get into the subway system in new York City.  It is usually a yellow card with the letters MTA on it.

a subway attendant – this is a person who works inside a large glass booth (box) in the subway station.  You can ask this person for help or buy a Metrocard from this person (although most people buy their Metrocards from Metrocard machines).

turnstyle jumping – in order to enter into the subway system, you have to pass through a turnstyle.  This is a device with three silver, metal arms (long bars). You push on an arm and it turns downward allowing you to enter into the system.  Some people literally jump over the turnstyles to get a free subway ride.  But, if you are caught doing this by the police, you will be arrested and taken to the police station.

beneath his dignity – your sense of dignity is the way you feel about yourself if you are an honest person.  If you think you are a good person, you will have a sense of dignity.  If you are ashamed of something, you have a low sense of dignity.  If something is beneath your dignity, you think you are too good to do it.

Grammar Stuff

could vs. was able to

It’s important to realize that ‘could’ is not always the past tense of ‘can’.  Sometimes ‘could’ points to the future and you have to use ‘was able to’ instead.

For instance, if someone says to you, “Where did you buy that cup of tea?”  You can’t say, “I could buy it at Starbucks.”  That points to the future.  “I was able to buy it at Starbucks.” ß--that points to the past.

How did you get here so quickly?  I was able to catch a cab.  (Not: I could catch a cab. I could catch a cab literally points to the future.)

Why is your English so good?  I was able to learn so much from the Suzy book! (Not: I could learn so much from the Suzy book.)

11 Terms/phrases – Fill-in-the-blank exercise

cop, my hard earned money, to smell a rat, pity, scam, shady, shelter, starving, sob story, subway attendant, a turnstyle

I was tempted to give the beggar a dollar, but I looked at how he was dressed and he was better dressed than I was. So I realized his attempt to get money from me was just a ____________.

During the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade someone stole my wallet from my backpack.  I found a ____________ and he told me to go to the nearest police station and file a report.

The beggar told me that he had been kicked out of his apartment and that he could not find any place to stay or to eat, but he was a fat guy with nice clothes, so I decided he was telling me a ________________.

There was something about the accounting books that didn’t look right to me.  When I asked the boss, she did not answer my questions directly.  I ______________________.

My children kept bothering me to take them to the latest action/adventure movie, but I knew the movie was going to be crap and I didn’t want to spend my _________________________ on it.

I do feel ______________ for the homeless.  That is why I do volunteer work to help them.  I will not give my hard earned money to a beggar, however.

I noticed that some people simply walk through the _____________ while some people push it in order to enter the subway system.

I always knew that politician was ____________________. Therefore I was not surprised when he was arrested and put on trial for taking bribes (money).

If I ever have a question about how to get to where I am going, I usually ask the ____________________ and he/she will usually give me good travel advice.

If a person does not have enough money to pay his/her rent, he/she does not have to live in the streets.  There are numerous _____________________ around New York City which will provide a safe place to stay until the person can begin to make money to live independently again.

I had been working so hard that I wasn’t able to eat all day.  I felt as if I were _________________ when I finally got home.

Answers: scam, cop, sob story, smelled a rat, hard earned money, pity, turnstyle, shady, subway attendant, shelters, starving

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