WASHINGTON -- I'm sitting at my dining room table, counting out a tidy pile of cash generated under a bold new business model of my invention; I am feeling the way Henry Ford must have felt when he saw that first assembly line rumble into action.
I just made $71 in a little more than three hours of easy, skill-free work, which extrapolates to about $42,000 a year. Subtracting federal, state and municipal taxes -- applied entirely on the honor system, because this is off-the-books earnings -- were talking about a yearly take-home of roughly, lessee, carry the six ... $41,870 a year. Not bad for a panhandler!
Yes, I panhandled for three hours, but not in the commonly understood way. Panhandlers tend to have imperfect business plans: haphazard strategy, inadequate diction, off-putting personal atmospherics, etc. Mostly, though, what they lack is a product. The Weingarten Business Plan, coming soon to a bookstore near you, doesn't expect the client to pay something for nothing.
Hi, I'm panhandling, I said to my first prospective customer, a pleasant-looking, middle-age guy hanging out near a train station. His name is Ed. If I can make you laugh, will you give me a dollar?
Ed smiled, reached for his wallet.
You already did, kind of. But go ahead.
Why do gorillas have big nostrils?
Because they have big fingers!
Ed ponied up the buck. He didn't love the joke, he said, but he appreciated the creativity of my approach and said I didn't look like I was the kind of guy who would use the money for booze. I wasn't crazy about that last reason: For my business model to take off, it has to work for anyone. I had to eliminate the variable of charm and see if it still worked.
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group