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Bum for a day: Friendly greetings from street cornerTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
Ty Schleicher, finacially stable on Leota St.

Unlike most bums, Ty Schleicher of Maxwell painted signs that asked for no help at all.

For a class project, Schleicher needed to test the power of society's norms by stepping outside the norm.

Over lunch at Mongolian Grill and Kings Bufffet, he and some friends hatched an idea -- to stand on the corner of a street and hold cardboard signs that would brighten people's days.

"We decided not to do anything that would get me put in jail or physically hurt, but I didn’t want to do a boring project, so we thought outside the box," said Ty, who is a sociology student at North Platte Community College.

The goal was to invoke a response -- either negative, positive, or just plain confused.

To set himself apart from the everyday average begging person, Ty decided not to ask for money but instead to make people laugh and brighten their day at his expense. To stand on the corner and hold a cardboard sign is humiliating; it gave him the feeling that he had dropped a few rungs in social status.

Ty considers people who beg either lazy or smart. He thinks the standard beggar is lazy, because if the person is really that low on cash nearly every fast food joint is hiring, so they should get a job.

On the other hand, some beggars wear Nike shoes, nice jeans, and probably stay in a camper around the corner at night. He (or she) gets tax-free donations by just holding a sign that is probably untrue and playing on the fact that there are trusting people in this world that feel bad for him (or her.)

'I'm in good shape'

Ty made signs that were ironic or mildly funny.

On all of the signs he wrote, “Hi I’m Ty” -- to make a proper introduction and break the ice, so to speak. In his life, he had never seen a beggar introduce themself.

"I don’t think people want to know the name of the person begging, it makes things too personal," he said.

After the introduction, he put such quotes as: “Financially Stable”, "My car is parked a block away”, "Don’t eat yellow snow”, “Bet this is not what you were expecting”, “My mom loves me”, "Don’t tell my girlfriend”.

People probably expect something like “Anything helps, God Bless," so his signs conveyed socially different messages, the essential part of the assignment.

How did people react?

"When people pulled up in their cars it was easy to evaluate what was going on in their minds," he said. "Some people would roll up their windows while smoking. Others would stop 10 yards from the intersection and wait for the green light, or they would immediately occupy themselves by turning up the radio. And, some would just refuse to even look up at me -- obviously disapproving and scared that I would want to talk to them or ask for money, so they avoided the situation."

On the other hand there was one nice lady who Ty guessed could not read his sign that said, “I don’t want your money." She tried to hand him $3 when she pulled up. Ty said the best response was when the people laughed at the signs.

"They understood that I was a bit different and that I was just out to make someone smile," he said. "I guess the most interesting response was the people that were just plain confused. They did not understand the irony of what my signs said so they just gave me the dumb confused look."

Overall the experience was great, Ty said. He created a facebook page and told the Bulletin about his "happy bum" experience.

"I enjoyed myself watching the motorist reactions to the signs," he said. "I plan on possibly doing this again in the future just because of the fun that I and my friends had."

Ty said the project was "defiantly different, but that was the point."

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 10/7/2012
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