"Hey, my old lady's bleeding. Can you give me a few bucks so I can buy her some tampons?"

That's the best panhandling line I've heard during the two years that I've lived in the Central Hillside of Duluth. It made me actually consider giving money away on the street. I ultimately decided not to because the last thing a person should do is develop a philanthropic reputation in this neighborhood. If I had a dollar for every guy who has asked me for a dollar, I'd have enough money to move to Lakeside.

I have developed a few simple guidelines for avoiding panhandlers over the years. First of all, I recommend having a standard response for them that is well rehearsed. Mine is, "Sorry, I can't help you." If you don't have a standard line and have to stop to think, it can appear like you are considering making a donation. The most important thing to do is to keep moving and never stop and engage.

I also recommend projecting bogus politeness and creating the perception that you would love to help, but you don't have any money. That should help keep you out of any irate confrontations.

Whatever you do, avoid attempting to humiliate panhandlers. Remember, whether they are legitimately trying to feed themselves or just looking to get drunk, they don't like asking you for money. Don't play games with them like the ol' "Preemptive Strike," where you see them coming and go on the attack by unexpectedly asking them for money first.

The most important thing for you to keep in mind is that if you are on the edge of poverty, but still keeping a roof over your head and food on your plate, you better be on guard. You are the first rung on a ladder that many people are desperate to climb.

The truly destitute are not Robin Hoods. They don't have the means to beg and steal from the wealthy. As the disparity of incomes continues to widen in the United States, the battle lines will not be drawn between the rich and the poor, but rather between the poor and the poorer. Only the paranoid shall survive.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is paul [at] geekprom.com.


Shopping Inhibitions

Shopping for clothing is a humiliating experience for men. It's easier for women, because the female gender has a reputation for recreational shopping. When a woman is out searching for new clothing, she is basically telling everyone around her: "I have a credit card and some free time."

When a man is found wandering around the local department store like a lost child, he's basically saying to everyone around him: "I do not own any presentable clothing whatsoever."

Because shopping for clothing is so emasculating, men tend to wear the same shirts and pants for decades. Undergarments wear out too quickly, however, and require more frequent shopping trips. Fortunately, socks and skivvies are sold in bulk, making it possible to buy a very manly six-pack.

Still, shopping for a "six of socks" can be a confusing and embarrassing experience. First of all, there's the math involved in determining that the six-pack is indeed a better deal than the four-pack. Then, the size information can be difficult to interpret. I once read a package that noted, "Size 10-13 fits shoe size 6-12." Well, what does "Size 10-13" represent if it isn't shoe size? Sock size?

Some socks are treated with "antibacterial properties" and are extra absorbent. That sounds great until you realize that the person at the cash register will immediately associate you with sweaty feet if you buy those socks.

Once you start thinking about foot sweat, it's easy to get a sick feeling in your stomach while looking at a store display of several hundred socks that don't belong to you.

In an effort to cure myself of my own sock-buying inhibitions, I recently decided to confront the situation head on. I went to the store, identified the best deal, and confidently brought the package to the pretty young female clerk. I looked her straight in the eye, and explained exactly what my intentions were.

"I'm going to take these socks home and put them on my feet," I told her. "They will absorb sweat and slow down the process of my shoes developing a foul smell."

When the purchase was complete, I strode out the door with my head high, swinging the plastic bag of socks with pride. My sock-buying fears were conquered. Unfortunately, I'm still out of underwear, condoms and toilet paper.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is paul [at] geekprom.com.


The United Ten Commandments of America

This week's Next Level column was handed down to its author by the Lord our God, and was later approved by Congress despite fiery opposition from fanatical Democrats.

1) Worship no god but Me. Oh, and the almighty dollar.

2) Do not worship false idols. If you see someone worshipping something other than Me, forget the rest of my commandments and kill him immediately.

3) Do not use My name for evil purposes. I'm always willing to endorse any war for your country, so go ahead and tie My name into that.

4) Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. If you are a real go-getter, however, you should work seven days a week. Those minion employees of yours should also understand that this commandment does not apply to them if they want to get ahead in the world. Sure, I know My original set of commandments made it clear that even your slaves should not work on Sundays, but you shouldn't take the Bible literally, and you are free to determine which commandments you obey and which ones you think are just some archaic foolishness.

5) Respect your father and mother. Make all the same mistakes they made.

6) Do not commit murder, unless you have a really good reason. I can't possibly outline all the justifiable causes for icing someone, so let's just say that the passwords are, "Hey, an eye for an eye."

7) Do not commit adultery. If you do commit adultery, well, you're still better than those monogamous faggots.

8) Do not steal, unless you're already rich and have developed a clever scheme to fraud less fortunate people. There is a difference between being a common crook and being a savvy businessman.

9) Do not accuse anyone falsely. There are obvious exceptions to this commandment, of course. If someone is poor or funny looking, for example, they are already guilty. Also, if you believe you can achieve a great political gain by distorting facts and calling people names, well, that's just good politics.

10) Do not desire another man's stuff. That is a waste of time. You should already be planning a way to obtain better stuff than he has. The guy with the biggest house, hottest wife and most toys wins, as long as he goes to church occasionally.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. His e-mail address is paul [at] geekprom.com.