By Lucie Darnay, Features Editor
Taking a walk down Artificial Valley Road can be a perfectly pleasant experience, but some of the local businesses in the area around St. Louis University of Missouri (SLUM) have been lodging complaints with the school about a small host of 20-somethings cluttering their sidewalks.
The Stagnant hit the asphalt on March 29 to find out exactly what these unwelcome guests were up to.
We met with Jim Holden of the Pur’N’Kleen Cleaning Company located at 124 Artificial Valley Road and asked if he knew the origins of the roving 20-somethings.
“Well, judging by all the SLUM tee shirts,” Holden said, “I’d say they’re probably students?”
Actually, they are not students.
Julie Mao, a graduate of the SLUM class of 2014 with a degree in pissing-off-daddy, leads the group. “I guess, technically, you could call us panhandlers,” Mao said with a brilliant smile as she held up a large aluminum pan.
“Really it’s a pot but you never hear about ‘pothandlers’” Mao said.
The group of about 15 SLUM alums scatters every morning along the length of Artificial Valley Road and hold their pots out, hoping for some spare change from passing pedestrians. The SLUM degree holders stand strong in the face of rain, wind, and some nasty words.
“Get a job! And your outfit doesn’t match!” came from a passing car and “You are less than conventionally attractive,” called a cyclist.
The alums claim that they have been forced to a life of illegal begging because their degrees are worth so little. Another of the roving alums, who wished only to be identified as Fagin, had some interesting claims.
“I graduated in 2012,” Fagin told The Stagnant, “and I took that fancy degree in theoretical pickpocketing that I paid so much money for, that I definitely didn’t steal, and I tried to get a job. Well, would you believe it? Not a single reputable company would give me a job.” When one of his fellow panhandlers suggested that his lack of employment may have more to do with his questionable major than the quality of the degree, logically Fagin decked him. Mao quickly smacked Fagin on the back of the head with her pan, denting it. A short fight ensued.
When the fight ended Mao explained, “College degrees are worth so little in this economy but SLUM degrees? They’re worth our pans. Literally.”
Several of the panhandling alums agreed that they traded in their fancy degrees and majors— from candle making to totally hypothetical methods for overthrowing a large Western government—for a four-inch diameter aluminum pan. The man with the pans, Winston Smith of Tortured Chef fame, says that he is providing a charity.
“These kids are coming out of school with nothing but a piece of paper,” Smith said. “Four-inch aluminum pans aren’t worth much anyway so we figured, why not do a service for the community, you know, give something back.”
While Smith may consider it a charity, Holden and other business owners around SLUM, consider it a nuisance. “I just don’t get why they have to do that here.” Holden said. “I don’t really care if they have jobs or not but they’re scaring my customers. They keep yelling about Simone Weil and Satoshi Tajiri and I’m not even sure who those people are.”
While Mao asserts that the SLUM alums will continue panhandling, Holden and his fellow business owners were threatening to call the police when we were quietly abducted by what turned out to be our production staff in an unmarked van and fox masks.