What initially began as a simple and compassionate gesture evolved into a passionate pursuit for Michael Zinman, who embarked on a unique hobby of collecting panhandle signs from individuals in desperate circumstances in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. These signs, each bearing their poignant narratives, serve as poignant reflections of a nation grappling with increasingly challenging times. As more and more people find themselves compelled to take to the streets, beseeching for assistance, these signs have become symbolic of the struggles faced by a growing segment of the population.
Zinman’s collection of panhandle signs spans the length and breadth of the United States, from bustling metropolises like New York, Miami, Palm Beach, St. Louis, Boston, and San Francisco, to the sprawling streets of Los Angeles. Within this diverse array of signs, one can find a spectrum of emotions and circumstances. Many are simple, conveying the straightforward message of someone in dire need, desperately seeking help and compassion. Others, however, present a more unsettling and even paradoxically humorous side to the human condition.
These signs, and the act of panhandling itself, offer a stark glimpse into the harsh realities of life on the streets, exposing the often harsh and unkind facets of human nature that persist in our daily lives. The signs become a symbol of the complexities and contradictions inherent in a society where economic disparities and social challenges continue to proliferate. See more signs>>
A few were masterful actors. One in particular, a really beautiful young girl, was sitting on the ground at 7th Avenue and 54th Street in New York City, sobbing silently. The sign, which is included here, told the story of her being hit on the head and robbed of all her belongings, and needing bus fare to return home. I was so that affected I not only gave her $10 and bought her a sign, but, walking half a block further, returned and gave her an additional $50.
A week later, there she was. Same place. Virtually the same sign. As I walked by, we did make eye contact, and she gave me a small, sly smile and looked down. What an acting career she is missing!
A week later, there she was. Same place. Virtually same sign. As I walked by, we did make eye contact, and she gave me a small, sly smile and looked down. What an acting career she is missing!