Publication Date: Wednesday May 21, 1997

It pays to study people when you ask for money

When he panhandles, David Wormley has learned that it helps to be an amateur psychologist.

"You can understand people," he said, unfolding two crumpled signs from his beige briefcase. "I know the magic words to put on these signs that will make people want to cry."

He reveals one of his signs: "Homeless and going through hard times. Can you help?"

It is true that Wormley is homeless and going through hard times. He has lived on the streets of Palo Alto for about 12 years. He carries his scant possessions, including soap and deodorant, in his briefcase and slings a small bag of tools around his shoulder for all eventualities.

And he has learned to reflect these hardships in a stony face that persuades people to part with their money. He also has learned other tactics, like waving to kids, nodding his head or helping people with heavy shopping bags to their car.

"They don't have to give me money," he said. "But next time they'll remember me. I just smile and say 'Have a nice day.'"

He often earns the most money by waiting outside movie theaters or bars on weekends. People tend to be more generous when they are inebriated, he said.

Robert Fulton, a renowned alcoholic, agreed that people in Palo Alto are often more generous in the evenings. A gnome-like man with a corduroy hat pulled over his face, Fulton is a permanent fixture on the sidewalk outside Walgreen's.

Fulton once made $102 in one hour, he said, but some days he only earns enough to buy one can of beer. He panhandles for up to five hours a day. He makes no bones about the fact that he spends his money on booze.

"I've got to get a drink somehow," he said. "I keep on coming back to it."

Fulton said that he's tired of panhandling, but it is his only source of income.

--Vicky Anning