Friday, May 16, 2008

Spare Change #3

“Get a job you lazy bum!”

“You know, I think I will! Thank you kind sir, you’ve inspired me!”

He stops in his tracks. They never expect a response to that one, always catches them off guard. Some handle it better than others, the smart ones ignore it. He doesn’t.

“Oh yeah?” he says, taking a few steps back towards Beg Site #2.

“Absolutely! I’ll get right to it,” I tell him as earnestly as possible. “I’ll head home and write up some resumes this afternoon. Only, I can’t afford paper so I guess I’ll have to use toilet paper.”

His face begins to turn red, with embarrassment or rage it’s too early to tell. Not that I care, I’d carry on regardless.

“And I don’t have a pen or pencil, so I’ll have to use my blood for ink. Oh,” I exclaim, dismay lumbering across my face, “but I can’t read!”

That’s a lie. I can read newspapers just fine. I enjoy them actually; they always make me feel better about my lot in life. I read an interview the other day with Max O’Conner, a guy who just finished a ten year stint in the slammer. He said that during his ‘tour of duty’ his fellow inmates’ shivved him twenty-two times, beat him ‘til he was unconscious twice and knocked out five of his teeth. He never filed a single complaint. I admire that.

“You think you’re some kind of funny man?” People are stopping to watch now - everybody loves a free show. I look him up and down: mid-fifties, balding and grey on top, bulging in the middle. His shirt, full of vertical stripes for that slimming effect, is straining to contain his too-many-trips-to-7-Eleven-gut. I don’t even want to think about what his poor belt is going through.

“You think ‘get a job’ is useful advice to someone in my position?” I ask him, honestly curious to hear his answer. “Like it’s something I’ve never heard or thought of before?”

“What, I’m supposed to feel sorry for you? Give you some money to go score drugs and booze?” His jowls are practically quivering, like a walrus having a seizure. As I imagine tusks protruding from his face I can’t help but laugh. He doesn’t take it very well.

“Somebody needs to teach you a lesson,” Walrus says.

“That ‘somebody’ gonna be you, tough guy? You look like you’d run out of breath walking to the fridge.” The words are out of my mouth before I realize what I’ve done. I’ve backed him into a corner and now he’s only got two choices: fight or flight, and he doesn’t look like a card carrying member of the Ricky Rabbit Running Club.

He takes a half step back then kicks me under my right knee like he’s going for a fifty yard field goal. It hurts like hell but I don’t cry out; if old Max can go through what he did and never complain, I can take a few kicks. A few people in the crowd mutter the required indignations but most say nothing at all. Two or three look like they wish they were the ones doing the kicking.

Walrus gets a few more kicks in before he starts breathing heavily, his eyes wide and wild with a primal joy in them. I don’t fight back – “he hit me first” didn’t work in elementary school and it sure doesn’t fly with the police. So I take my kicking like a good bum should.

He looms over me for a few moments, revelling in his victory over evil, before straightening his tie and taking a few steps back. He nods to his admirers and then strides off to his desk job to conquer the rest of the bad men of the world, one meeting at a time.

My leg throbs but I refuse to let it show. I sit up straight and look around casually, not a care in the world, no siree. I’m going to have to get really drunk tonight to dull this pain, I should probably get an early start on it.

A young lady silently drops a twenty into my lap. I thank her with my eyes; words are never enough when genuine gratitude is involved. She smiles sadly before walking away slowly. I stuff the bill into a pocket and return to my watch. Within moments everyone who saw the incident is gone, replaced with other nameless faces. Nothing ever changes.

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