When I was sixteen, my parents bestowed upon me an entirely undeserved (and by now, probably regretted) Toyota 4Runner. It was the car of my dreams. I had asked for it by name for almost a year, making sure that everyone knew which color I wanted (black), which years were acceptable (’96-’00), and how good I would look driving it. Unfortunately, in all that time of begging and pestering, I never bothered learning to drive. When I was given the keys, I jumped in, put the car into drive and looked ahead to the circular drive. Then I realized I was going to have to pretend to drive off. There was a chance I would take out the brick columns if I tried to squeeze what–to me–was a HUGE car through the tiny, thirty-foot-wide space between the columns.
Needless to say, it was months before anyone was ever able to get into the car with me. I was that notorious fast driver. I drove too fast, shot the gap, I had no respect for my transmission, or the delicate braking system. And since my mother didn’t really love us, naturally the only people I was allowed to drive with were my brothers, usually Charlie.
I would drive around with what my mother sometimes referred to as “her precious cargo” and “teach” him things about driving. Knowing so little about driving, I would usually make things up. At 8:30PM I would look out into a sea of red lights and remark to Charlie “See, all those people are riding their brakes. It’s really bad for your car.” It was years before I learned that the lights on the back of cars are red. . . all the time. Charlie humored me, though. He asked enthusiastic questions about shooting the gap, and how to best maneuver around trucks and use a hydroplane to your advantage.
What I loved most about having Charlie in the car, though, was not our driving lessons. By some strange means, Charlie had become somewhat of a social anthropologist, commenting with great insight about the state of our community. At 12 and 13 he would even give considerate contribution to a political conversation. His vernacular wasn’t exactly eloquent (“Rick Perry was often referred to as simply ‘penis'”), but he kept up with the social ongoings, and it was through him that I developed many of my perspectives on society.
As the years have passed, Charlie and I have not lived within 3000 miles of one another for some great period of time. We generally do not speak on the phone, or even when we are face to face, but prefer to communicate via the unexplainable. Black out drinking at Christmas means we agree that someone in our presence sucks and we’d rather be watching Roseanne in a tree fort than enjoying his or her company. Same goes for checking the exits, or ordering more food than a person can possibly eat while maintaining polite conversation. Since the fam fell apart a few years ago, it’s been all drinking and exit checking, a language Charlie and I are fluent in.
However, I digress. Recently, when walking back from a Starbucks run– two coffees in hand– I was reminded of one of Charlie’s great social commentaries. On Homelessness. (Like Locke and Hume– On Liberty, On Freedom.) One afternoon, after pulling recklessly off at our exit, swerving to miss passerbys, we made our way down the ramp off MoPac (the Missouri Pacific highway, for those of you who are not familiar with “MoPac”) and came to a brake pad-replacing halt at a red light. There standing on the concrete median was a gaggle of homeless men with signs. Having clearly not thought enough to organize themselves, and trying only to be more pitiful than the next, they were each holding a sign. “Homeless Vet. Please help. God Bless America.” “Homeless Vet. No legs. Please Help. God Bless America.” “Hommlus Vit. No eyz. Cant spel. God Blis Amerucu.” “Homeless Vet with Rabies. Shot at by Japs. God Bless YOU and America.” Or something.
Charlie, who has always been a touch of a pansy, immediately elbowed the locks and then looked over at me. “The problem with homeless people is that they dilute the market. If they split up, they are much more likely to get more money.”
Yes, Charlie, that is exactly the problem with homeless people. With their MBAs and dissertations in market analysis of commonalities and functions, they are unable to devise a sufficient business plan. . .
That’s not to say I disagreed. Quite the opposite. I just thought it was funny that at 12 (and I at 16) he realized the basic business of being homeless. What I didn’t know was that Austin, Texas is a sweet fucking gig for homeless people. Travel to the far East (Boston) and what you have is a West Side Homeless People Story. They are absolutely everywhere. Not a handful, but every block, dozens. And it gets really, really cold here in the winter. Go South!
So while walking with my two cups of coffee, in heels, on cobblestone, in the mist, with my wallet tucked in the depth of my questionable pits (not where Marc– my wallet–wanted to be AT ALL, or where I wanted him), a homeless gentleman with a fake limp asked me if I had any money.
STOP RIGHT THERE.
1. What do you mean by do I have any money? In general? Sort of. I’m employed. I get my lazy ass out of bed every morning and go and sit and engage with people for a stipend. I understand that you have “circumstances” that keep you from being employed, but if you think I’m not hiding a circus of crazy under this tent of a blouse, you’re mistaken. I just hide it to keep my paychecks. Step of, dirty man.
2. Did you mean to ask me if I had any money for you? Because that is a totally different question than do I have an money. For me? Not really. For you? Most certainly not. Here is why: Let’s consider for a moment my current enrollment in the Bank of America “Keep the Change” program. Just like those little pennies add up to dollars a month, throwing you a silver Washington every time I buy my lunch means I have to walk those Louboutins across the Common after dinner. You’re not asking for change, you’re asking for my cab fair. And it’s misting, fucker.
3. With which fucking hand did you want me to retrieve that change?
Here is the thing, I understand that helping my fellow man is part of my charge on this planet. I believe that lifting others to a place that helps them care for themselves is important, but I thought that wass why I became a Democrat. I thought that was why I support public health and welfare projects. I thought that was why I was paying taxes. I thought that was why I bought fair trade coffee.
So when I’m teetering back to my office, preparing to give a few more hours of my day to work, when, quite frankly, I wouldn’t mind hanging out on the sidewalk making music with a Dunks cup, flashing some tit for tips when the moment calls for it, trying to get inside before God pees from the clouds, dont ask for my change. Because then you’re just asking for it.