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spy
December 25th, 2010, 08:34 PM
First post. Thanks!


Loose Change


He's sitting under the bridge on M. St. in Southeast D.C. Lying down under a gray, wooly blanket for a mid-day snooze using a Safeway bag of trash for a pillow. He wakes up around 15:30 to the blaring horns of impatient motorists. That's his call to go to work. He grabs his 44 oz. 7-11 Big Gulp of loose change and a cardboard plea for mercy and goes to the median of a busy merge lane. Despite his plight, he feels grateful Washington, D.C. has some of the worst and longest rush hours in the U.S. That gives him a good two hours extra of beggin' compared to bums in other parts of the country. On a good day, usually Friday when people are more cheerful, he'll collect about six dollars in loose change. Just enough for a hot footlong and a bag of chips.

The first hour is kind of slow, these drivers are still hopeful they can beat most of the traffic and don't give him a second look. The 5 o'clockers are more patient and generous. They know they're in for a long, slow drive. That's good news for Ben. The longer a motorist is idle, the more likely they are to feel guilty for trying to ignore him. One motorist breaks down after five minutes of staring at Ben's sign and drops a five in his cup with a cheerful smile and best wishes to keep warm. "Jackpot!", he thinks. He'll be eatin' good tonight, but probably not warm. It begins to rain.

Most amateur beggars head for cover at the sight of rain, but Ben knows this is prime time to earn more sympathy donations. The more miserable and desperate you look the better and it don't get much worse than soaking in rags on December 12th in Washington, D.C. Sure enough, the next two drivers toss him a $1.00 and a few quarters. The traffic is starting to break up and people don't have to wait to merge any longer, so he calls it a night. A good night, $11.20! That will get him two hot meals.

He leaves a few remnants of his camp to let other vagabonds know this turf is taken and heads down M St. to Subway. He passes a super, secret, spy agency on the right next to the ball field and sees one of his homeless chums at the top of the escalators of the Navy Yard metro stop. "How's it comin' Charles?" "Not bad, not bad. About $4.00 so far." Besides a busy intersection, a metro stop is also a key location for begging, but it carries more risk. Metro employees and security don't like you hasslin' their passengers, so begging is more subtle. No big cardboard signs of Jesus loves you. Just a small, transparent cup of rattling change. "How'd you do?", Charles asks. "Not bad myself. I'm fixin' to go to Subway." "Take care you hear?" "Same to you."

Despite their cheery encounter, Charles and Ben know they're in a deadly competition with each other for people's generosity and keep their encounters to small talk.

As he turns the corner around CVS, Ben sees the smiling, silver face of Thomas Jefferson on the sidewalk and bends over to pick it up and place it in his Big Gulp. He peaks around the corner before approaching Subway to see if the manager is leaving. If he's lucky, he'll have left and Julia will be on shift. She lets him sneak free refills into his Big Gulp and tosses in a cookie or two. Great, she's here and the bonehead left. Julia makes eye contact with him as he comes in the door, gives a small, smile and gets to work on his BLT with extra bacon. It's the only sandwich he's ordered for the last four years.

Ben takes a moment to inhale the fresh bread and be mindful of the warmth in the restaurant. Besides the sustenance, his $5.00 will buy him a couple of hours of warmth in the restaurant. Ben gives Julia the five he got earlier and some change, gets some Dr. Pepper and takes a seat.

He unwraps the sub slowly, one half at a time, like it's the last meal he'll ever have. Why rush? He's fully engrossed in the moment and sucks the sweet smell of crisp bacon into his nostril, breathing slow and deeply. It's almost better than eating it. It reminds him of a chess aphorism he heard once, "The threat is better than the execution." The smell is better than the bite. He smiles and chuckles to himself. Even homeless people have to amuse themselves. His pre-consumption ritual takes a good ten minutes before the first bite and he starts to feel the warmth of his body again.

He eats the sub slowly, savoring every bite and chewing thoroughly so as not to waste a speck of flavor. He begins to reflect on his past and how much of a hurry he was always in.

Back in Georgetown, Northeast D.C. he had a nice townhouse he was renting and a steady paycheck from his years in the government. He was a fanatical worker for the State Department, putting in hours after hours just to stay on top of things. He dreamt about the day he'd retire, slow down and enjoy life. It came sooner than he expected. He'd put in 30 years with the government and could rely on steady retirement check until they went broke on another war and Social Security dried up.

The first few weeks of his retirement he took it easy like he was on vacation. He read books, cooked some dishes and experimented with different hobbies and social groups. Before he knew it things were as hectic as when he was at the State Department--Monday night bingo, Tuesday night bridge, Thursday night Old Farts Night Out. One Thursday in February of last year the Old Fart Club took a trip to a casino to pull some slots. Ben didn't like sitting around pulling handles, so he moseyed over to the roulette wheel. He put $5.00 on the edge of 14 &36. "Thirty-six!", the host yelled. "Winner!" He flopped fives on different combinations for the next few hours before a n Old Fart member found him and said they were heading out.

Ben started abandoning the group and frequenting the Casino more and more. Then he gave up on all his other extracurricular activities and went to the Casino almost every night.

He thought back on those nights as he bit in to his sandwich, luke warm by now. Eventually, he'd over drawn his bank account so much they'd closed it. He lost his house and all the direct deposits from the government started going to people that had claims against him. He cursed himself over the next year. Why hadn't be been more mindful and seen what was happening? He lost it all, but in a way, he'd also gained something. No more did he rush through is meals or seek ways to fill his day. He ate, slept, begged and lived. In retrospect, it's probably the happiest he's ever been. He might not have the warm house, friend and three square meals a day, but he was living and alive. Fully aware of every last moment he was given on this Earth, in this Nation. And for that, he was grateful.

shadows
December 25th, 2010, 09:42 PM
Hi Spy and welcome to the site

I enjoyed reading this snapshot of Ben's life on the streets - it was interesting but in a way I didn't want to know how he got there. It felt too much of an info dump and for me was a slightly disappointing ending that didn't really go anywhere.

A few thoughts that are simply my perspective on how I read stories. Others may have differing opinions and it's your story to do with as you wish.


He's sitting under the bridge on M. St. in Southeast D.C. Lying down under a gray, wooly blanket for a mid-day snooze using a Safeway bag of trash for a pillow. He wakes up around 15:30 to the blaring horns of impatient motorists. That's his call to go to work. He grabs his 44 oz. 7-11 Big Gulp of loose change and a cardboard plea for mercy and goes to the median of a busy merge lane. Despite his plight, he feels grateful Washington, D.C. has some of the worst and longest rush hours in the U.S. That gives him a good two hours extra of beggin' compared to bums in other parts of the country. On a good day, usually Friday when people are more cheerful, he'll collect about six dollars in loose change. Just enough for a hot footlong and a bag of chips.


Try to use active verbs - he sits rather than he is sitting. It is a stronger image.

Your second sentence is incomplete

I didn't understand the big gulp of loose change until later on in the story when I realised it was a cup.


The longer a motorist is idle, the more likely they are to feel guilty for trying to ignore him. One motorist breaks down after five minutes of staring at Ben's sign and drops a five in his cup with a cheerful smile and best wishes to keep warm. "Jackpot!", he thinks. He'll be eatin' good tonight, but probably not warm. It begins to rain.


I liked this picture and how the motorists yield the longer they sit in traffic.

I would suggest deleting - probably not warm - it takes the edge from his relief that he'll be eating well tonight.

I would move - It begins to rain to the next paragraph. It feels a bit tagged on here.


The more miserable and desperate you look the better and it don't get much worse than soaking in rags on December 12th in Washington, D.C.

I don't think you need to tell this, it is implied in the previous sentence and doesn't need to be repeated.


He leaves a few remnants of his camp to let other vagabonds know this turf is taken and heads down M St. to Subway

I wonder about this - thinking if he left his belongings wouldn't they get nicked by others or soaked by the rain?


He passes a super, secret, spy agency on the right next to the ball field and sees one of his homeless chums at the top of the escalators of the Navy Yard metro stop

Why mention the spy agency and ball field when it has no relevance to the story? Just say he sees one of his chums at the top of the escalator. I would also drop homeless as I think to him the guy would just be a friend without the need for a tag. You show anyway later that he is homeless when you mention they are in competition for begging contributions.


As he turns the corner around CVS, Ben sees the smiling, silver face of Thomas Jefferson on the sidewalk and bends over to pick it up and place it in his Big Gulp.

Being in the UK, I don't know Washington and haven't a clue what CVS is so the image is lost on me and I wonder if you need to mention it. Why not just have him turn the corner?


He peaks around the corner before approaching Subway to see if the manager is leaving.


You repeat corner here and it should be peek. Maybe - He waits before approaching Subway to see if the manager is leaving.


Ben takes a moment to inhale the fresh bread and be mindful of the warmth in the restaurant. Besides the sustenance, his $5.00 will buy him a couple of hours of warmth in the restaurant. Ben gives Julia the five he got earlier and some change, gets some Dr. Pepper and takes a seat.
He unwraps the sub slowly, one half at a time, like it's the last meal he'll ever have. Why rush? He's fully engrossed in the moment and sucks the sweet smell of crisp bacon into his nostril, breathing slow and deeply. It's almost better than eating it. It reminds him of a chess aphorism he heard once, "The threat is better than the execution." The smell is better than the bite. He smiles and chuckles to himself. Even homeless people have to amuse themselves. His pre-consumption ritual takes a good ten minutes before the first bite and After ten minutes he starts to feel the warmth of his body again.


I suggest the deletions because you repeat that the smell is better than eating. The chess reference was lost on me so didn't work and - even homeless people have to amuse themselves - is somewhat patronising. People are no different - homeless or not.

I would end the story here but that is just my view.

Thanks for the read, enjoyed.

Lord Reecingale
December 25th, 2010, 11:30 PM
I agree mostly with Shadows. Good read, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but a lot of the references were lost on me as well, and I just came from D.C. I would like to add that you're very specific with your details: this can be good, but I have no idea what M. Street is, and if I did would it matter? Exacting details can be good but don't let it clutter your writing. I disagree with shadows on the part where we find how Ben got there: I thought that made him more human and easier to connect to him, but I do agree that the ending doesn't lead anywhere. Perhaps cut up the story of the casino and spread it as flash-backs throughout the story? That way we connect and feel sorry for him earlier.
Just my thoughts, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and shadows advice is good imo as well.
Happy Writings!

spy
December 26th, 2010, 12:59 AM
Hi,
Thanks for the feedback!
I guess my point with the ending was how being homeless and hungry taught him to slow down and enjoy life and be mindful of the moment. The flashback was how he get where he is, but was really just to illustrate how he used to live in a hurry.

Antzy
December 26th, 2010, 08:35 AM
Hi spy,
Your story reminded me of a memoir I'm reading ("Will Work for Food or $") also about a man who earns his living by begging. I find the subject very interesting and poignant. I like how you showed that being homeless completely changes a person's perspective, and what someone may once have seen as a desperate situation can simply become their way of life. However, I don’t think you needed to sum up Ben’s feelings quite so bluntly in the last paragraph because most of them are made clear in the rest of the story. For instance, the image of Ben eating his sandwich shows that he no longer rushes through his life, so there is no need to repeat the fact at the end. But shadows and Lord Recingale covered most of that, so I’ll end by saying I very much enjoyed the piece and welcome to the site. J