“Loose Change”

Copyright (c) 2011 by Vince D’Amato.

“La…
“Te…
“La…
“Lat-te”
I looked up from what I was doing… no wait, that wasn’t it then, that was it now. Let me start over.

Crash! Clinckle clickle clickle… I looked up from what I was doing.

…And saw the hard-plastic cup clattering across the pavement mere feet from the edge of the iron railing lining the pub patio I was sitting on. I saw this both over the glass of beer on the table in front of me and the top edge of the book in my hands. That was what I’d been doing. Reading. Reading while my wife was at home sitting in front of her laptop verbally spewing Italian words into her headset microphone.
“Capice…”

There was a man, balding on his head with a faint goatee on his face who ran after the rolling cup and snatched it up, then scrambled for the change spilled form it across the sidewalk pavement. The homeless guy who’d just gotten up from his sitting position against the wall of Aldo Shoes looked slightly forlorn and put-out. The goatee man turned to his left, right, picking at loose change on the sidewalk and doping it all back into the cup with audible clanks exaggerated by the hardness of the plastic the cup was made from.

Continuing to read, I hoisted my book back in front of my face, the title facing out to the sidewalk as if in Goatee man’s interest, Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man.

I didn’t need to see what would happen next. Didn’t need to, because I’d seen it before. Goatee man would hand the cup full of change back to Forlorn Homeless Man and in trying to ebb some sort of guilt would then plunk and additional two-dollar coin into the cup. Or one dollar. Or forty cents, or whatever. But really, it was all a set-up. Homeless Man always stuck that plastic cup two & a half feet our from in front of where he parked himself, placing the cup of change out into the busy sidewalk after the sun went down. Friday night, in the middle of a main pedestrian artery in the middle of downtown.
Crash! Clinckle clickle clickle… Glancing up I saw three young Asian chicks who were stopped by the toppling of a change-filled plastic cup on their way to the disco down the street. I smiled.

“You know what you want?”

A glance to my left and I promptly ordered a corned beef from the plain-Jane brunette waitress sporting a Canucks cap and a pair of flimsy flats on her nice-looking feet. Or rather, they were nice-looking from what I could see of them. The toes were covered, but I could imagine-

Crash! Clatter-clatter– “Oh, jeez, sorry about that!”

Already?

I lifted the book, title-side-out, in the direction of Homeless Man again. Or rather, Homeless Man’s mark. In all honestly, I wouldn’t have really cared which one saw the title. Maybe I would’ve cared if one of them had looked straight at it and not made the connection but… Well, nobody seemed to be paying any attention to me, anyway. Other than Brunette Waitress, (finally) of course. When I looked to my left again, the waitress had disappeared along with the beer & grub menu from the edge of my table.

I read for a while longer, but it was really while I was getting into my corned beef that I started musing more on the Homeless Man’s street-con. I supposed it might’ve been inevitable that the same person might kick (or have kicked) the cup over two times in a row. Well, maybe not “in a row”, but you get what I mean. After all, Vancouver wasn’t that big a city. But really, the more I thought about it, and the more I thought about kicking over that fucking cup myself on the way home from the pub while leaving a trail of rattling coins behind me (the image of that coin-trail ending with a bewildered-looking homeless con-man putting a small grin om my face), the more I started to think about the extent of the social implications in what it was Homeless Man was actually doing. This started to shift my direction of thought on the subject of taking the game of kick-the-cup into my own hands.

Or maybe it was the image of me, kicking over that cup full of change, and continuing to kick the plastic money-trap the entire length of the block and all the way into the next intersection with a half-mad smile of victory on my face, while in the wake of loose change (along with Bewildered Homeless Man) I could imagine a crowd of shocked humanitarians, and cutting in front of me I saw a vicious gang of well-intenders with retribution on their minds and lessons waiting to be given by their fists – to my face. I quickly rattled that thought out of my mind while simultaneously deciding I would not be the last one to kick the trickster’s cup over. Or down the block. Or into the intersection.

Nice thought, though.

No, no, back to the social implications of Homeless Man con.

Crash.

I told myself I wasn’t going to look up again, but did anyway.

And what might be the social implications of that?

At least the nice-looking girl was smiling as she walked away after handing Homeless Man another four quarters from her own purse. At least, I assumed, she felt like she was doing something good. But what had actually occurred to me was that these cup-kicking pedestrians were not so much giving their monetary charity to a con-man, or that they’d even really been suckered out of their own loose change. No, what Homeless Man was doing (likely in spite of his true intentions) was getting people to pay for simply not paying attention. Sure, Homeless Man could’ve been using a neon-green cup, or a hat, or a white Starbucks coffee cup instead of the invisible plastic he placed strategically in the middle of the busy sidewalk, but hell, the that might’ve even defeated the entire point, right?

Crash, clatter-clatter! Another nice-looking girl, only this one had a date. This time, a yuppie couple waiting for a bus turned around at the sound of the crashing change and got in on the charitable apology as well. I realized then that Homeless Man had just made about ten-fifty in change in the time it took me to eat half of a $13.99 sandwich. So who was the fool here? I avoided looking at the clock on my cell phone face for the depressing fear I might inadvertently calculate that this guy made more in an hour than my employed ass ever would. Well, at least I could afford a $13.99 sandwich. Come to think of it, so could Homeless Man. I finished the rest of the food and sat back with my book and the rest of the beer in the glass in front of me, getting more acquainted with the thought of people having to pay for their lack of attention. Thinking that really, if these people were forced (by their own consciences) to be out-of-pocket because they weren’t watching where they were stepping, maybe these people would think twice before deciding to play pedestrian chicken with oncoming foot traffic, or texting on their cell phones while they were walking, or simply being more aware of their surroundings. They might actually look down next time they saw any homeless person, and maybe remember back to their two-dollar game of kick-the-homeless-man’s-cup-down-Granville-Street. Hell, they might take a second to put down their cell phones before stepping into a vehicular intersection. Maybe they would stop taking their surroundings for granted in general, assuming that everyone else would (or should) get out of the way to avoid them. And me, who the hell was I to try to stop this theoretical and possibly positive chain of future events, events that might have been set into motion while Homeless Man was earning more money sitting against the Aldo shoe store than the waitress who had just absconded with my plate of corned beef crumbs?

Crash! Clinckle clickle clickle clatter clatter.

Predictably I looked up once again, this time in time to see the young man passing by the patio’s iron railing, explaining to his friend as he blatantly ignored the cup he’d just kicked over and allowed it to clatter to the edge of the pub patio while the Disheartened Homeless Man was left to pick up his own change himself, “There was, like, thirty cents in there. He puts it in front of people so they’ll trip over it and give him more money, but he just pockets the big coin anyway. It’s just a scam.”
Guess I didn’t need to kick the cup over myself, after all. And although I didn’t watch the two kids as they made their way to the intersection, I didn’t hear a gang of well-doers spring from around the corner and launch their ambush, either.

Is it bad that I was smiling just a little?

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