Sunday, June 8, 2008

Final Tribute (3/7/08)

I just wanted to give something back and shout out to two regulars on the train. One's the same guy every time, the more is a series of similar types. I see--or more accurately, hear--them almost every week, and their respective raps are burned into my brain. Or at least I think so. Here's my test of that.

The first one is Mr. B. Mr. B. is a biggish man in baggy broken down pants and always the same pair of black sneakers. He has Duke Ellington conked out hair and one of those thin moustaches that's shaved on the top half (did Sir Duke do that, too?), like a Cuban gangster. Anyway, invariably if I'm riding the four train he'll shuffle through the door betwen the cars carrying what looks like one of those portable coffee thermoses with change in it and a logo that reads "UHO" wrapped all around it in what looks like newsprint. Then he stops and launches his rap:

"Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, pardon the interruption, but may I please have a brief moment of your time. Is anyone else on this train homeless and hungry? I have food and it's free." Here he holds up what looks like a PBnJ sandwich and an orange or apple. Also, he's the only one of his kind who uses that "else" in his rap and I'm always impressed by the added touch. "My name is Mr. B, and I'm an outreach worker for the United Homeless Organization, a group of individuals who got together, and we felt it wasn't right that people should ride on the transit system hungry and without a home. We are not publicly funded, so we have to rely on the support and generosity of people like you to provide food and shelter for the many homeless living in our transit system today. So if you could please find it in your hearts to donate as little as one penny..." and here he pauses dramatically, ALWAYS, and I bet if you had a stopwatch the pause would be exactly the same length each time, "...we could feed a family." Then he goes up and down the car and collects whatever people will donate that day. It comes in waves, in ebbs and flows, as people seem to give a ton in the summer--tourists?--and the whole thing gets worn out and exhausted in January, when Mr. B seems to know it doesn't matter this time, no one's giving anything. But he delivers the speech the same way, with the same words, regardless.

The other one is the kid. This could be a teenager, a pretty thuggy looking dude, or a younger tyke if they're working the whole cute angle, or, in the case of one great brother/sister combo., a teenage girl and a little gary coleman boy about, I don't know, 8 or 9, with each alternating parts of the shpiel and introducing each other's names like some vaudeville act. One thing's always the same, always ubiquitous, no matter who they are, what gender or age or creed or color: the yellow peanut M&Ms box with the top open (in a few rare cases I've also seen a jolly ranchers box, but those seem to be falling out of favor). Anyway, there are minor variations, as each peddler tries to give their pitch a personal touch, but their rap mostly follows this template:

"Sorry for the interruption ladies and gentleman, but may I please have your attention. My name is _____ and I'm out here selling candy. I'm not selling it for no basketball team, I'm not selling it for no school trip or no fundraiser," (and this list came get pretty long, depending on how carried away they get) "I'm selling it for myself, to try and earn a little money to put in my pocket and stay out of trouble and off the street. I got peanut M&Ms for a dollar and I also accept donations if you prefer. Thank you and have a good day/safe trip/God bless."

I've actually seen old ladies in fancy hats with NO teeth and who are no doubt diabetic as well buy these--not give a donation, BUY them shits--and smile at the kids just like they were their own grandchildren, then put the candy in their purse, were it no doubt takes up residence next to about thirteen rolls of smarties, necco wafers, certs breath mints, used tissues, and a coin purse, all of which in one form or another will be offered to her actual grandchildren.

It's an impressive racket, the grandma circuit. And so is Mr. B. He's been doing it ever since I moved here two years ago, and will probably be doing it after I leave. He always says thank you and he never tires. Same for the candy peddlers. I salute them both.

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