Upon reading “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” by James Agee, the thought struck me that you, the reader, have truly so little understanding of the people you purchase this paper, SPARE CHANGE NEWS, from. We vendors are standing outside in frigid weather, hot weather, rainy weather, stormy weather, dancing back and forth to keep our feet from freezing and not even realizing when frostbite has taken its toll on certain bodily extremities, including our noses.
I speak as one of those folks who came out to Central Square and stood on the corner of Tremont Street and Massachusetts Avenue, Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with only a brief bathroom break, eating my lunch as I sat on the stone ledge of the bank I sold the paper in front of, working as I ate.
From time to time, a person would look at me and say, “Why don’t you get a job?” I would politely reply, “If you don’t think this is a job, why don’t you try standing out here for eight or more hours a day selling a product?” On occasion, the person would stop and purchase a paper, some of them becoming regular customers.
These vendors, and I include myself, go out each day and have no idea whether they will make $10 or $45 as a day’s pay. But, as we are, we accept what we must do to make an honest living. We are driven by our desire to make money so that we can eat, obtain clothing suitable for the job that we have, and most importantly, put together enough American greenbacks so we can find a place to live that we can call our own.
I remember well some of the folks who appreciated my writing and purchased the paper from me. Some of them still contact me to ask what I have written. Because I have stores of my past writings, I can cobble together books of prose and/or poetry that will titillate their psyches, It pleases me that my former customers recall this shattered man who stood on the corner on days so cold that, on one of them, my nose exploded from frostbite.
A kind customer said, “Marc, whatever is wrong with your nose? It’s twice the size and has frozen blood all over it!” I stood astounded as she said this to me, because I was so cold that I did not feel my nose on my face. When I reached up to touch it, my customer stopped my hand and said, “No, don’t hurt it more!” and took me into the 1369 Coffee Haus down the street, buying me coffee and telling me not to go back out in that frigid weather. I respected her judgment and was utterly shocked when I peered into the bathroom mirror and did not recognize my face.
This winter has been particularly bitter. My heart goes out to my brothers and sisters who are still out selling in the cold, for I am them, despite the fact that the woman who loves me so, Mary Esther, makes it possible for me to earn money without standing in the cold.
But what brought me to this state of chronic homelessness in the past? What insidious affliction took me, a child of middle-class means, who by all rights should have completed university study and become an associate professor of literature? How could this have happened? The Sickness, and I capitalize this on purpose, was brought about by the way I was walked into the world by those who claimed to love me. It’s possible that they did love me, but they were cursed by those who beat their world views into fractured prisms; it was their parents, indeed, and even before them.
I was taught to hate myself in my formative years. I was set up for failure and my mentality was twisted to the point where only drugs, in the shape of opiates, could bring my spirit peace. As I grew out of my teenage years, the Sickness wrapped its tight hands around the throat of my being and throttled me, until I found that I no longer fit into the world as a human being, cast out by my own mind until the street corner was my home.
The street corner became my office where I held court with other broken beings. But the paper I sold, SPARE CHANGE NEWS, was the beginning of the cure that broke through my illness and was where I found true peace. To those of you who passed me money throughout the day and gave me kind words to take with me, I thank you and I make this promise: I shall not return. When you see the men and women who sell this paper, who work hard under difficult times and in rough weather, give them more than money because they are searching for their own true God.