He once sold Real Change at 4th and Pike. His strategy was sui generis, and had nothing to do with saying anything about his product. Instead: wear a huge, genuine, beaming grin, and yell out "good morning," we're talking really bellow it out– "Good Morning! Good Morning!"– bellow it out like a national treasure waiting to be found, roaring out kindness to every single passersby. There was no sense of falsehood in his being, just massive uncontrollable joy howling through him, radiating out like fervent, vehement, impassioned sunshine. He fulfilled the great Thomas Hardy quote: "the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance from his ears..."
How he didn't lose his voice every morning I have no idea. People would be delighted. How could they not buy his paper? Such enthusiasm, so extreme and unfettered. It's not like they're going to find that at the office. Mid-forties, African-American, jean jacket and cap, with that smile… oh! The first time I saw him I don't even recall him having any newspapers. I just remember him shooting delightfulness at everybody. Here he is tonight getting on at Martin Luther King Way, by Franklin High.
"Hope you had a good holiday!" I say.
"It was wonderful! And yours?"
"It was outstanding, thanks for asking!"
"I hope your New Year is even better."
"Right back atcha!"
He sits down two seats back, but I can't let him go. I've never actually talked with him before. "You still sellin' the paper?"
"No," he replies, grinning.
"Don't wanna do it forever, I guess." I'm working off the assumption that it's difficult work with many drawbacks.
"Well, actually, I'd love to do it for about one more year…."
What a guy! "Yeah? I bet you meet a lot of interesting people, good people,"
"Oh yeah! Great folks."
"I remember you, 'cause you would always say, good morning, good morning!"
"That's a hard, I mean that's a tough job, sellin' the paper! I got some friends who do it."
"Well, it's not so hard." This guy! "I try not to look at it as a job," he continues. Do you see what I mean? I'm in awe! Of course it's a hard job, my goodness, they only get $1.25 per paper sold!
The person in the chat seat moves away, and he takes over, continuing: "I just greet everyone, say hello to everyone,"
That sounds familiar. "Get 'em started in a positive way,"
"Give 'em some good vibes in the morning."
"That's what I try to do, yeah. That's why I'm out there."
"You know what? That's how I feel about this." I'm pointing at the steering wheel. "That's why I'm here. I also, I try not to think of this as a job either, because… uh, well, there's too much other stuff about it that's great!"
"And you know what? I never ever sat back back and said, 'hey, do you wanna buy some Real Change.' "
I think I'm falling in love. No, I don't mean if this guy was twenty years younger and a woman! You understand. It's the idea expressed, that raising the quality of life for these strangers, that that was more important for him than actually you know, making his own living.... Looking at his stentorian exuberance I'm reminded of the Nelson Henderson quote engraved on the steps of the University Heights Community Center: "The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit." Oh, how I love the generosity in that perspective, the built-in assumption that other people are like us and worth the effort!
That he saw the urgent need for raising the people up and did something about it in a simple, nonjudgmental way and, and this is the real kicker here, that alongside such an attitude things fell together for him without too much effort on his part. Who was it who said the universe seems to favor those who put their trust in it? We reach for hints of understanding, glimpses of wisdom as we work out how to be our best selves.
"That's awesome," I say. "That's what I'm talkin' about!"
"Well, I'ma get off here and give McDonalds some more of my money!"
"There you go! Good to see ya!"
"You too, Happy New Year!"
"Happy New Year!"