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, 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 frost-bite has taken it’s toll on certain bodily extremities, including the nose.
I speak as one of those folks who came out to Central Square and stood on the corner of Tremont Street and Massachusetts Avenue, on Monday through Friday from 7am to 5:30pm, 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?” and I would politely reply, “if you do not think this is a job, why don’t you try standing out here for 8 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 days 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 we may eat, obtain clothing suitable to the job we work and, most importantly, put together enough American Greenbacks so we can find a place to live that, for the moment, we can call our own.
Remembering well some of the folks who have appreciated my writing and purchased the paper from me; still they contact me to ask what I have written and because I have stores of written word I can cobble together a book of prose and/or poetry that will titillate their consciousness and it pleases me that they recall this shattered man who stood on the corner on days so cold that, on one of them, my nose exploded from frost-bite.
This 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 and 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. Respecting her judgment and being utterly shocked when I peered into the bathroom mirror and did not recognize my face.
My brothers and sisters who are still out selling in the cold, and this winter has been particularly bitter; my heart goes out to them for I am them despite the fact that the woman, Mary Esther, who loves me so, 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, and possibly did, but were cursed by those who beat their world views into fractured prisms; it was their parents indeed, and even before them.
Taught to hate myself in my formative years, set up to failure and twisted my mentality where only drugs, in the shape of opiates could bring my Spirit peace; as I grew out of my teen-age years the Sickness wrapped its tight hands around the throat of my being and throttled me until I found that I no longer fit in 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 where I found true peace. Those of you who passed me money throughout the day and gave me kind words to take with me, I thank you and 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 weathers, give them more than money because they are searching for their own true God.