I see this old guy, at the cafe. He'll
play chess with children, he'll play chess
with bums. Makes no difference. Summer
is kind--wave upon wave of Japanese
students, too polite, too hungry for
English. The old guy is
particularly fond of foreign girls--
he is mannered, he touches
infrequently. The beret is effective.
If the chessboard doesn't work, there is
It is Father's Day and
today there is an annual daughter
buying espressos. The old guy is
ebullient, magnanimous in his gesturing, he
is laughing and talking too loud.
I see a heavy woman, shaved head, clean clothes,
(she is scowling, she is begging for money) inching
from table to table. Today, ('sCUSE me. 'sCUSE me.)
she has found some (can you help me?) children
to work the ('sCUSE me.) crowd. She
plants herself and stands,
droning her lines, until
cash or comment are extracted. I have never
given her cash.
are generous, or intimidated
by her blackness and her bulk. They give coin.
The wooly white suburbanites always mumble
"sorry," which is just a come-on
if you think about it and
the beggar woman browbeats their pallid guilt
and squeezes lilywhite quarters from tight, clean
Nordstrom purses. She is a pro, working
Berkeley cafes, weekends,
Jack London Square
the rest of the week.
Now, beggar woman hits on the old guy, the one
with the daughter
and the old guy makes a big thing about taking out
his wallet. The rent-a-kids are
going nuts. "How much you want?" The daughter
knows she cannot say a word. She is a buddha and
her eyes do not leave her father's ruddy face.
This is all
The beggar woman shifts her weight from
left to right to left to right.
The rent-a-kids are buzzing. They are hoarse,
like fratboys or partyhags early, early on a Sunday:
"How much you got? How much you got? How much you got?"
Beggar woman shifts again, again, again,
Wallet flapping, old guy asks the beggar woman does she
have a place to stay?,
do her children get enough to eat?, do her children
need new clothing for school and the beggar woman
doesn't hear a goddamn word--she knows this is a game of
patience, a dance of stamina and focus and
the rent-a-kids are almost
wetting themselves. Beggar woman keeps repeating "Give
'em all of it. Give 'em all of it. Give 'em all of it." Old guy
milks his moment,
old guy knows his audience,
well. Annual daughter
is dissolving into something only she remembers,
into something only she can understand.
Beggar woman shifts her weight in circles, now. The
rent-a-kids are starting to scrap and the woman and the kids
begin to chant "All of it. All of it. All of it." Old guy
laughs and flaps the wallet. Beggar woman gambles, says "OK,
gimme the twenny and the
tee-yen." and he does and
the rent-a-kids are jumping up and down now, whining, but
the old guy keeps a very few green, green dollar bills
lolling from his wallet, which is hanging
open, in the air and he is laughing and
the annual daughter continues to stare at her father's face and
beggar woman leaves with the scrapping rent-a-kids, but
a couple of minutes later, she is back.
The old guy laughs and wags his wallet. "I
gotta eat. I gotta eat." and the woman makes a big
production out of herding rent-a-kids and leaving for good
but she comes back again
and she comes back again
and she comes back again
because she just can't let go the sight of those last few
green, green dollar bills.
Each time, the shouting out
of names, the slap upside the children's heads,
the slow, slow leaving, this time, for good. This time,
The annual daughter has finished her coffee.
The old guy is laughing,
I am writing everything
Copyright John D Porter © 1997
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