Outside the Jasper Convention Center the bums had taken their crates and set them up like booths at a trade show. All the pariahs of Hell’s Kitchen were there: Barking Mad Charlie, Frank Whitecap, Tony Birddog, Cut-You Cheryl, One-Nut Jeremiah, his lady Linds Two-Scars, and all the rest.
The suits were terrified when they showed up with their to-go coffee cups and briefcases and ties, looking down a gauntlet of the deprived. They shuffled about in the warming July morning wondering how they’d get by all of them without getting touched by the homeless or having to share the same air. One of them immediately stopped a beat cop, but she just laughed at him. Jasper security stayed behind the glass partition hiding chuckles with hands raised to mouths.
One tough-looking customer, a middle aged woman whose life’s disappointments had carved themselves into long lines on her face, finally showed up. Giving all the others a curled lip of disdain she grabbed the lapels of her pantsuit and walked right to the V-shape of the crates.
But Charlie didn’t bark at her, but only tried to hand her a pamphlet he’d made out of old restaurant napkins and ballpoint pen. She brushed by him to have Frank try to hand her a fidget spinner, was gifted with a friendly wave by Cheryl, and Jeremiah stood back while Linds quickly spoke to her about the benefits of learning self-defense. Close to the entrance now, all the suits saw their compatriot stop at the very end, speaking to Linds until both of them had a good laugh, the older woman giving Two-Scars a few silvery dimes before she headed into the hall.
After that, a ripple of shrugs made their way through the crowd of suits and they started towards the crates, the bravest suits leading the way. Despite determination to just sail through most found something one of the vagrants had to say startling or interesting enough to stop. Engaged in something that passed for conversation, almost everyone parted with the change from their morning coffee, most without even being asked.
It was the best morning run any of us had ever had, even better than days when we got a piece of Grand Central action. I got cleaned up and went out to buy a suit, wanting to find a job, and spent all of my cut on new clothes.
Man, it’s expensive dressing like a human.