For the MOMENT
Spare Some Change for Fifteen Minutes?
"BOB" STANDS AT THE CORNER intersection in front of the bank, bouncing up and down to keep warm. Skinny knees poke out of his ripped jeans in time to this curious dance, "Spaaaare Channnge!" He says that it's important to stand out from the other sellers.
He's been selling the paper since the beginning of the year and has no false illusions or pretensions about why he works. "It's a way to make some money and," he says with a crooked smile, stained teeth frighteningly revealed, "I'm trying to meet a girlfriend." He leans forward conspiratorially.
Bob says it's been a fairly good day: Already seventy papers sold and it's only five o'clock. Fifty is average, but, "those other guys are amateurs. I'm really good at selling things because," Bob says, pausing for extra emphasis, "I'm a professional."
He won't reveal his formula for success--where to stand, when to work, what to say--those are secrets of his trade. He emphasizes that this is his livelihood; that information is key.
He notices the reporter's notebook and frowns, backing away. "I don't want you to use my name." He eyes the writing, quickly scanning the page. "What does that say?" he asks, pointing to a page of scrawled abbreviations. "I could lose my job. I don't get along with those [guys] back in the office. People lose their jobs just like that. I could be out of work tomorrow."
A crowd rushes by and he goes back to work. "Spare some change!" He holds the paper high, waving an issue overhead. No one stops.
"There has got to be someone left in Harvard Square to buy this pesky paper!!!" His voice echoes frustration. He tries another tactic: "Free hug with every paper," he flashes that charming smile. "You get bored," he explains, "You've got to say something interesting." Lowering his voice he continues, "you can't look homeless, or sound pathetic. Some people just say the same thing over and over `Spare Change, Spare Change...Help the homeless help themselves." He shakes his head in disgust.
He bounces up and down again, faster. "I'm uncomfortable about answering any more questions. I'm very on edge--people get fired." His eyes move quickly; he glances at the notebook again. "You know," he adds, "I don't go to a $26,000 college. I don't have a Mommy and a daddy. I don't have anybody or anything but this paper."
"There is negative energy," he hints ominously.
It's time to move on.
"Phil" shoves the papers forward, almost rudely. "Come on honey," he drawls, "only one dollar." He blocks the passers-by. "Spare Change. Helping the homeless help themselves."
The woman doesn't answer, shouldering her way past with a cursory glance and quick shuffle forward; she assumes an indifferent look. "Phil" answers with a growl and glare before resuming his business. "Hey beautiful, can you spare a little change?" His tone remains sarcastic.
Someone hands him a bill, "Have change for a twenty?" "Sure," he answers accepting the money, smiling and walking away. "Hey, where's my change???"
The street is peppered with other flyers and circulations--green slips from the Tannery and pamphlets for the "Square Deal." It's easy to get lost in the crowd of distribution; Robert Baily works hard to sell his paper. He doesn't have much time for idle conversation; this is a serious business. "Listen," he suggests, "you can talk to my friend across the street. He's only got a few left to sell."
It was Robert's friend's first day of work. "Yesterday I was on the street asking people for money." By six in the evening he had sold fifty papers, "in less than an hour," he boasts.
His most memorable customer was, "this guy who gave me a dollar and told me to keep the paper."
"Some people though," he added, were, "really rude. But I'll be back on Monday." He looks down for a moment, contemplative. "Can I ask YOU a question?"
"Can YOU spare a little change?"