Time To Settle Accounts
January 11, 2012: Dressed for success.
I’d just had lunch with my dad, meeting him at Manny’s, and now I was downtown with an hour to kill before a meeting. I’d taken the second half of his corned beef sandwich, along with a potato pancake, which I said I would give away. My meeting was at the True Star office down at Wabash and Roosevelt, so I wandered the South Loop, enjoying the freakish warmth.
I strode up Jackson toward State. In the distance I thought I heard change shaking in a cup, so I walked that way. When I turned right on State I immediately passed a man selling StreetWise. He was over six feet tall and wearing dress clothes, a clean top coat and black leather shoes. He wore a well-groomed mustache and was missing his front teeth. I speak with StreetWise vendors on a regular basis, but I’d never met this one.
We smiled to each other as I passed him. “Hello there,” he said.
“Did you hear the news?” he said.
He pulled a business card out of his coat pocket and held it out to me.
“It’s upside down,” I said like a dick. I’m not sure why I said that.
“I just got a job,” he said. “I start Monday.”
I smiled at that, sweet and true. “That’s great!”
“I’ll be selling radio ads on the phone,” he said, bringing his fingers to his head in a phone symbol. “That’s why I’m dressed up. Gotta get ready.
“I’ve been doing this for 19 years,” he said. “2013 will be my 20th year. I stayed focused because I knew these people out here wanted me off these corners.
“I’ve been asking people for bus fare to help me get to work, a bus card, because I know that first check won’t come for a few weeks.”
“Would you like half a corned beef sandwich?” I asked.
“That is a blessing,” he said. “Yes, I will take it.” He took it and put it in his pocket. “It will be hard to eat this week, without my teeth. But next week, yes!”
“You’re getting new teeth next week?” I asked.
“Got ‘em,” he said, patting his coat pocket. “Got ‘em here.”
“You have teeth in your pocket?”
“Right here,” he said.
“May I see them?”
He pulled out a set of teeth, and then put them back. “I haven’t brushed them yet,” he said, laughing. “This woman gave them to me. Spent 3600 dollars. White woman named Francine. Told me to go to the dentist, and the dentist didn’t believe me, so I gave him her card and he called her, and she said, ‘Yes, give him some teeth.’
“He rode his bike over to my corner the next day and said, ‘Let’s get this going.’
“But I’m not going to wear them until Monday. Like how Michael Jackson rested his voice before his huge tour.
“Yes sir,” he said, smiling big, “Monday I’m wearing my teeth.”
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