I was in Philadelphia this past week and took a bunch of pictures, but this one stood out to me the most. I’m going to write a totally fictional story based on this picture. I’m trying to play around with dialogue in a David Foster Wallace-type of way. I’m literally doing this right on the spot, without going back to edit it, so forgive me if it sucks. Feedback would be greatly appreciated.
“You got fitty cent, Sir?”
“Nah, man. No one carries change anymore; you should know that.”
The man with one leg stared at blankly at me, but then, his eyes started telling another story. For a moment, the one-legged man felt vulnerable, and he sensed that I sensed it, so he continued to stare, but now with a more hardened look, hoping I would cave and give him change.
“Well, God bless, Sir,” said the old man, who slowly approached my younger brother who was walking ahead of me.
“What about you? You got fitty cent?”
“He doesn’t got it either. Keep moving,” I yelled.
He looked back and smiled, realizing we were related, and took off–backwards. The one-legged man turned his wheel chair around and slalomed between parked cars and oncoming traffic, asking for change from anyone he thought was paying attention to him.
The locals did know him though. Every morning, he wakes up from outside the hotel and yells at the waves of guests. Outside the hotel is ideal because the people are from out of town and always have large sums of cash on them, but when he asks for change, no one ever has any–including myself. The locals don’t give him any change either. Apparently, no one carries change anymore. Everyone is just like him: broke.
I asked some of the guys on the corner why the one-legged man pushes his wheelchair backwards, but they don’t know, or care. They’d rather just post photos of the man on Instagram with dark, edgy filters and emojis that signify nothing but their desire for attention from people they’ve never met, nor ever plan on meeting. I’m no better, but I do actually feel bad; not bad enough to give him money, but bad enough to wonder why he does what he does instead of doing what he ought to be doing, like getting a job or something.
“Dees fuckin’ people, man. Day in an day out, I bussin my ass out here in the cold, yaknowhatimean, and noone’s got no fitty cent, but dey got enough dough for hotels and ressuraunts and random-ass bullshit for der stuck up kids, yaknowhatimsayin’, and dey neva worked no day in their life, but them parents’ just keep spoon-feedin’ them and givin’em everythang dey want and when I come by askin’ fo fitty cent, dey laugh like I ain’t human or summtin, but I am and juss cause I ain’t got no fancy clothes or a roof ova mah head don’t mean I ain’t got no feelin’s, knowhatimean, like, dees kids are real igorant, man, youknow, like, I sit here tryin’ to tell’em like it is on da streets so, like they get scared straight, right, and like, go out and get jobsanshit so they don’t be endin’ up like me and I’m figurin’ like, they’d give me fitty cent for what I’m tellin’em, but they’d ratha laugh, yaknowhatimean? They don’t know the value of what they got, but once they on their own, they’ll be juss like me, and I’ll prolly still be here, pushin’ this damned wheel-chair backwads ’cause one’a my hands is gone too and I can only push wit my one foot, yaknowhatimsayin’?”
“What the fuck’s he rambling about?”
“Leave him alone,” I said to my brother, who was still confused and frightened about the one-legged man.
“But what’s his problem?”
“He doesn’t got a problem,” I responded almost angrily. “We’re the one’s with the problem. We could do something to help him–”
“Then why didn’t you give him money before. You can catch up to him, you know,” my brother suggested sincerely, like he was actually catching on to what I was worried about.
“Well, I don’t know. I never really give them money because I feel they should work, you know? Go out and get a job instead of begging. Show some dignity, you know? This is America, like, the land of opportunity, you know?”
“But, didn’t you just–”
“Yeah, but Dad always tells us not to give them money, because they spend it on drugs and alcohol. I don’t want to fuel their addiction,” I explained to my brother, relieved at the fact that I came up with a pretty believable excuse to not follow through.
Imagine if I actually gave him money? What if someone saw?