By: Phil Temples
I first met Bob many years ago. He was cowering near a stoop off a narrow alleyway in Boston’s Back Bay. His clothes were rags. His expression communicated both fear and loathing. He wasn’t even begging me for money. He seemed too pathetic to establish that basic human connection most street people can muster when looking for a handout.
I don’t know what possessed me to give a damn. Rather than walking by him, or crossing the street, I stopped. Perhaps I saw a little bit of myself in him.
There but for the Grace of God go I.
I was the epitome of success: the director of a large marketing firm, and master of bullshit, pulling in a six-figure salary, a vacation home on the Cape, a time share in the Bahamas, a BMW, et cetera, et cetera . . . What was a couple of dollars to me? For him, it might be the difference between going hungry or getting some life-sustaining nourishment.
I pulled from my pocket the smallest denomination I had on me–a twenty-dollar bill. But when I reached down to stuff it in his cup I found it half-filled with coffee. Instead, I straightened up and held out my hand with the twenty in it. I studied him. He stared back, as though failing to comprehend that I was offering a gift. Had the man been clean-shaven and wearing proper clothes, he would have been considered handsome.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
I was met with a blank stare.
“It’s okay,” I added. “I don’t want anything from you. I’m not going to berate you, or tell you about Jesus.” Only then did I detect the hint of acknowledgement.
He told me that his name was Bob and said he slept in a makeshift cardboard enclosure in a nearby alleyway. A lot of his food came from a dumpster behind an upscale restaurant off Newbury Street.
We chatted for a few more minutes. I offered him some advice. “Folks would rather deposit their money in a clean cup or container, instead of handing it over to you. Be sure that you plant a few dollars in the cup beforehand. Try and include a ten- or twenty-dollar bill, if you can keep one. Oh, and you’ll get more contributions from people if you make eye contact and smile.”
He seemed to warm up to me after a few minutes. He thanked me for the money and the suggestions, and then I went on my way.
In the days and weeks that followed, I encountered Bob often on various street corners near the Commons, or near the Park Street MBTA stop. One day, I even spent a half hour with him to work up a little script to use when soliciting for handouts. I told Bob that he should say that he was a homeless vet who was down on his luck after losing his job, and that his wife left him while he was overseas, and so forth. I have to admit, after a couple of times practicing the pitch, I almost believed it myself. I watched him occasionally in the days that followed. Bob was turning into a charming and engaging con artist. I could sense his growing confidence working the crowds. In a strange sort of way I was proud of Bob. I felt like I was his mentor.
In the years that followed, I lost track of Bob. But I know now that he replaced his cardboard house in the alley with a nice studio apartment in Allston; and later, a two-bedroom condo in Brookline. Eventually, he purchased a lavish penthouse downtown. Bob’s recent exploits are well known to all. But I am one among only a handful of individuals who know about his humble beginnings in that alleyway.
* * *
The Emperor addressed the nation today. He’s quite an inspiration to us! I have to admit, even I feel better about the state of the country after hearing one his speeches. We still have a figurehead president, and Congress meets sporadically in Washington, D.C. to squabble and go through their motions of passing bills and resolutions. But, of course, everyone knows that the Emperor really leads the country. His palace and grounds encompass the greenery that was once New York’s Central Park. It’s a glorious cathedral constructed of acres of reflecting glass, known as The Central Palace. But most folks affectionately call it The House of Bob.
He was a good student.
Phil Temples lives in Watertown, Massachusetts, USA and works as a computer systems administrator at a university. He has published over eighty works of short fiction in print and online journals. Blue Mustang Press recently published Phil’s murder-mystery novel, “The Winship Affair.” And his new paranormal-horror novel, “Helltown Chronicles,” has just been accepted by Eternal Press.