Five dollars

I am making disciples left and right. Not that my message is so compelling, but I have the delivery down to an art form. I have been out of work and on my last pennies. Maggie had suggested I try my hand at stand-up comedy. I had scoffed at the idea. It’s one thing to make people you know laugh, and quite another to stand in front of a room full of strangers and deliver material you’ve crafted. Still, I must admit I have a way with words.

I head over to Hyde Park and get up on my soapbox. I’ve carefully considered my options and drafted a placard that reads “Will voice your opinion eloquently – 5 minutes = $5”. I am a diminutive person but I exude confidence. A couple is walking in my direction, arguing. The man is gesticulating wildly, clearly frustrated. The other man is sullen, and looking straight ahead. He is avoiding eye contact. His eyes rest on the sign, not registering its meaning. They seem like perfect clients.

As they pass me, the meeker of the two, the one who had seemed not to take the sign to heart, stops and takes out a fiver. “I want to talk to the lady.” The other stops mid-sentence, annoyed. He smiles as he reads the sign. My client introduces himself. “Hello, I’m Henry. This is my partner Lewis. I am a creative. I can’t seem to make Lewis understand that I need our apartment to be messy in order to create.  I don’t want to spend time cleaning up after myself. It just takes away my focus. Can you help?” I nod and start. “The Universe is chaotic. It ferments with life. Within the apparent chaos is order and repetition. What you conceive as messy is only the first layer of understanding. The messiness reflects the internal turmoil of the creator but it contains order in its midst.” “But he keeps losing important documents I give him! He is irresponsible,” shouts Lewis, in exasperation.

“Them’s are fighting words,” I reply. “Perhaps you can look at things in a different light. You can either nurture his genius or smother it with rules. His brand of creativity thrives in a limitless environment. He needs the stimulation that randomness provides. A dirty bowl, discarded clothes, books on the floor. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Would you rather spend the little time you have together arguing about misplaced documents or remember why you were together in the first place?”

I bite my tongue. I was about to go into a harangue about how women have always placed themselves in a supporting role, feeding the other at their own expense. I don’t think this is the time for it nor, perhaps, something to emulate. It certainly has not advanced the role of women in the world. Lewis is glaring at me. “But we need to find the document,” he pleads. “When did you last see it?” “In his hands!” “When was that?” I walk him back through time and suddenly, he exclaims, “In the buffet! Remember, love? You had your hands full and you told me to put it on top of the dresser and I said it wouldn’t be safe there? I walked them over to the buffet. In the top drawer!” They look at each other, radiant.

“You, Miss, are an angel. Much cheaper than my therapist, and much more efficient. Please, tell me your name again.” I introduce myself. He takes my hand in both his hands, presses a few bills in them. “God bless,” as they retrace their steps, in a hurry to find the papers. I look down at my hands. Fifteen dollars. I tuck them away, out of sight.

Should I stay or should I go and eat a decent meal? At this exact moment, a young man stops. I smile an encouraging smile. He steps closer.

“I want her to move in with me,” he blurts without preamble. He hands me his $5. “I love her,” he adds in guise of explanation.

– Where does she currently live?

– Mostly in my head.

I smile. “She is in another state. She moved for work. I can’t bear for us to be apart.”

– How long have you been together? When did she move out of state?

– We’ve only been together a year. She moved away for work 3 months ago. She says she couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

– What is your situation?

– I am desperate. I can’t sleep nor eat.

– I meant, what is preventing you from joining her?

He blushes. “I am a student on scholarship. If I leave, it means the end of my dream.”

– And you want me to give you the words to convince her to return? Would it be in her best interest? Would it be the end of her dream?

He scowls at me. “You’re a fraud!” he shouts.

– You haven’t given me anything to work with. I can’t create an argument out of thin air. You’ve described a one-sided situation where you are needy, and she needs breathing room. You have no opinion to express, just neediness.

I hand him back his money and sit on my soapbox. He walks away, stomping angrily, like a spoiled child. It’s a beautiful day. I watch the joggers fly by, people walking their dogs, others doing tai-chi.

I can feel the jilted lover’s eyes on me. He has walked away from me, but is sitting on a bench further down. There is much foot traffic, but people read the sign, smile and keep walking.

A bearded man approaches me. Dang, don’t women have opinions they want to voice? “For $5, will you voice any opinion?” “No, sir, I cannot voice anything that will promote hatred or indecency.” “Will you make a case that the world is flat?” “Do you have $5?”

He proffers the money from a bundle. I start talking and a few idlers stop to listen. Some shake their heads, others nod, still others smile. One takes a picture. Japanese tourists gather. I make it to the end of my speech. My client has disappeared. The little crowd disperses, and my previous client shows up, chastened.

– I may have omitted a few details.

I put out my hand. He puts in the $5. “I’m listening.”

– She says I was stalking her. She wants me to stop calling.

– How did you meet?

– In a bar.

– Why is she The One?

– Because I don’t have anybody else.

– What opinion do you want me to voice?

He looks down and shuffles his feet. “It’s not fair, you know? I am a decent man, and I can’t get laid. What kind of city is this where you can’t make meaningful contact with strangers?”

– So you want me to make a case to present to God?

– Would you?

And so I do. I present loneliness as the sin it is and accuse God of having created it. I rail against the Creator, who made us unhappy alone and in need of company for our mental health. I talk of aching hearts and suicide, and all else that ails the world. A bigger crowd has formed, with more people taking pictures, others eating standing there, listening to me. I am earning my money. A few people clap as I wind down. My customer is beaming at me, no longer sullen.

We walk together to a little kiosk to buy some lunch. This is how I met the man who was to be my husband.

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