Tuesday, February 11, 2020

https://www.kindstory.org publishes short stories about extraordinary everyday exchanges


I have a story on this site, Caroline Leavitt has one featured that's very good.
Site is a small way to counter all the reportage focussed on the reverse of kindness.
Adds an experience people might not think about a lot, the exchange of
small or large kindness. What does it mean? Anyway here's mine.
Leavitt's worth reading on site.


A guy sits in a folding chair that's chained to a traffic sign, reading. His gloved hands hold a shallow cardboard box containing a book. His hooded face leans down, totally concentrated; a private act on this popular downtown corner. His battered sign says he's in the beginning stages of a debilitating disease. Yet he has good color. His clothes look okay, his eyes sparkle behind thick glasses when he talks about books.

A couple feet from his chair is a food wagon. Construction workers, arrayed on the sidewalk, wait for coffee, Danish, egg sandwich on a bagel.  I break the line with my water purchase, though resentful looks disappear as I say, "Just the water." The lady in the wagon takes my dollar. (Everyone knows you don't have to wait for water.)

The homeless guy's still fixed on his pages. He's got thinning reddish hair, late 40's maybe, too alert for a junkie or a guy on a permanent bender. Perhaps a working man down on his luck, if not part of a Dickensian homeless ring, an urban legend of a Fagin character who divvies up misery signs and street corners for a percentage. But I suspect no nights on grates for this guy. There's no patina of dirt or smell. Certainly not a con person with a glint in his eyes, grabbing purses or even finagling for money.  He's hardly paying attention to the paper cup between his ankles.

I put a dollar in the cup. Don't think well of me. I am not a generous individual who feels for the homeless, except in passing. Yet sometimes, in my heart of hearts, I, who have spent decades worried about rent, truly feel ‘there but for the grace of G-d go I.’ I'm superstitious. My dollar is to buy off misfortune, reinforce the strange grace that allows me to survive in this city. Even now, growing old with a mate in a decent apartment, we struggle.

Can I spare the dollar I spend on water? No, but the one toward a brownie can go. He says "thank you," makes eye contact. Before he can go back to his reading, I ask what he likes. "Whatever I can find." "But what's your choice?" "Spy books, true stories, conspiracy, adventure." Hunger there. I can relate. I came to this city as a young playwright, worked in the publishing industry, beginning with a test, a press release on a biography of Jim Morrison. I was thrilled to write materials for a department, paid to be a writer. Despite years of plugging books (my own work on the side)--I still loved them, though publishing had proved a one-sided affair.  

Once a professional reviewer, now I was sent books by publishers to r
eview for free. A stack was next to my desk. First I gave him a thriller, then a book about disinformation and a history of the Cold War.  Each time I put a dollar in his cup, though we both knew his 'thank you' was perfunctory before his one-line spot-on reviews. Curious, I gave him my own dystopian novel.

A week later, as I bought my water, he stopped me to say thanks for all the books and especially the future world one.  He said he had never read a book like that and liked it so much, he would keep it on his shelf (he lives somewhere?). I said I was glad, that the book was my own. He said, “I thought that.” (What? Was I so transparent?).  As one writer to another, he told me about ‘a guy who works for a publisher’ who stops by. This person is interested in a book he's writing.

He confides he needs a cable for his computer to finish but is almost done. I am delighted for him. He also confides he's been in prison. I let him know prison chronicles always have an audience. He says the publishing guy also told him that. I encourage him to finish. He says again that my novel was like nothing he had ever read. I glowed from the admiration of a fan (colleague?).

Is the dollar my price of entry? I test that with a hardcover bestseller about an infamous American spy--a true story. He's excited it's a prize winner but then asks if I want it back. I assure him, no, that I got it for free. So amazing he counts the book, I didn’t finish, a treasure!

When next I stop to talk books, I don't hand him a dollar (I am short that day) and apologize. He brushes that off and asks if I can find some Nietzsche and Jung.  He’s intense, like asking for a serious drug.  I am surprised by a request and say I might have some at home. I talk about Jung's Universal consciousness and Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, sharing that my grandfather showed me that book in high school, said it was important.  He nodded before returning to his latest read.

I return to my desk to plug other peoples’ books for my dollars, thinking about a person who wants to read everything. In Borges’ fiction, there’s a library containing every book ever to be written and a librarian outracing mortality. But my guy is not about quantity. Perhaps to find “truth” not the plural?  To me, who’s lost the quest, that's beyond value AND he was kind about my own book. 

He asked again about Nietzsche. I was sorry I couldn't find it but said I would look for my Jung. He said he had read ALL of Nietzsche  ,just wanted to own a copy but  could probably get it free online. I nod. The truth is I won’t look for my copy of Jung. I don’t know where it is but am fiercely affectionate about the content. It’s mine.

I am back to giving him my dollar, when I can. What value I get for it!

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