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TRANSLATION: MEMPHIS

TRANSLATION: MEMPHIS

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WHAT'S IN IT FOR ME? I’ve come to the conclusion that if somebody comes up to me asking for money, and they’re willing to do something for it, I really don’t mind. I don’t mean something weird either. Just something. Anything. A justification for the transfer of funds from one pocket to another. For instance, several years ago I was sitting in Washington Square Park in New York, pretty much wasting time. Lolling about. Watching the freaky people do their thing. Out of nowhere this old guy gets this stand-up act going, and suddenly hundreds of people were laughing themselves off their respective benches. Freshly returned from Jamaica, my hair was in a thousand tiny braids (I know, I’m such a poseur) and when the man’s eyes met mine I knew I had it coming. As the crowd giggled and guffawed he dubbed me “White Rasta,” which in my opinion was funny as hell, and justified the couple of dollars I tossed in his bucket. The irony, of course, is that he probably made several hundred dollars a week to my, well, not much. But the point is, he didn’t come up to me with some obviously false story. He entertained me, and thus earned my “donation” as opposed to scamming it. And these things come back to you in some form or another. Another example that comes to mind involves a poet from Orlando named Mark Bennett. Walking down the street in New Brunswick, this man popped up in front of me and began reciting some amazing poetry. The hook was that he was selling books to get across country, and wondered if I can help. I’m always a skeptic. Always. But for whatever reason I ended up buying this guy a sandwich, as well as one of his books, and proceeded to drive him halfway across New Jersey, though I thought it against my better judgment. Of course I’m still here, so obviously nothing horrible happened. The strange thing is that a few years later, when I had relocated to Orlando, we crossed paths again. I sauntered into a coffee house called Java Jabbers one evening, and lo and behold there was Mark reciting what may have been one of the best spoken word pieces I had ever heard. And I felt good that I bought his “story.” I didn’t feel cheated, and he remembered me and asked why I hadn’t met him in Philly all those years ago, as he’d offered to find me a ticket to a show in Philly the day I dropped him off at the rest stop. I don’t know what ever happened to him after that, but hopefully he’s somewhere rocking on with his spoken word self. And then I moved to Memphis. To be truthful, I don’t think I’ve ever been approached for money as often as I have here. In the car. On the street. On line at a fast food restaurant. It’s relentless. One man recently, upon my rejecting his offer of some Elvis postcards, took it upon himself to rub his sweaty arm all over me, and made some comments I won’t repeat here. Or propositions rather. Yuck. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t occasional souls who I find myself wanting to help out. Of course this is subjective, as there’s no way to tell whether someone’s story is complete fiction. I guess the point is whether someone makes me believe them, and does something to back it up. On Beale this weekend, I found myself approached by yet another “lost poet.” His angle was that he was working to get a bus ticket to New York, where all of his poetry dreams might come true, and he could perform at some open mic of significance. His tag for me was, come on guess, “the skeptic.” “Do you want something light or dark,” he asked, boasting a catalog of 160 poems all stored in his head. “Light,” I answered, “I’m not in the mood for darkness.” And then he busted out his rhyme, which wasn’t half bad. It wasn’t my kind of poem per se, but hey. So I gave him a few bucks. Now some of you may be rolling your eyes at this point. In fact, I’m rolling my eyes at myself to an extent (which makes it really hard to write) but the way this guy drew me in was by offering me something in return for my “donation.” I guess I respond better to starving art than guilt trips and blatant falsities. Besides, it’s good karma. So if you see me wandering around, and you want my money, don’t tell me that your invisible car needs gas, or that you’ve got really great post cards of Elvis. Just recite me a poem. I’m a sucker for it.

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