On my way to school, I take the St. Clair bus (normally a streetcar, but oh well, construction, it happens) to St. Clair West station, where I catch the subway north to law school. It is usually crowded and dense.
Today, outside the station, a black man – say in the range of 25-30 – stood outside, with a stack of pamphlets. I say “pamphlets,” but truly, although descriptively correct, that doesn’t convey the essence of what he held – which were more like photocopied newsletters in appearance if not content. They were labeled “Black History Now!”
And I took one, because I am the sort to read things that are free, even if only for a second or three.
“We prefer a donation.”
I was a bit surprised, but hey, what’s a buck. So I start digging through my pockets.
“It’s just to cover reproduction costs, you understand.”
And my mental bullshit alarm goes off. I can see it’s a photocopied and stapled flyer, basically. Three or four pages. Reproduction costs, maybe sixteen cents total.
“We prefer a donation of four or five dollars.”
And now I know he’s bullshitting me. But he’s doing it with style, and grace, and above all confidence. And I can’t help but admire it, you see, because he’s dressed up in suit with no overcoat, and smiling slightly – but not so greatly as to be overly ingratiating. Even though I know he’s full of crap, I want to give him some money, just for the performance of it.
I can’t help but admire it. “I only got three, is that okay?” Because maybe I admire his panache and sheer balls, but I’m not giving him everything he asks for.
“Three would be fine. How’s your day going?”
“Too damn early.” (It is seven-thirty, which in my estimation is mostly too damn early.)
“Well, you know what they say,” – this, as I hand him the three loonies – “get up early, go to bed early, best way to live.”
“I’m not gonna be going to bed early, though.” This is true – I’ll be reading contract law.
“Well, that’s a shame.” He hands me the pamphlet. “Do keep it in mind if it ever becomes a possibility. I find it makes all the difference. Good day to you, and enjoy.”
He’s a master. I almost want to give him more money. “Thanks, same to you.”
And that is how I came to spend three dollars on five pages, photocopied, of a basic reading list of black history textbooks.