He knocked on my front door, needing money . . . the exact amount to the penny for a bus ticket to Chicago: $25.65
Did I have any odd jobs he could do? (this got my respect)
Overcoming my default NO, I said I figured I had $5 for pulling weeds out of the cracks in my driveway.
It’ll help, he said. And he started yanking at the crabgrass.
After about five minutes, I couldn’t stand the white privilege roiling off me; I approached him with a better idea.
OK, I’ll cover the full price of your ticket if you write about the best day of your life.
He just stared at me, confused.
How do I do that, he asked.
So I handed him a can of Cherry Pepsi, something to sit on, a notepad and paper.
Just tell me what happened that made it happy, I said. Write what you remember.
I went back into my house. Every time I peeked through the curtain or around the door frame, the boy was writing intently.
After 20 minutes, I went to see how he was doing. I asked if he would read it to me and said he would, but it made him shy. Shyly, he read. Sensei-ish, I listened.
I liked his theme and told him so. He said he wasn’t done yet, so I went back to my work. Maybe 15 minutes later, he was ready. Did I want him to read it out loud again? I said no, you don’t have to.
He returned the notepad and pen. I shook his hand and gave him an envelope with $26 cash in it.
Congratulations, I said, this is your first paid writing project. You are now a writer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Go to Chicago and keep writing even if no one is paying you. One day they will. You’ll be amazed by your life one day.
I’ve no idea why I felt authorized to say that, but that’s what I said. I think I just always wanted someone to say that to me when I didn’t know who I was.
Then he smiled awkwardly, trying to hide his broken front teeth. He thanked me and walked off.
Later in the early evening, I was walking Nessy and saw a nearly full can of Cherry Pepsi sitting on the curb just up the next block from my place. It wasn’t thrown down, not even dented; somehow politely, it was just sitting there, punctuating the end of our exchange.
It charmed me. It embarrassed me. It was something I would have done at his age when I wasn’t brave enough to say no thank you . . . decades before I learned how to be the person I myself needed when I was 17.