Paulie laid out his clothes on his bed and took a couple steps back. The blue vest lay there with its false wrinkles, ready to spring back into its polyblend dependability. His jeans were freshly washed with its pant legs folded under like a baby fawn. His clipboard reflected the beams of the new day. It was his first day of reassurance, his first day of support, his first day of work. He had one final look at it and took a sharp breath in and a long sigh out. He was ready. He walked out of his room in his holey underwear and into the kitchen to brew his free-trade organic coffee that he had splurged on at Trader Joes. Today was his day.
He prepared with extra care- knowing that there would not be another first day. That he had to get this day right, so that his summer schedule would be down to the t. He brushed his teeth for an extra minute, he packed a lunch, he put on sun block, and even decided to bike to work- it was time to do things right. Paulie was truly excited about this job- this wasn’t like the other ones; the depressing retail gigs, summer internships at his father’s law firm, or even the bike messengering he did until “the accident”. This job was helping people, and best of all, he was being paid for it.
Paulie arrived downtown at 9:00 am and planted his feet on Michigan Ave. sandwiched between the Bennigans and the Art Institute- prime real estate according to his trainer- Cheyenne. Cheyenne had assured him that there would be a steady flow of tourists and guilt-ridden artist types that would indeed, have a minute for the environment. As he took the clip board out of his bag and felt the heat slowly pushing the “Green Peace” logo into his skin, he thought about Cheyenne.
She was sort of pretty, you know, sandy blonde hair, golden skin, squinty prematurely aged-eyes that have been worn down from hiking trips and camping out at burning man. Yet more than anything what he remembered was her smell- the intoxicating concoction of sandlewood, burnt sage and lingering b.o. that made his hands quiver and his adams apple fall into his stomach.
His first group of people walked by. He closed in on a businessman who looked sort of like his dad, if his dad was 9 inches taller and with a full head of hair. “Excuse me sir, do you have a moment for the Environment” his voice boomed. The man, not even glancing at Paulie, continued to walk past him, looked at his watch, took a huge gulp of his coffee and turned the corner. Paulie suddenly flashed back to being 13 years old sitting on the stairs listening to his parents argue, his tears staining the banister. He was going to have to do this all day.
Several different groupings came by him- old ladies wearing 50 pounds of museum jewelry, farm folk in awe of the metropolis before them, art students from the local colleges, and of course, business people. All of them managed to slip by him. Either refusing eye contact, or walking on the other side of the sidewalk or giving him some huge flat grin that seemed to say: “Ohh, I’m not falling for that one”.
At first he used his line: “Got a minute for The Earth?” that Cheyenne had recommended personally for him. It was the perfect amount of information but also had this inner core of guilt that was supposed to catch people off guard. It was meant to give people epiphanies, to finally snap out of their bourgeoisie existences and take a long hard look at the world around them. Yet after two hours of not so much of even eye contact he fell into desperation. He started complimenting people:
“Hey Madame, are you as green as your jacket?” “ What a great smile, I sure wish our polar ice caps were that white.” “ Awesome Cubs hat, don’t you want to find out if its actually protecting you from the hole in our ozone?” After an hour of that he became even more desperate and just started trying to just talk to someone, anyone, about anything. It was coming up to his lunch break, which meant Cheyenne would be over to check his recruitments for the day. No one had even made full eye contact longer than a millisecond. He really wanted to be able to report back to her with good news. He wanted an excuse to ask her out- to celebrate, invite her to his band’s show or maybe with a couple of beers on his porch. He really didn’t want to disappoint her and doing so poorly on such an easy block made him feel like failure. That’s when he saw her.
She was about a block away, and struggling with a roll backpack filled to the brim with papers. Her hair was frizzy and dyed maroon red with 2 inches of gray roots springing out. As she pulled her rolly back pack onto the curb, her long, flowing, black skirt got caught in her clog and pulled the elastic band down a couple of inches revealing her maps of stretch marks on her translucent cottage cheese skin. She seemed frazzled and Paulie was not above taking advantage of this if it meant his first sale. As she continued walking she adjusted her skirt and schlepped her bag behind her- it was missing a wheel.
“Madame, do you have a minute for The Earth?” Paulie said to her as she picked up some papers that had fallen out of her bag.
“Huh? What?” she said almost at a whisper.
“I said, do you have a minute for The Planet.”
She looked up at Paulie and adjusted her bra strap and continued to blink.
“Yeah, well- I guess I do.”
A smile slowly crept up Paulie’s face, he had finally found his first customer! He wasn’t going to blow this opportunity. Paulie started off slowly, he told her about the dangers of city pollution and energy efficient lifestyle choices, then he moved on to talking to her about the melting polar ice caps, then the oil spill’s effect on the ecosystem in the gulf. He must have been talking to her for 15 minutes straight- she did nothing but look at him directly and nod. Then he drove it home, talking about the catastrophe in Japan, the radiation, the destroyed homes, and the families torn apart forever. He was getting ready to reel her in when he saw it. There were tears in her eyes.
“For a small donation of 20 dollars a month, you could help these people Madame”. She blinked a couple of tears out and attempted to sniff them back.
“Oh, well-ok.” the woman choked out
Paulie almost couldn’t believe it. It had been too simple.
“Madame- are you ok?”
“Oh, its nothing, its just- well he died.” The woman’s eyes turned red and she tried to clear her throat.
“I’m sorry? Who?” Paulie said confused as he fondled the credit card information page in his hand.
“My father, he died. He had been ill for 15 years. After I graduated from music school his health started dwindling. My mother, she had died in a car accident a couple of years before he got ill and dad had no one. He lost his job and couldn’t afford a nurse because music school had cost too much money so I moved in with him. I used to have a lot of friends but they all slowly got families and couldn’t deal with the fact that I could only leave dad alone for an hour at a time in his condition. With no friends I just focused on keeping my father comfortable until he died. He pushed on for 15 years. Everyday I fed him, dressed him, helped him go to the bathroom, gave him his medicine and watched over him. He’s dead, I don’t have anything because all our money went to the medication and feeding him. I’ve just been to his lawyer to figure out his last wishes. I don’t have anyone, all my friends are gone, I only have a cousin left. I’ve started volunteering too, at the senior center, teaching music appreciation. My cousin, she told me to start going out in public like that, to you know, make friends. I played the flute for the first time yesterday in ten years.”
Pauls mouth went to form words but noting came out. He had been looking for a point to jump in and stop her but now that the conversation had ended he really didn’t know where to go.
“Well, I would like to help these people, these families, the world, the environment. What do I need to do?”
Paul sighed, he had missed his time to comfort her and didn’t know what to do. So he went back to his job. He showed her the forms, the auto-withdrawal application, the newsletter sign-up sheet and the works. She silently filled them all out and when she was done she shook his hand and said thanks. She hobbled away dragging her backpack behind her.
When she was almost out of the distance Cheyenne walked up to him from behind and grabbed his clipboard.
“Ohhhh, you certainly did make quite a sale! I can’t believe she agreed to the auto-withdrawal! I guess she was as big of a sucker as she looked. Ha. Well congratulations! Do you want to celebrate your accomplishment? I’ll buy you a beer at Bennigans!”
As Paul sat with Cheyenne in the Bennigans she told him about all her adventures. The giant flaming steel weed leaf they attached to her mom’s car for burning man, her Midwestern biking trips, and whether or not she’d look cute with dreads. He just sat and stared into his beer thinking about what would be the easiest and fastest way to kill himself.
Moment for the Earth