It felt weird walking out of my office knowing I was no longer an employee there. It was no longer my second home, my home away from home, the only home I've ever really known. Walking down the corridor toward the elevator for the last time felt like a divorce from a wife whom I was very much still crazy in love with, but whom I hadn't made the effort to talk to or see for 5 weeks without any valid reason, without ever calling to tell her where I was, or even a doctor's note, and confused as hell as to why she's now leaving me and what I ever did that was so wrong. I felt so misunderstood. What was I going to tell my real wife? Just the week before, I had spent our entire savings on paper towel in some crazy pyramid scheme.
As I walked out of the building, my head down, in shame, I saw a man begging on the sidewalk ahead. I stopped beside him, and held out my hand to passersby as well. I can do this, I thought, suddenly feeling not so shameful. I have way more energy and enthusiasm than most panhandlers, and I have chutzpah. I can go from street corner to street corner, spreading my talent for begging.
A handful of pedestrians were approaching.
BEGGING MAN (low volume): Change please. Change please.
I can do that, I thought, but way better. This guy sucks.
ME (booming): People! There's an ATM machine a few steps back! Is it that hard to punch in your PIN and give me some money? You people make me sick!
BEGGING MAN: Dude, this is my corner.
ME: Well, you're not working it properly.
More pedestrians walked past. I stuck my hand out again.
ME: Handouts! Give me your handouts! Folks, this is kind of like church, but without the boring sermon.
Sheila, my ex-boss, and Charisse, one of my ex-coworkers, walked past. Charisse stared at me in bewilderment as Sheila just shook her head to herself.
ME (slightly embarrassed): I'm just doing this 'till something better comes along.
BEGGING MAN: Dude, I mean it. Find your own corner.
ME: Fine, but sooner or later, I will shut you down. I'm going to hire all kinds of employees to do my begging. I'll have staff begging at every street corner in this city. We are going to squeeze you out, buddy. I'm really going to make a go of this. I feel really good right now.
BEGGING MAN: Move.
ME: You are very lucky today, my friend, because I'm taking the rest of the day off. I need some leisure-time fun after the strain of running my own business here today. That's the bonus of running your own business: you can just take off when you feel like it.
I took a deep breath and smiled, excited about my future.
ME: I feel so great right now. There is so much that this industry hasn't tapped into yet. I am going to set up begging drive-thru's so people don't even have to walk out of their cars to hand over their cash. They can just drive up to the order mike and speaker and we'll say, "Change please" and they'll just say how much they're paying and then they can drive up to the window and hand over their Benjamins.
BEGGING MAN: You've got five seconds to disappear.
ME: I am also going to set up ATM machines which beg for money as people walk by and then people can just enter their bank card or credit card and transfer funds into my account.
I felt so alive. Ideas took flight fully formed from my lips.
ME: I am going to have ice cream trucks that, instead of playing clown music over their loudspeakers, will play a tape begging for money, and instead of carrying ice cream, we'll just carry all the cash that people are giving us.
I never even stopped to breathe, as passion ignited every inch of my being.
ME: My long range plans include a satellite service that people can order to get hooked up to their TVs and then pay a monthly subscription fee to watch videos of myself begging for money on a variety of streets, or just in an empty studio, saying, "Change please." And viewers can call in to make pledges for me. And I'll have theme parks all over this country where families can stand in line in sweltering heat, waiting to meet clowns who beg and take their money. I'll also have hotels and resorts where bellhops and street people beg for cash, knocking on hotel room doors every hour, including at night when customers are trying to sleep.
I looked off to my right. There were no advancing pedestrians on the horizon.
ME: I'm bored. I hate my new life.
I turned to the begging man.
ME: I think the begging bubble just burst.
Don, Charlie and a few others from the office suddenly walked up behind me.
DON: We heard you were begging on the street.
ME: I'm making a killing over here so what's your problem?
Don pulled a sandwich from a paper bag and sat down with the rest of the gang on the sidewalk bench behind me. Everyone began to bite into their food as they all stared at me, like I was about to give a show or something.
I really wanted to go home but I had to save face and make it look like my new life was better than theirs even though they still had jobs at the office and I didn't. I continued to panhandle as if my life depended on it, begging and begging, all the while pretending Don and the gang weren't there. The begging man was now long gone. By the time the lunch hour was over and my ex-coworkers finally got up to leave, I was on my knees, screeching and bawling like a baby, and pleading that some passerby just spare me one penny just so I could say I made some money today. No one did.