Harvard Square's kind of nice. Lots of stores. Lots of activity. Lots of choices. Lots of little streets to turn down. But, to continue with the rhetorical device, lots of people asking for change. And -- as opposed to the taxi drivers -- they're more aggressive than their counterparts in New York. They try to make conversation, they stand in the middle of the sidewalk, they follow you, they plead, they make eye contact. They're persistent. It's kind of interesting, actually. Because they don't seem dangerous, and there are lots of people around so it's not like it feels like a safety threat or anything, but it's just a little surprising that this is where they flourish. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, right outside the Harvard University campus. Just seems a little odd and cognitively dissonant to me.
But the real point of this is that I want to write a little sketch about it. So here goes.
"Completely Invented Interview With A Guy Asking For Change In Harvard Square"
Guy Asking For Change In Harvard Square: Nice khaki pants, man. Spare some change?
Me: Sorry. No change.
Change Guy: That's okay. I take bills too.
Me: That's funny. Tell you what. I'll give you a dollar if you'll answer a few questions.
Change Guy: Two dollars. And not those weird Sacajawea coins.
Me: Okay, deal.
Change Guy: Okay.
Me: So how'd you end up on the street?
Change Guy: Orgo.
Change Guy: Yeah. Organic Chemistry. I was a student at Harvard, class of '77. Wanted to be a doctor. Took organic chemistry. Flunked it.
Me: This was before grade inflation.
Change Guy: Yeah. So I flunked it and had to drop out. And I needed some quick cash to start paying back the student loans.
Me: Cause the late '70s and interest rates were so high.
Change Guy: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I voted for Carter, but those interest rates were totally not what I needed at that point.
Me: Okay, so you flunked out and needed the cash. Why begging?
Change Guy: Couldn't get hired at the Gap.
Me: Gotcha. And you've been here ever since?
Change Guy: Actually I tried New Haven for a couple of years but I kept getting mugged.
Me: Understood. So how much do you usually pull in a day?
Change Guy: About three hundred bucks if I work a full eight hours.
Me: Three hundred bucks? That's incredible!
Change Guy: Yeah, my wife thinks so too.
Me: You're married?
Change Guy: Yeah. And we live just up Mt. Auburn Street. My wife's a dental hygienist.
Me: What? Then why are you still on the street?
Change Guy: Well, like I just said, it's lucrative. And it's creative. You know, coming up with new ways to get people to give me money. It's kind of fun, it keeps me sharp. Plus I get to be close to my son.
Me: Your son?
Change Guy: Yeah, he's a sophomore at Harvard. Economics major. He's real smart. Stops by to say hi a couple of times a day, we usually have lunch together.
Me: Where do you eat?
Change Guy: Well usually he just brings me his leftovers from the dining hall. Gotta save on the expenses here. Every quarter counts. Especially those state ones. That's one of the big perks doing this actually. I see the new state quarters usually the day they come out. I've got a whole book of 'em, I'm a collector.
Me: Cool. What do you notice most about Harvard students?
Change Guy: The conversations I overhear. Can always tell who's a Harvard student. They're always throwing those 10-letter words into the conversation. Words like "privileged,"gentrified," and "epiglottis." Sometimes makes me sick. Well, that or the smell coming from Au Bon Pain. Not sure which.
Me: One last question. What's the future hold for you? You want to be here in Harvard Square forever, or you have plans to move ahead?
Change Guy: Well, I've enjoyed my time here. I really have. But actually this is my last semester in the Square. I took the GMAT a couple of weeks ago and scored pretty well -- and I'm starting at the business school next fall. Hopefully start up a technology company of some sort. Make a "change." Get it? Change? Cause I ask for change? It's a pun.
Me: Yeah, I got it. Well it was nice talking to you. Here's your two bucks. Have a nice day.
Change Guy: Thanks. Maybe I'll see you around -- I'm thinking about auditing a couple of law school classes.