All He Wanted Was A Quarter
September 1, 2008
By J.J. Jackson
Standing at the parking meter, a young man scrounged around in his pockets for a quarter so that he could have a few minutes to run in to the market and buy a loaf of bread. However, as his hand fumbled around inside the pocket of his clean and pressed slacks he realized that he had no change other than a couple pennies and his larger denomination notes.
He turned to a random stranger, just someone passing by, and sheepishly asked, "Excuse me sir, but do you have a quarter?"
The stranger, a man older than him, stopped dead in his tracks with eyes that grew wide. The young man though that the look he saw was one of disgust at even being bothered, but the words that flew out of this stranger's mouth caught him off guard.
"A quarter?" The man asked and before the young man could simply say yes the stranger blurted out, "You poor man! Oh, most certainly! I was poor once too and I know how hard it can be to make ends meet." The stranger threw his hands into his own pockets and began literally hurling change into the young man's hands.
"No, you don't understand. I just need ..."
"Yes, I understand fully. No need to thank me," the stranger interrupted as the coins jingled and many spilled out of the young man's hands to the ground.
"No, you really do not understand, sir. I'm not poor! I just needed a quarter for the parking meter here."
The stranger continued rambling on however, "You don't need to be ashamed, good sir! Here, take all that I have!"
"No!" the young man replied as he began pushing the change back into the stranger's hands. Pulling out a crisp twenty from his pocket he explained, "See, I've got money! I have a great job that pays me well! I live in a house on the Upper East Side. I just don't have a quarter!"
Just at that moment a woman joined them and asked what was going on. The first stranger made sure to tell the whole story as he saw it despite being told plainly and bluntly otherwise. "This young man here is so poor he doesn't even have a quarter!"
"No," the young man interrupted, "that's not it at all!"
The woman snorted and then went off on a rant of her own, "That's what happens when the neo-cons and their big business allies are in power! Always taxing the people that make this country work while giving huge tax breaks to their corporate crony friends and cutting back on social programs."
"What? No, lady, I just need a quarter for the parking meter!"
"Tell me about it!" another stranger said as he walked up after hearing the woman's complaints, "this has got to be the worst administration in the history of this country! Why, I could not even afford my usual whole grain bread from the gourmet store down the road. I had to settle for this generic stuff that tastes like day old cardboard from the low class supermarket here!"
"Wait a minute!" the young man tried to interject but the growing crowd was having none of it.
"Look at this car," one of the new members cried pointing to the young man's car parked in the space beside the meter. It was a well kept black BMW he had bought used but it had quickly become the object of yet another stranger's ire. "Filthy rich people! Driving around in their fancy cars while people like this man suffer! Thinking they are so much better than him! The owner of this car should give this man the quarter he so desperately needs!"
"Sir," the young man replied, "that is my car!"
By now the crowd had really grown in size. Chants started to rise from the crowd demanding all sorts of things as the story of a young man without a quarter to his name had spread quickly down the block. "Support a Living Wage!" someone shouted after hearing a tale that a man was begging for change because his employer did not pay him enough to buy bread for his family. Another woman buried in the crowd somewhere could be heard screaming, "Free day care for working moms!" having heard that some woman was begging for quarters to feed her starving child. "Socialized Medicine now!" cried yet another voice after hearing about a man who spent his last quarter paying medical bills his greedy insurance provider would not cover.
"What is wrong with you people?" the young man shouted but could not be heard above the tremendous roar of the crowd.
Just then another person with a baseball bat jumped up on the roof of his car screaming, "No war for oil! Down with the President! Impeach him!" The stranger then began whaling on the roof with his weapon, denting the metal and the paint with glee.
"Stop!" the young man cried. "What are you doing? That's my car!"
The crowd began to chant in unison, "No justice! No peace! No justice! No peace!" as they had been joined by still others who had heard that a black man had been assaulted by police for begging. Then a large group of Latinos who had also become involved shouted even louder, "Si Se Puede! Amnesty now!" after hearing that a poor day laborer was struggling to find work to buy bread.
As the crowd became larger it also became more violent. The young man at the center of it all fought his way to through and eventually out of the ruckus where he saw a news crew interviewing an elderly Asian man. The reporter asked of the man, "So you say that all this started because someone stole your wallet?" The man replied through tears, "They took everything! Even my last quarter!"
"What? No! What are you talking about?" the young man questioned indignantly hearing the blatant lie. The anchorwoman interviewing the man turned to the young man in astonishment. "That's not what happened here!"
She replied, "Sir, what are you talking about? We got a report that a riot started because this man was robbed by an illegal alien."
"No! No! You've got it all wrong!" he pleaded. "I just asked for a quarter for the parking meter and ..."
"Pffft," her camera man scoffed. "You expect us to believe that all these people got worked up like this over you asking for a quarter for a parking meter?"
"Come on!" the anchorwoman said, "People aren't that insane. Now excuse us please. We have a story to cover."
"But it's all a lie!"
"Sir, we're journalists ... we know what we are doing. Now please, you are in our shot."