He sat on the hard cold transit bench with the entire dirt of the week clinging so close to him it appeared to be a best friend. The brown crinkled bag half torn and half empty from a pint of discount whiskey he clutched in his one big paw like his savior; quizzically the whiskey he pondered was this bottle a reflection of the last half of his life, was the bottle half full or half empty, would there be other bottles or was this the final one. He decided to find out and with one gigantic swig he drank to his life and felt the warm stream settle into his gullet and confirm he was still alive.
His furrowed brows confirmed his long hard life and the inset grey eyes below shadowed the way too many cold winters which had left him all alone to survive. No matter how long you stared at him there could be no way to recognize that angel stuffed inside his shanty exterior. I offered several times to give him anything he wanted. “Promise he said” as he sat the bottle down under the bus bench, yes of course anything I said crossing my heart. Good then I want you to leave me be. Remember you promised. How could I keep a promise for the savior of so many others I thought to myself, to this true hero preventing the death of small children, saving the shocked and bewilderment of a seemingly destroyed woman, and resurrecting the hope in all of those parents whose eyes and heart that were filled with devastating fear just three months ago. Not going to happen, not today, not if this community has anything to say about it.
How do I begin to tell you the readers of a man who is filled with such magnificence? A man processed with the victorious knowledge of valor, selfishness, courage, and way too many other wonderful attributes to mention. Everyday we pass by a vagrant like this man with outstretched rough and soiled hands asking for a little help. But because he is so disheveled looking we see what we think we know and walk back into our own lives without owning a thought of him; hell you know we all do it, it happens to each of us. We think maybe these guys have a car around the corner and he’s just too lazy to work. We hear it all the time, any change would be appreciated sir, I’m a veteran, how bout a little help, anything at all, sir! Now I look at him and I don’t see his dirty cloths, the brown bag, the disgust and distain of ignorance I once had written on my face. I realize I needed to ask myself what happen to me. When did I and how did I become so disconnected with my own human race. I know in my mind its like most things in life. We get so inundated with seeing and hearing the same things over and over eventually becoming blind to that which is staring us in the eyes. At gas stations I used to give these poor souls my loose change or a dollar bill, but eventually it became too much and I realized I couldn’t help everyone so I quite helping anyone.
Now here I am next to a man in rags wondering how I didn’t see him for who he really was, a caring king among men. How could “I” become so flawed that I judged him because of his financial woes and outward appearance. Contrarily I will never again be able to judge a man in high regards simply because of his fortune or fame cloths. Plenty of us tycoons in the business world stood still in time frozen with fear as this old badger sweep to his feet and saved the life of so many. What makes a man a great man? It can only be judged by one single thing, his actions.
It was a chilly morning in Beverly Hills where normally vagrants are not allowed to squat. “Bud in rags: that’s what the locals called him. He never ask for anything from you verbally it was more a matter of the have’s and have not’s. We had so much and he had so very little, or so we thought. The police left him alone because he had been here longer than most of policeman themselves and never received any complaints from the locals. He wasn’t the type of man who would badger you for change although we all knew that was what he needed.
He was at the same location on Rodeo Boulevard everyday. He would greet you with a nod and a smile each day and had figured out a way to scrape a living off of the well to do. In the morning he would take one dollar in change that he had earned the day before, go to two different random paper machines a few blocks away and I expect extracted all the papers from those machines with the dollar in change. Then he’d camp out in front of the coffee house each morning and offer you the fifty cent paper for free, along with a big smile and a great big good morning sir or madam, here take a paper its free. When someone wanted the paper which almost all did, they would give him a tip for providing them with that convenience.
Bud in Rags had also figured out that because we all wore expensive leather driving gloves in the morning that as we went in after some change or bills from out of our front pockets it was too hard to separate the singles from one another without removing the gloves and so they would normally hand him that which they had extracted. However Bud in Rags also figured out if he handed them the newspaper first before greeting them then they would be required to hold the coffee the newspaper and fumble even more with their gloves in their pockets. This proved to double his wages for the day as his customers would just give that head nod of anxiety knowing they were being duped but not wanting to wrestle with the situation any longer, they’d just hand over what ever came out in their gloved hand. These tycoons of commerce were in a hurry, full of the coming day thoughts and strategies, Rags figured they knew he had just out strategized them but he was just a small fish on their way to hunting the great whites sharks. I always believed he knew exactly what he was doing and that was the reason he was so happy when he would greet you each morning. I expect he was thinking to himself look at you rich movie moguls too much in a hurry to work to separate a few buck hey, or take your gloves off, fine with me then, thank you sir or madam flashing that great big smile, have a wonderful and glorious day.
About three months ago it was just another morning in the life of the rich as the shops were opening the parents were on their way to work stopping for their coffee and pastries, the children were being dropped off on the boulevard where they caught the upgraded school bus and then were shuttled off all together to their private school. It was just another day in this white prism of paradise. Then all hell broke lose, I mean a goddam war zone. Three prisoners from up near Davis California had been released from prison and had been planning for three years how they were going to get rich quick by kidnapping and ransoming these very wealthy elitist children. The plan almost went without a hitch with the exception of something or someone they hadn’t planned on. The convicts came skidding to a stop right in front of the school bus, all three men jumped out of the car as the first one ran onto the bus with a grenade in his hand, the second man ran to the back of the bus and aimed an automatic weapon at the rear emergency door blocking any escape from that door. The third man was the leader and began by throttling his weapon into the air disbursing an onslaught of brass onto the ground to get everyone’s attention. The man inside the bus grabbed the female bus driver with his free hand throwing her down the steps. She somersaulted down the steel stairs hitting her head on the step and impaling her young face into the pavement of the street where she landed. No one knew if she was dead or just unconscious, but she definitely was badly hurt and bleeding. The leader said he wanted one million dollars for each kid on the bus or they would be killed. The kids would be left in the bus and a grenade tossing contest between my other two amigos and I would take place if even one parent refuses to pay. You’ll would be contacted on how and where to wire the money. Don’t screw with us he was shouting.
The one thing about being a poor vagrant is your invisible to society and those all around you, your definitely not considered a threat to anyone but a germ a phobic, it’s just how it is. It turns out that Mr. Rags was a highly decorated Green Beret for more than ten years. Who knew? While the leader of the free world of crime was making his demands Rags had simply got up off the sidewalk walked down the opposite side of the bus out of site of the ranting leader and pulled the man guarding the back door next to him snapping his neck in less than two seconds. He then walked back round the same side of the bus toward the speaker and with the dead mans rifle shot the leader of crime in the face without saying a word. The last criminal was standing at the top of the bus stairs where he pulled the pin on the grenade. All this took place in less than twenty five seconds.
The rich were in shock with the women crying, the husband’s feet and actions were stuck in concrete. The criminal at the top of the stairs told Rags to throw down the gun or he would blow up all the kids on the bus. The parents could do nothing. They may have been tycoons in their world but just weren’t prepared for something like this happening in this world. I’ll pay anything came a cry from the sidewalk, another voice followed, we’ll all pay just don’t hurt our children. Put down the rifle the third criminal yelled out again. Standing directly in front of the door Rags saw that the man did not have a gun. He put the rifle down and climbed up the busses first step toward the criminal.
Stop or I will throw it, I mean it, I will, said the last criminal. Rags was standing on the first step and was talking to the criminal telling him his partners were dead, he couldn’t pull this off alone, so he should get back in their car and just leave. This was a very tense moment; the guy was obviously shook up now and might just toss the grenade and end it all. He was in a bad jam with very few options. The car option seemed to be his only real way out. The kids heard rags tell the man in a soft voice, look man I’ll get off the bus, you follow me down the stairs, and I’ll pick up the riffle by the barrel and hand it to you butt first. Then you’ll have the gun, the grenade and the car. No one else needs to get hurt okay? After giving some thought to his proposal the third criminal said okay but I’m going to stay on the bottom step of the bus until you hand me that rifle just in case you try something funny. Just know I will throw this grenade into the kids.
Later on I would realize this was the same ploy Rags used with us with the coffee the newspaper and the gloves on. Rags step backwards off the bus picking up the gun just as he had told the man. He handed it to him holding the barrel, as the man grabbed the rifle butt Rags first pushed it hard into him then pulled it back at an angle, it was beautiful the man began falling while spinning around and as he tried to toss the grenade Mr. Rags hand was close enough to his that he put his big paw over the criminals hand not allowing the grenade to leave either of their hands but the handle had already been released. Rags quickly pulled the mans back next to his belly and bent the criminal over with his free arm and his body as the grenade went off, the criminal, the right hand of Rags and the threat to the community and kids were all gone that quick.
A vagrant, a dirty handed man, or an incredible hero, you be the judge. It was now three months later and here I was offering to do anything in return for his heroism. Sitting here on the transit bus bench the whole community viewed this vagrant totally and completely different.
He sat on that hard bench, Rags with his brown crinkled bag half torn and over half empty with a pint of some cheap whiskey that helped to dull the pain. He seemed to clutch the bottle like it was his savior, the pain on his face was reflective of this mans last half of life. I offered several times to give him anything he wanted. “Promise he said” yes of course anything I said crossing my heart. Good then I want you to leave me be and remember you promised me. I sat down next to him placing my Armani jacket sleeve around his broad shoulders and I did this with immense pride and gratitude. Rags I told him this community will never forget what you did for us a few months ago. Please come back to the coffee house. Rags said look man; I’ve only got one hand now, I can’t even open the paper machines so that I can deliver them to you all. Besides I’m a bum, I got nothing you understand. I got nothing. And I’m not one of you. I asked him again please just one more time bring some newspaper tomorrow to the coffee house and I promised him I’d wear a extra thick pair of driving gloves to pay him with, to which he began to chuckle. See you tomorrow then I asked. He took a swig from the brown bag smiled and held up the bag to suggest he’d be there.
The next morning the community found the brightest sunshine in the history of Beverly Hills burst into the sky. As Rags came around the corner fumbling with a stack of newspapers with his left hand there we all stood, movie moguls, movie stars, children and the tycoons of commerce, all standing under a newly erected newspaper stand and sign that simply read “From Rags to Riches Newspapers” It looked like Rags was going to have to obtain a drivers License for the newspaper truck with the same logo and phrase that was parked along the curb and was being protected by Beverly Hills finest. The parking spot for the truck had the only place along the boulevard without a parking meter. It was reserved for the newspaper stand. One of the riches tycoons of Beverly Hills who’s twin girls were on the bus that day had donated one of his Beverly Hills prior rental property to an ex Green Beret man for extreme valor above and beyond the call of duty.
On the wall under the sign was a simple smaller sign that the community had made that read Newspapers; $20.00 Dollars Each. As Rags approached his new store he saw something on the wooden newspaper stand that held the newspapers. It was a single thick left handed driving glove and a note underneath it said; “For making change” Thank You Rags.