The convention floor was packed with people, and every booth was busy. I kept kicking myself for even showing up. Why had I bothered? I was about to leave when a man hissed at me from between two concrete pillars and gestured me over. “Psst, hey man, you wanna buy a picture of Bin Laden dead? It’s even signed by the president.”
He held it out and I took a look. “Where did you get this?” I asked.
“A friend of mine knows a guy who was owed a favor by a woman who cleans Air Force One. She found it on the floor and thought it might be worth something. They was handing them out to VIPs last week.”
The picture looked pretty fake. It wasn’t even printed on glossy paper. “Are you sure this isn’t Newt Gingrich in a beard?” I asked. That’s what it looked like to me. It looked like someone had been having fun with photoshop. Blood wasn’t that color. It wasn’t pixelated either.
“No way, man, it’s totally legitimate. You wanna buy it? Only twenty bucks.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Okay, well how about giving me two bucks then, for coffee. I really need a cup. By the way, how come you’re hair’s so messed up?”
“I forgot to comb it when I got out of the shower and it dried this way. Why do you want me to give you two bucks for coffee?”
“Because I’m tired. I stayed up all night buying domain names and now I’m broke.” He scratched at the fresh looking tattoo on his neck. It was some kind of winged snake having sex with a Disney character. I knew it had to have been done recently because it was covered with a sheen of Vaseline.
Wow, I thought to myself. This was incredible. This man was a high tech virtual vagrant. Cyber-squatter by night, photoshopper and beggar by day. I was impressed, and I had to ask the obvious question. “Do you make more money selling the pictures than you do selling Real Change?”
“Hey, what is this, an interview? You’re not going to blog about this are you? I don’t give interviews for free. It’s gonna cost you at least five bucks.”
I considered that. On one hand, it sounded like a bargain. On the other hand, I don’t make any money blogging, so what would be the point? I decided against it and determined to leave. “No,” I told him. “I don’t think so. Not today. I’m going to leave now. Please don’t try and stop me. There are plenty of other people around to try and sell your picture to.”
“Sure there are,” he agreed, “but every person poses their own special challenge. For me, it’s the principle of the thing. If I let you go without you giving me some money, I’ll feel like a failure. I’ll feel like society has let me down, and that there’s no love left in the world. Think about that. Do you really want to drive me further into depression? I mean, I can’t afford my meds anymore, so love and peace is all I’ve got left, and I get that from charity. For me, the charity of others is the hallmark of love in our culture. It’s evidence that we haven’t fallen so far down into the abyss of selfishness and self-satisfaction that we can’t find our way out. If you give me two bucks for coffee, it’s proof that the world isn’t evil, even if the voices in my head tell me different.”
“Actually,” I lied, “to be totally honest with you, I don’t have any cash on me. I only ever bring plastic to these conventions. That’s the only way I can be sure I don’t waste money buying a hot dog or roasted cashews. I’m trying to lose weight.”
He slumped and bowed his head, making a sucking sound through his teeth as if he was having a hard time catching his breath. After a second, his breathing started to even out. Before he could raise his head and pose another argument, I took off, heading for the door. It was blocked by a hot dog stand, and I had to squeeze my way around it. Mustard dripping off the edge of the stand stained my jacket with a line of bright yellow. I managed to get to the double glass doors where I was hit with the odor of urine mixed with lysol. I stumbled out into the street and was immediately drenched by the pouring rain. Now I had to find my car, but I was completely on the wrong end of the facility.
I hate these stupid home shows. They never have what I’m looking for.