The Things People Say

Photo by Jesse BorrellBy John Alexander, VOICE vendor

I have been vending the Denver VOICE eight years. The most common remark I have heard over the years—and I still hear it—is “get a job.” Sometimes I hear a variation on this same message: “Get a real job, you bum,” or even, “Can’t you find another way to annoy people?”

I remember one man in particular I used to see when I was vending papers at the Auraria Campus. When I asked, “Well sir, how are you today?” he replied, “Obviously better than you, I’m not selling that [expletive I don’t want to repeat].” As a professional salesman, I believe the customer is always right and that everyone is a potential customer. I never responded one way or the other. In fact, I showed no signs I had even heard him. I just went on speaking to and smiling at the many other people passing.

About two to three times a week this same guy would walk past me, and each time he would say something nasty. These encounters went on for about 11 months. Sometimes he would come by when I was talking to someone else and whisper in my ear: “Still ain’t got a real job yet, freeloader?”

His remarks hurt, but more than anything I found myself interested in this man. Would he still have something nasty to say to me the next time I saw him? Would he come up with something new or use one of the same lines? Eventually, I thought, he has got to run out of mean things to say. It got to the point where it would ruin my day if he didn’t come by or we missed each other.

I remember one day I saw him coming. After almost a year of interactions, I was still waiting eagerly, saying to myself, I know today he will run out of nasty things to say. But this day was different. I could see he did not have the pep in his step. The usual cocky look was missing from his face.

I was puzzled, to say the least. I thought to myself, what is on his mind today? He stopped about arms length from me. I could see that day that I was looking at a different person. 

He said, “You know I have been coming by here almost a year. Each and every time I would go out of my way to say something unkind to you. I apologize for that. I want to say I am sorry.”

He stretched out his hand to shake hands with me. We introduced ourselves to each other. I told him he was my brother, and that he didn’t owe me an apology. I even thought about giving him a hug, but I didn’t.

After that day, he still came by two or three times a week, as before. He would always stop and give me a hardy hello. We’d talk a minute or so, and he always had something for me, an apple, a cookie, etc. He would even buy a paper now and then.

About two months or so after this change, he stopped coming by. I never saw him again. I like to think he is somewhere out in the world doing great things. I miss him. I often wish I had given him that hug.