SPARE CHANGE or THE ART OF THE SCROUNGE Once upon a time there was a cash-strapped girl transplanted in MemphisÑoh wait, that was me! Anyhow, here in the city and freshly juxtaposed from Floridian couch-surfer to Tennessean change-in-the-couch hunter, I spent an evening in my now former apartment perfecting the art of the “scrounge.” The “scrounge” would be the process wherein said penniless individual with little inclination towards housework proceeds to clean like a beast spawned from Mr. Clean himself, but with a distinct goal. The quest is for any and all forgotten dimes or dollars holed up amidst the crevices of a less than Martha Stewart-esqe organizational system. On this particular humidity drenched evening things were going pretty well. There were quarters in the couch, a dollar swept under the rug, and even a plethora of pennies on what my roommates and I affectionately referred to as our “pretty stuff shelf.” This was a recycled wicker contraption, ugly as sin itself, that we scored during a Memphis moving weekend. A moving weekend is really just the last weekend in every month, during which people at the larger apartment buildings downtown throw all sorts of great things out to the curb. Along with the shelf, we had also amassed a keyboard, an orange wheelchair eventually used in the courting of my former roommate’s now wife, some end tables, and all sorts of other miscellaneous nonsense. But getting back to the point, I was digging and searching my home like the daughter of a South African archaeologist, determined to mine the food-purchasing potential of whatever cash might be found in the neglected canyon of my home. I remember as a kid, my Mom would perform these same rituals, and she would almost always have a musical accompaniment. Oftentimes it was that song by the Doobie Brothers, the one that goes Jesus is just all right with me… Mom would vacuum like a bat out of heaven, dancing the machine to and fro like an angel. (I know, I know, I sort of just threw that in. But Mother’s Day is coming, I had to work it in somehow.) I think I had on Faith No More, which was on the cranked side of quiet. Covered in sweat and copper-fingered from the sticky pennies rescued from the void, I suddenly heard a knock at the door. The very fact that there was a knock was in and of itself an anomaly. Our friends don’t knock. We prefer, I suppose, to keep things more like a sitcom, where the knocking and subsequent opening of doors takes too much time away from the plot at hand, which is in turn struggling against the lack of time it has to develop fully due to the commercials. But anyway… Cranking down the stereo, and sweating like the aforementioned beast of housework that I was, I cracked the door and laid eyes on a man who certainly wasn’t part of our normal cast of characters. Nor was he a member of the rave nation upstairs, who occasionally sent their trip-hop friends to our door to impart some random shard of wisdom upon us. He was an older man, weather-worn and with kind eyes that I only see in retrospect. “You like it loud, huh,” he quipped, eyes darting toward my tempered stereo and the piles of miscellaneous booty amassed during my hunt. I didn’t initially notice the man’s eyes because my own eyes were magnetic toward the bucket of change and dollar bills that he clutched to his side. Here we go, I thought, though I wish that I didn’t feel that way. Amidst a plethora of panhandlers, men and women who followed me through my daily routine regularly, I admit that I may have become somewhat hardened. It’s kind of hard not to be, unless you’re the genetic hybrid of a human and an ATM. It’s difficult sometimes to be a person that tries to have a conscience, especially when said conscience is picked at and tugged upon continually. The chorus of got a dollar, got a cigarette, got some change can get amazingly overwhelming. When I have something to give, I’m happy to do my part, but that’s just not always the case. “What we’re doing,” the man began, “is collecting money for our church youth program.” I sort of nodded, with my money-scrounging face of questionable wealth, and my brain fully doubting the story. “We’re trying to help the kids off the streets,” he continued, “to give them a positive alternative.” Enter Jenn’s mental conflict. It fits neatly into the encapsulating equation of conscience plus hard times equals moral confusion. I explained to him that I was actually digging for change myself, and asked him what church he was with. He looked at me strangely, or so I imagined, and said the name of some congregation on South Parkway. Then, mind over matter, I dipped into my own bucket, grabbed a few dollars, and tossed it into his hand. I’m a sucker for things that benefit kids, I can’t help it. It almost makes me cry to tell the Shriners that I can’t send any children to the circus, I swear. The man thanked me, handed me a religious pamphlet, and went on his merry way. After he left, I turned the stereo back up, flopped down on the couch and began to perfect the art of sulking. I was convinced that I had just allowed myself to be ganked, as it were, and angry since on that particular day, the few dollars was worth way more than usual. It looked like it would be another week of ghetto gourmet. For those of you unfamiliar with this style of cuisine, which includes such marvels as the exalted potato and carrot burrito, keep your eyes on the Food network. A friend of mine may be on-air to explain it soon. It was then that the little pamphlet fell from the back of the couch and on to the seat next to me. Lo and behold, as they say, marked on the bottom was the address of the very congregation the man had claimed as his own. Which made me feel a whole lot better about the world, and about Memphis as well. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in the time that I have been here, it’s that there are a lot of kids who could use some assistance in making good choices and avoiding the vices that go along with a city whose bars stay open 24 hours a day. Helping in that endeavor is certainly worth an extra day eating Ramen noodles and beans. I think I’m still a bit fuzzy on the real meaning of that phrase “the Bible Belt.” Initially, I thought it might be another way of referring to Getwell Road, which seems as close to fitting that description as anything else around the city. But maybe it’s actually people like that kind-eyed old man, spending time going door-to-door in both the heat and the dark to try to give the kids around here a shot. That’s what I prefer to think it means, anyway.



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