New

Income



He ran back to his spot on the Interstate ramp, tucking the five dollar bill into his hip pocket. It had been a wind sprint, but it was worth it. Cutting across the ramp and down the emergency lane, he accepted the fiver from a middle-aged woman who consoled him.

“I was a theatre major. I know what you’re going through.”

The man, whose name was Inconsequential, lost his adjunct teaching position just as classes were to start. So he was not only out of a job with rent coming due, he’d also invested three hundred dollars in the complete Encyclopedia of Philosophy to prepare himself for the Intro classes he’d drawn. Now he was unemployed, a victim to budget cuts. So he was in a tight spot. Selling blood tight.

Inconsequential laughed when a friend suggested the cardboard panhandling sign. It was absurd. Albert Camus absurd. But the Starbucks, McDonalds, and Home Depots he stopped at had no immediate openings, so the next Monday morning at eight he was nervously toeing the gravel with his sign:

MAJORED IN PHILOSOPHY

PLEASE HELP

GOD BLESS

He held up his sign, and the liberal arts majors responded. Those that didn’t felt guilty and looked for him the next day. Thursday he knocked off at Noon and walked home with bulging pockets, a bouquet of dandelions, and a KFC dinner someone had given him. He had peaked. From now on it would be diminishing returns as folks got tired of seeing him. Besides, the college had called. Someone had cancer, and they had four classes for him. Yet he’d made exponentially more on the Interstate. Perhaps he could take his show on the road, touring university towns across the country. He could hear it in his head:

“Good morning, East Lansing!”

This story was written by Robert L. Penick. His work has appeared in over 100 different literary journals, including The Hudson Review, North American Review, and Plainsongs. He lives in Louisville, KY, USA, with his free-range box turtle, Sheldon. More of my work can be found at www.theartofmercy.net.
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