There are a lot of people out there who love the song of which I'm about to make light, and will be horrified that anyone would come up with what I've come up about it. If you're one of them, please accept the apologies of one who finds the song just a little TOO sweet.
We were in a small room in the back of the store, following the monitors on a feed from the actual security for the store. He didn’t know if they knew of his presence or not.
“The owner knows, that’s enough,” he said.
I studied him. His clothes were clean, but old. Not quite threadbare, but probably not far from it. And, at his side, was the shoe box.
“Some people might say it’s a scam,” he said. “But I look at it as a service, a way of brightening up the holiday for someone who’s lost the spirit. We’re careful, we don’t go after someone who is just buying stuff because he’s gonna get stuff. And we don’t pick someone who’s just making ends meet himself.
“We always pick someone who’s well-off, but, well, not tired. Maybe their favorite radio station went to all Christmas music the first day of November. Maybe he’s heard “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” or “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas. Maybe he got talked into going out on Black Friday or online on Cyber Monday. Maybe he’s seen one too many street corner Santas, or seen too many kids – or wives, or mistresses, or whatever, begging/whining for something.”
“How did you get picked?” I asked him.
“The people here know me. They saw me in the school play. And they think I’ve got just the right look. Friendly, polite, a little sad, but not TOO sad. And hopeful. And, what’s the word? Reverent?”
“Sounds right,” I told him. “Can I see them?”
He opened the box and there they were. Not flashy or elegant, but nice-looking. And a kind of dignity to them. And dainty, yes, dainty.
But they didn’t look cheap.
“So, how many times – ”
“Maybe three, four times a way. On a good day, maybe as many as eight.”
“And always the same ones?”
Suddenly, the red and green lights flashed. He glanced at the monitors and instantly knew who the – “mark” didn’t seem like the right word – the spiritually needy, that was it – was.
“I’m on,” he said, and left out the special door.
I watched on the monitor as he took an unnoticeably direct route to the check out. He got there at the same time as the customer. The customer had a small handbasket, but saw the kid had just the box, and let him go first. I could hear through the hidden microphone the kid had slipped on for me his opening line:
“Sir, I wanna buy these shoes,
For my Momma, please ...
I saw the cashier ring up the shoes, I saw the kid empty his pockets of more coins than I’d ever seen come out of pockets. Had extra big pockets been sewn in?
Then I heard the cashier say there wasn’t enough there. The kid’s head dropped. The customer asked him something, the kid said something, and the customer pulled out his wallet. He seemed to offer to pay for the shoes entirely, but the kid wouldn’t allow it. The transaction was made, the kid’s face broke into the biggest smile I’d ever seen, he thanked the customer, and then left the store.
Five minutes later, he was back in the room with me.
“How much do you make every time you sell these shoes?” I asked him.
“At first, it was only five percent. But, we’ve done so well, I now get twenty.”
I shook my head and laughed.
“You won’t tell?” he asked me.
“Like I said, I’ll wait until March, well after this season.”
“And you don’t say which store?”
“Not even which city or state.”
I waited until his next call, then left the room. I bought a few things, smiled at the cashier, and left.
I wondered how much more that kid would make with those shoes before the season ended.