"Good friend," I said. "Don't urinate on his carpet."
Billy laughed and took a sip of Frappucino.
"No, I mean it. Don't piss on his carpet. You need the money."
"Now Billy: you can drastically boost your earning potential by learning how to stem. Do you want to give it a try?"
"I don't know." Billy was skeptical. "My wife divorced me, and I have two sons who are pretty successful. They work around here, and I don't want them to see me." The shame in his eyes ran deep.
"Come on," I said gently. "Don't be afraid. I'll show you how to do it."
"You're going to stem wearing that?" he said, pointing to my custom-tailored pinstripe suit and Giorgio Armani necktie.
I spent the next half hour panhandling in my suit. Make no mistake: it is not easy money. The constant rejection of hundreds of passing faces was disheartening, but I pushed on. After fifteen minutes, I was approached by a Malaysian tourist who asked me for directions to the subway station.
"For that information, I will need twenty dollars," I told him.
"Certainly!" he said, smiling and placing a 20-dollar bill into my cup.
"Right you are. Just down the block on the left. You were already going in the right direction, and would have run into it anyway."
"Thank you!" he said, slightly confused.
Having successfully extorted twenty dollars out of an unsuspecting tourist, I asked Billy if he had change. I took out my 20% fee, then handed Billy the cup, which was filled with his $16 cut of the take. "We always use fresh Starbucks cups for stemming," I instructed. "Never crumpled or dirty. Starbucks conveys success, and Americans love successful people. Like you, Billy." I patted him on the back. "Now go get 'em, homeless guy."
I was either coaching him, or talking on the phone. I can't remember.
It's hard f*****g work, panhandling. Hundreds of successful Americans, some with their pocketbooks out, walking right by. Next time you see a hobo, try to throw him some spare change. Billy was invisible to these people.