Carolin

Carolin

She’s the lady who lives at the bus stop. She has a stack of trash bags packed with pillows beside her, and a radio plays on the bench as she sits there rolling cigarettes or knitting gloves. She’s always there, no matter what, and a conversation is hers to claim from anyone who waits at her stop. Minutes roll by as she goes on tangents.

“My letter of recognition came back from the statehouse today.”
“Oh yeah, what for?”
“My undercover work for the police.”

And she wraps you up in a fanciful tale of national importance, full of conspiracy theories and such. A car stops in front of the bus stop to drop a friend off, and she breaks her train of thought to take a picture of the car’s license plate. She snitches on cars that stop in the bus stop lane long enough for her to waddle behind them, heckle them, and remind them it’s against the law.

She’ll make calls on a burner to unlisted numbers if the buses are not on time, and heckle the drivers when they arrive, or give them traffic updates. Everyone anxiously tries to board and get out of her conversational satellite of control.

“I received a commendation from the governor for helping in a drug bust.” In other words, she snitched on a bad dealer who sold her bad drugs. She was missing one of her incisors, but the rest of her teeth were surprisingly well kept.

“The White House knows about me.”
“Why?”
“Well, I keep their secret services in the loop out here.”

I look around and four people roll their eyes. The bus arrives, and Carolin retires to her knitting and cigarettes for another few minutes before the next group of commuters arrive to wait.

Tactics versus Strategy

I had the day to my self. Finally some time alone to do what I wanted after weeks and weeks of catering to others. It is mid Autumn in Manhattan. Back in Boston it had been unusually warm, not so down here. I had most of the afternoon ahead of me after a quick coffee with a few colleagues in the city, the friend I was going to meet for dinner had to work late, so there I was with a good eight hours to kill. I went to Bryant park; the last time I was in the city with time to spare that is where I went, I ended up meeting with a dead end recruiter in the Chrysler building shortly after that, so who knows where this moment of pause in the park would bring me. I wanted Indian food, and of course, being only a few blocks from the tourist traps of the city, every place I looked at was either packed or over priced. I looked online to see where the closest subway was and then saw where that subway would take me; I could go uptown towards Central Park, have some food and then have a cigar (I brought one because I knew I would have time to enjoy it), or I could go downtown to SoHo and Greenwich Village. I opted for the later. I got off at Washington Square and started walking towards the Indian restaurant I picked out in the West Village. I really didn’t want to go into Greenwich Village because of the bad memories of my last time there over the summer, so that guided me towards the Hudson. While I walked I happened to come across this little Mexican restaurant that looked perfect to relax for a few hours and have some tasty food. Just as I hoped the place was empty and it was warm, those were the two requirements I had.

 

Like I mentioned earlier, the weather in Manhattan was pretty different than Boston’s the day before, it was actually seasonal so I can’t complain, all I can say is that I was sorely mistaken for not wearing a jacket. I had a pretty good burrito at the Mexican place; the ground beef was just spicy enough to warm me up and the guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes cooled my tongue when things got too hot. I wanted a beer, but they wanted too much for one, so I got coffee. The coffee was fantastic; almost like Turkish coffee there was a pleasant sweet aroma and a hint of cane sugar and caramel that worked my palate

like a crisp sauvingon blanc would after having brie and apple in a puff pastry – if that means nothing to you then I highly suggest you try it right now! Anyway, this is not a restaurant review, but this would be an otherwise unsavory account of an ordinary afternoon if I didn’t include the above. After gorging on Mexican goodness I needed that cigar and a good walk. I really had only one objective and that was to find a park were I could enjoy that cigar, as luck would have it, Washington Park was only a few blocks away.

 

It had gotten dark and I saw that the bums had set up camp in on the benches by the entrance I was approaching. I decided to be bold and invade their territory with hopes of not angering the urban homesteaders with my cigar smoke. It was here where I met Alex. About sixty years old, Alex was dressed like your typical hobo; he had the baseball cap, at least one big puffy winter jacket and probably a few layers of pants on. I actually felt envious for once – I was clearly out of my element in my jeans, cotton button down dress shirt with only a thin cotton v-neck sweater, hardly protecting me from the penetrating cold wind that pushed its way through the trees of the park. Alex was sitting in front of a chess board. I loved chess and I had nothing to do for several hours, I asked him if he charged to play. I knew his time had to be worth something. It only cost me a coffee and donut from the Starbucks up the street.

 

Alex didn’t say much, but he played chess pretty well. I figured he would be about as good at chess as I would be at making macros given that this must have been somewhat of an occupation outside of his cigarette business. He sold a pack for nine bucks, making a small profit margin, especially in New York, but he still undersold the corner stores by a few bucks. His clients tended to be exclusive though, he knew them on a first name basis like any good proprietor and was flexible with the quantity he sold. I liked this guy, he was smart. I guess even the bums in New York have that drive to achieve that I really haven’t seen in other cities. Alex and I played three games. I lost all three. What I learned though was not just a better way to play chess, but I learned something about my self. In chess, just like in life, I like to make the first move. I guess that is the control freak in me, but what it does is open me up to a vulnerability of being taken by someone who waits for me to make the bad move that inevitably comes. This guy exploited that bad move every time just like a sharp trader on Wall Street would make a quick in and out move on an undervalued stock and get out just before the price hits equilibrium and the gains flatten. So Alex just waited. Even when I tried to change up my playing style in the second game he still got me after about twenty moves. He took me after I had every major piece except a rook and a queen and he took me after I totally shifted from a heavy offense to an almost neutral playing style. The key he told me was not strategy, but tactics, and then it made sense; I had a strategy, but he really didn’t play with a strategy, he would not hold himself to a predictable pattern, but he would use a few clever tactics to put me into a position where I was trapped – trapped by my own strategy as it were since that is what he exploited. It would not have mattered if I played defense or offense I think since he was always just a few moves ahead of me. Alex’s favorite piece was the knight, I hate the knight, but I have now come to respect it just like I respect Alex and will be thankful for the lesson he taught me.

 

Homeless Murdoc

Hey everybody, my name is Murdoc, and I wanted to let you all know that I’ve moved into the area as a resident of the town. I’m homeless right now, and I’m going to spend the next few days here around the quick-stop here, and the comic book store here, trying to seek out potential employers and interviews and such. In the meantime, I would always appreciate any money you can spare to help me move forward. A clean shirt costs $10… and quality defines the character!

Anything you can offer would be great, thanks.

So said the homeless man, out in front of the Store 24 at sundown on one summer day. He lived there for several years, in and out, like a nomad in the streets.