Benjamin Roberts


“What was the name of that last number, boy?”

Miles stopped the band on a Bb7 as I said, “I call that ‘Brown Bag and Pen’.”

“That ain’t no kind of name I’ve ever heard. You got a chart?”

“No sir. Wrote it myself.”

“Well, what’s it about?”


“You gotta story behind a name like that? With your chops, it sure isn’t about any fix.”

“I don’t got time for jokes, sir.”

“Son, do you really believe I would kid a fine horn player like you? Now I gotta minute for you,” he stated as he rolled a large silver object off his bad finger into my tenor case. “Surely, you’ve got one for me.”

Usually, I’d have given him a respectful tip of the hat and continued to play as the sun was above my head, and the lunch rush was in the passing with no golden badges in sight, but something about his braggin’ golden tooth smile reminded me of my pa.

“This one might hit you a bit hard,” I said.

“I got the strength.”

“All right, sir. Well, it was a day much like today. Sun was shining right at the lunch time. The usual busy street flooded, not a badge in sight. I was sittin’ here runnin’ through some old Miles; hittin’ the changes like the sun hit my nose. I racked up a good $5.00 in change and a couple small bills; just enough to buy myself a nice hot meal by the time I retired for the night. I closed my eyes to feel my lines better, and when I came to a peak, they opened to see a golden badge starin’ straight down at my horn. Miles held the band on the Bb7 as I dropped the innocent line, "How may I help you sir?"

"Got a permit to be playing here?"
"No sir. All I got is my tenor" I stated, feeling ashamed of my financial situation.

"An instrument is not a permit. You know the drill. Move along."
I packed up my sax and slowly walked towards the pool to use their water fountains. I always do this to waste time before I return to my spot.

See, most people would simply move to a different location, but I happen to know that the old badge who patrols this area stands by the hotel a few blocks down east and talks with the doormen, so I feel inclined to stay. It only helps that two pizza places, a coffee shop and a super market all surround this plaza, perfect location to sit and catch the customers of my business.

By the time I returned, the rush had ended for the day, meaning I missed the prime 15 minutes. It was ok, because I had already made about $7.50 and 2 more would have only gotten me a hot drink.

I sat back down comfortably and picked up at the top on the Bb7 where Miles had stopped the band before. I let the sun pass the first flag pole in my line of sight right over the harbor before rounding down with a few nice ballads courtesy of The Duke to set the mood for the evening. I closed my eyes to feel the changes flow past my ready mind and only opened them to see a blind man with a cane walking towards the station. Finishing the song, I peered into my case, noticing a brown paper bag with writing on it. Living on the street for most of my life, I never learned how to read print, not to mention handwriting, so I opened the bag to see 5 green bills labeled 100 on them. I hadn’t seen this much money in a while and didn’t know what to do with it. Walking towards the station, I thought about all my possible futures. Should I spend it now? Buy myself new clothes, a hardy meal, tons of cheap food and be set for a while, a hotel room for the night? Should I open a bank account for once and wait for the interest to build up? I had so much to think about that I forgot my horn sitting out for anyone to grab.

I finally decided to treat myself to a nice night at the fanciest hotel around, which happened to be a few blocks down the street. Walking there, I thought about the nice bed I would sleep on versus the cold pavement. I thought about a shower, clean towels, room service, television, and the best of it all, heating. By the time I began to drool, I found myself at the foot of the best hotel in town, staring right up at the giant doorman, who shot a look of utter repulsion at me. Feeling small, I checked my left and right before walking in, and something to my left caught my eye. A young lady whom I had seen walk by my corner every day during work was sleeping against the wall and on the ground. She was no more than 17 years old and living on the streets, just as I was, without a horn or chops to bring herself happiness. Dragging my overworked self to the wall, I dropped the bag by her head and returned down the block to my spot.

I returned to my normal bench to sleep that night. That bench felt better than any hotel bed could have.”

The old man stood up, shooting me a quick grin. He opened his wallet and placed a few carefully searched-for bills in my case. Peering into my case I saw $500 in green. I watched him walk away without a word. The harbor’s wind sounded downbeat, so I steadily placed the green in its hands.

I grabbed my horn, and picked up on the Bb7 that Miles had stopped the band on before, playing the changes better than I could have with any brown bag.


Copyright 2002-2006 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2006 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.