Bells toll inside my head as I reach for my Alfred Lord Tennyson outfit. It’s Victorian black with matching cravat, mourning cape, matching hat. There’s even a beard, luxuriant and curling, that came with the costume, but I can’t find the whiskers anywhere. Been three years since I’ve donned this get-up, a Halloween present from sweet deceased Adelaide, who passed away in a Hampton’s Inn all alone in the not-so-new millennium. Actually, she made the costume and bought the beard from Hocus Pocus.
I’m getting into character, reading “In Memoriam”:
I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.
I’ve taken to panhandling.
No, it’s not a lifestyle choice, but part of my thesis, a paper I’m writing on selling-and-psychology, a study in which I report on my experimentation with different modes of panhandling, comparing the hourly wage of me playing a wheel-chair bound Iraqi war veteran ($12.34) with the hourly wage of me playing a shyster hipster holding a sign that reads “Haven’t been high in two days ($4.56). I’m hoping to shed some light on what makes people part with their money in situations of charity, combining my love of acting, my interest in marketing, and my curiosity about how the human mind works. So today I’m going out begging in the guise of Alfred Lord Tennyson. It’s a dreary, leaden day, very Tennysonian.
I consider brain chemistry to be sort of like weather – sunny, rainy, partly cloudy, partly sunny. Part of it, of course, is genetics — look at the Hemingways — but life events can affect brain weather, too. Maybe if Tennyson’s best friend Arthur Henry Hallam hadn’t dropped dead Tennyson might have been a cheerier poet, like EE Cummings or Maya Angelou. Who knows?
I’ve decided to set up shop, so to speak, North of Calhoun in the bar district, which you might think is unsafe, but I’ve never had a problem, and anyway, I’m packing a Smith & Wesson. 22 LR Rimfire, not gun enough to kill someone but big enough to chase off a knife wielder or unarmed thug.
The one thing that’s bothering me, though, is the lack of a beard. I’m only 26 years old, and a beard would help. Of course, I wear make-up. Thanks to the College’s Theater Department’s make-up department, I’ll be sporting a gray complexion and those woeful looking, sympathy-spawning bags under my eyes that made Tennyson look like the saddest creature that ever crawled across the face of the earth:
The sparrow’s chirrup on the roof,
The slow clock ticking, and the sound
Which to the wooing wind aloof
The poplar made, did all confound
Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
Athwart the chambers, and the day
Was sloping toward his western bower.
Then said she, “I am very dreary,
He will not come,” she said;
She wept, “I am aweary, aweary,
Oh God, that I were dead!”
 The minimum wage in South Carolina is $7.25
It was through theater I first met Adelaide, a student production of Chekov’s Three Sisters. She played Irina, I Vassily Vasilyevich Solyony. It wasn’t bad as student productions go. The only problem, though, is I had this thing for Adelaide/Irina, but she had a boyfriend, a spoiled preppy entitled piece of shit, so I didn’t make it verbally known to Adelaide that I had this thing for her, though from what others tell
me it was as obvious as Cyrano’s nose or Chuck Norris’s toupee. I kept waiting for her to make the first move, but she never did. It goes without saying neither did I.
Kristopher my make-up man has done his magic, including providing me with a real enough looking beard, so I’m walking rather self-consciously from the parking garage to King with a folding lawn chair strapped to my back, a bucket for the proceeds, a book of Tennyson’s poems, and a sign that simply says “alms.”
I find a spot on the corner of King and Morris, put my sign out and start to read Tennyson, finding snatches of verse ripe for memorization, little ditties like
Me rather all that bowery loneliness,
The brooks of Eden mazily murmuring,
and try to ignore the occasional rude comment about beggars and street performers. Of course, I could whip out the Rimfire and cap one of them, taking my performance art to a new level, but that’s not, as Adelaide used to say, the Buddha way.
Finally, after 4 minutes and 32 seconds, I get my first score, two single dollar bills dropped. I say,
And if ever I should forget
That I owe this debt to you
And I for your sweet sake to yours,
O, then, what shall I say? —
If ever I should forget,
May God make me more wretched
Than ever I have been yet!
At the one hour mark, I start reciting Tennyson as I see people approaching, though I avoid eye contact.
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, not as one that weeps
I come once more: the city sleeps;
I smell the meadow in the street.
At the two hour mark, I start making eye contact before chanting the quote, straining to counterfeit that stare dogs give when they think you might have a treat for them.
Since we deserved the name of friends
And thine effect so lives in me,
A part of mine may live in thee
And move thee on the noble ends.
So here I sit in this Halloween costume, chanting Tennyson in the name of soft science. My thoughts return to that Halloween party three years ago. Adelaide dressed up like Emily Dickinson, hair parted in the middle, a white dress, for she was the Empress of Calvary. No one got the joke, two depressive poets on a non-date. Perhaps she should have worn black because that’s what people picture when they imagine Emily Dickinson.
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –
Ring out the old and all that jazz. Adelaide OD-ed in a Hampton Inn in Conyers, Georgia, and that’s about as unromantic as it gets.
It’s time for me to move on, I guess.
Good, God, now I’m even starting to think in slant rhymes. I get up, abandoning the role, take off the itchy beard, and look for some ragged someone I can pass the cash off to.