"Jenkins, gimme a bus pass," Benny ordered.
I had just come up the hall from the Principal's office having dealt with another entitled student who felt that proper school decorum was self-assigned. "You can't suspend me. I'll show you, I make my own way, my own rules, I don't have to do what you say." The words spit with a sullen disrespect, just outside the principal's office, still stung my ears. That meeting had not gone in my favor. I learned that the entitled are allowed many multiples of opportunities as long as they ascend the ladder of authority with embellished pleas. Their price, "I'm sorry, I won't do it again?" the words rolling off the tongue with practiced ease.
"Didn't you get your first check like everybody else," I asked.
"I spent it; I ain't got a dime left." Benny answered. A cell phone buzzed. He pulled out a copper colored, touch screen, flip phone, popped it open and grinned at the message. Deftly playing the keyboard for a moment, he snapped the phone shut and slipped it into the right front pocket of his baggy jeans.
He was one of the hundred-and-twenty-five "At Risk" seventeen to twenty-four year olds, paid $8.15 an hour to attend high school, under money received from the Obama Stimulus package. The first check, for eighty hours of work, was for $640.00 and had been received by most students four days earlier. A handful of students, who had not received their checks, still came to me for a bus pass to get them back and forth to school. It had been agreed at the beginning with this needy bunch that city bus passes would be made available until they got paid.
"Wull yeah, I got paid, but I got bills man, come on Jenkins, gimme a bus pass I knows you got some, gimme one," Benny demanded. A lanky black kid with an empty look in his eye, and a twisted curl of hair sprouting from his pointed chin, he, like many others, had been selected for the summer program based on the number of times he had been expelled, dropped for attendance,or walked away from school.
The other requirement, being poor, was easy to establish. He was unemployed, unskilled, and at twenty-one had fathered four children.
Benny stood before me, drowning in oversized sloppy clothes. His thin bird like arms had no muscle, his stomach was perennially sucked in and his chest was a hollow bowl. Although he towered over me, he'd be blow into another county if he stumbled outside in a stiff breeze. "Come on Jenkins I know you got tickets I seen you give ‘em out I needs one. I got kids, man. I got bills, my check's gone." By this time two other students had approached. Jesus, a large Hispanic kid who had almost perfected the "evil eye glare", and De'Andre, a nice looking black student with a big smile and the only one dressed properly in the Summer Stimulus t-shirt. They watched the proceedings greedily, hoping for a show of weakness.
"Come on Jenkins how am I gonna get home. It's hot outside. This is summer. I should be sitting under an air-conditioner. I can't walk gimme a pass." Benny whined. To enhance the plea he flashed a gold tooth grin.
"You aren't even following the basic rules." I grumbled, pointing out his oversized undershirt that hung to his knees, like a skirt, covering his velvet red boxers, and the tops of his sagging bling infested jeans. It was a game and he was hustling me.
"Please tuck your shirt in." I asked, "And pull your pants up." Grudgingly he sloppily stuffed his shirt tail into his pants. I shook my head trying to understand the appeal of uncomfortable thigh riders, requiring the wearer to hook a finger in a pant loop, to just keep the drawers from dropping to the floor.
In Benny's left ear hung a stereo earpiece. As he stared at me waiting for a response, his fingers touched the center dial of an expensive music pod jammed into the coin pocket of his pants. He grinned at the small crowd and continued, "Jenkins I's got four kids. They cost money. Come on man. I need a pass."
"I'm not giving you a bus pass." I said flatly.
"Think about my children, you want them to go hungry! I got four babies," He whined louder. "The oldest is...." He went blank for a minute trying to remember faces, names, and dates. Jesus and De'Andre moved closer.
"Four...four...no five...my oldest is five." Benny blurted.
"Wait a minute," I said, "let me get this straight. You think it is my responsibility to take care of your children?" I asked boldly. "You believe I should take care of you, your wives and your progeny."
"I aint got no prog..." he started.
"Children," I simplified. Continuing I added, "Are you going to take care of me and Jesus and De'Andre? I need a tank of gas, they want bus passes too."
"Wull, no,... I mean...no...I can't take care of you. You're old. You got a job. I need a bus pass man..." Benny stammered sensing he was losing the game.
"Mr. Jenkins, I pay taxes; I should get a bus pass." Jesus announced pushing forward. "It's my money they it took from my check. I should get something for it."
"Why did you pay taxes?" I asked.
"I don't know, they just took it from me and I want it back." He argued.
"Who's paying for this stimulus program? Who's paying for the school building, for the teachers?" I pressed.
"You mean they took money from me, to pay me." Jesus announced as the logic clicked in his head. "Man that's rude. They take money out of my check to pay me for working!" A smirk crossed his face at the sudden realization of how government funding worked. Benny watched blankly, not picking up the concept.
Turning from Jesus. "Let me ask you a personal question, Benny, you don't have to answer it if you don't want."
"Ask me anything, I ain't bashful," Benny giggled. Jesus backed away.
"What age were you when you first crawled into bed with one of your women?" I asked pointedly.
Benny laughed, De'Andre sputtered. Jesus grinned. "I was....I was..."
"In grade school," De'Andre interrupted.
"No," Benny corrected, a grin still on his face. "Junior high...I was....fourteen...I ...I think...almost." He answered, turning to the side with a jive move for his audience.
"Twelve," De'Andre interjected.
"When did you start," He demanded turning to De'Andre.
"Not that young, I don't have any kids. I still got my check." De'Andre retorted.
Benny ignored him and turned back. "Gimme a pass Jenkins, I gotta get home. It's a long walk, hurry!"
"No," I answered shaking my head. "I'm not giving a pass to you, or you or you." I said pointing at Benny, De'Andre, and Jesus. "You've been paid. You had six-hundred dollars in your hands. It's your responsibility to find your own transportation. Nobody puts gas in my tank. Nobody paid me to go to school."
"You make lots more than me." Benny shot back.
"You can make more too, if you graduate from high school, like I did, go to four...five...six...no ten years of college...get a license from the state... and get hired by the district." I responded.
"I ain't gonna go to no school for no ten years man. I'm sick of it already." Benny muttered.
"The world will pay you for what it thinks your worth," I added.
"Right now you ain't even worth a bus pass." De'Andre added with a belly laugh.
Benny ignored De'Andre and looked coldly at me. "You can't be for real Jenkins. You gonna strand me on the streets. That's not good man."
De'Andre turned but was still listening. Jesus had moved away standing by friends watching. "You knows how it is man. I like the ladies. I like fine things. I need a pass. I need to get where I needs to go."
I shook my head. "You can walk."
"It's a long way!"
"Walk fast!" I answered.
"Ah come on...Gimme one. Just one pass; it's only a couple of bucks man." He pleaded. "It's not your money. What do you care?"
"I'll give you two bucks for your I-pod," I said.
"That's cold man. I can't do that I need my rap." He said a hard look crossing his face. De'Andre turned with a giggle.
"I got a cup; you can go down to the corner and shake it in front of car windows." I offered.
De'Andre completely lost it, rolling up against the wall in laughter.
Benny turned and looked at me with a glare pulling what little tuck he had in his shirt out in defiance.
"Maybe next time you'll plan a little better with your paycheck." I said as Benny turned and sauntered away.