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"We take what we do very seriously. We take our artists very seriously. We take our ethics very seriously," Casey says at breakneck speed. "But we don't take ourselves very seriously. It's part of our style."
She pauses for a breath and cocks her head, smiling at Sloane.
"Stuff style," she says, saying the first word fast and drawing out the second.
"Stuff styyyyyle," Sloane repeats identically.
T.J. stands at the corner of 63rd Street and Ward Parkway bearing two pieces of office paper with a simple announcement: "I need money." One is attached to a white rosary dangling from his neck and adhering to the sweat that has drenched his torn gray tank top. The other he holds in his left hand, inadvertently showcasing the gold watch on his wrist. The timepiece is missing both its hands.
The thickening traffic tells the time. Two skinny dreadlocks trail down the back of the young man's neck. Camouflage pants barely hide his boxer shorts. He's watching rush hour for the second time today.
He lives south of here — "in the 70s," he says, giving a vague approximation of his address. He's self-conscious about people he knows seeing him look for handouts. This morning, he panhandled along Ward Parkway, first at 75th Street and then at Gregory. As the day went on, he wandered north on Ward Parkway.
T.J. describes himself as a jack-of-all-trades. Since he lost his last job in a warehouse, he's been trying to find something new. But he doesn't have an impressive résumé. "A lot of jobs ask for too much for too less of a job," he says.
Before today, he says, he had never stood on a street corner and held up a sign. But his kids just started school. He has two boys and two girls, all of whom need new clothes and school supplies. He's flat broke.
"I thought I'd get some help," he says, turning his head toward the wrought-iron fences that ring million-dollar houses as smooth and white as wedding cakes. "All these nice houses, these nice Mercedes-Benz driving by — they could probably help out with a buck or two."
He's hasn't had much luck. Maybe he's being too polite. He smiles passively instead of approaching windows when the light turns red. But he doesn't want any trouble. "I ain't had anybody call the police," he says. He's surprised that he's been allowed to occupy this corner uninterrupted.
Beneath thick lashes, his eyes are genuine and kind. He sways like Ray Charles, wears a similar blissed-out smile. Standing here, waving as cars drive by, he looks meditative. His stance isn't threatening. He gives no hint of desperation or bitterness.
"Hey, cutie pie," he says all of a sudden, his eyes tracking a vintage car as it approaches him. It's the second time he has seen this particular woman cruise by in this blue Cadillac.
"Beautiful car, beautiful lady, beautiful day," he says. "No disrespect," he adds quickly.
That reminds him. One nice woman gave him some food, he says, and another gave him some snacks. He digs a beef jerky stick and a cheese packet from his right-front pants pocket. He reaches into the left-front pocket, where the money is. He counts the coins in his open palm: 57 cents.
Not even enough to catch the bus home.