22 Children

One Afternoon

I bought some cooked chicken. The counterman, who spoke with an African accent, had been trying to rip off the man in front of me, who spoke with a West Indian accent. They fought for 5 minutes.

“Fountain costs me 10 cents, can costs me 50 cents,” said the counterman.

“I am 39. Not a child,” said the customer, who had dreadlocks and rope-veins all over his arms. He turned to me. “Look at him trying to rob me, telling me I'm getting a good deal.”

When it was my turn I paid the counterman $10. He gave me change for a $5. I looked at him, stood still, and said nothing.

“I am 45,” he said.

“I have 22 children,” he said. I did not move.

“Aha! I put your $10 here in the $5 drawer.” Pained, smiling, he gave me my change.

Another man came forward from the fryers. “He has 22 children,” he said, laughing. “22!”

I walked out of there with my chicken and into the street. A girl said to her friend:

“So I pay him to help me get ready. I do the dance routine, he says these are n——- moves.”

They walk a few steps.

“I sing and he says I'm doing n——- singing.”

They walk a few steps.

“I try to talk and he says I'm talking like a n——-.”

Dozens of times a day, the word, out of car stereos and music shops, in the air, shouted across streets in greeting.

They walk a few steps. I am right by them, now. Her friend nods as she listens. She is wearing red lip gloss. She is very thin.

“And finally I say yo-well-look-at-me, I'm a n——-.”

I go past them and into the post office, to mail off my used books for money. I think I've been wishing instead of gripping. I feel like I'm filled with ticking clocks. In the post office I break into a sweat. But when I come out it is earlier than I expected, and I have time to do the things I need to do.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

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