Note: This essay is an allegory; no wino has ever handed me a piece of paper that I did not immediately sanitize by burning.
Wino Wisdom -9/4/03
I was driving home from work a while ago, and I stopped to give a little bit of money to a homeless guy on the side of the road. I only had a moment, as the light was changing, but just before I drove away, he shoved a crumpled little piece of paper into my hand. I tossed it into my purse, and forgot all about it.
Now, I clean out my purse on a semi-annual basis (or when it gets too heavy to lift), and it gets rather filled up with little crumpled bits of paper, medical receipts, notes to myself, and such things. I carefully read all the bits before I throw them away, because I'm always afraid I'll throw out something important like my paycheck if I'm not careful.
So, I'm looking through all these random bits, sorting out the things I need to save, and lo and behold, I find this little crumpled bit of paper. I smoothed it out carefully, and this is what I read:
"I was once a prince among men, a king on the tourney field. All bowed to my majesty, all feared my power. I lived my life thoughtless of the people beneath me, and cared not whom I crushed to get my way. All was mine that I wanted; money, power, women.
"Alas, I did not know that soon the winds of change would come over my land, nor did I realize that those whom once I had dismissed without thought were now powerful in their own right, and had massed their strength and skill to bring me down.
"I once was great, but now am forced to beg from others to survive. If I had followed the advice I give here now, perhaps my fall would not have been so hard, or so far. To those that are kind, I press you to follow this wisdom. To those who think they are too good to acknowledge the people who are not as successful as they, or who would only fawn on those more powerful, not heeding the ones they tread upon in their quest for glory, I say this: A journey upward cannot continue forever. Sooner or later, you must tread upon the downward path. Those who are smarting from the injuries you inflicted on the way up will not be blamed for rejoicing in your fall.
"Heed my words, and take them to heart, as I wish I had done, for they will serve you well."
I was intrigued. Why did this guy give this to me? What *was* his wisdom? Was I missing a page? Or was I on the installment plan, and the next time I saw him and gave him money, would he give me the next bit?
This could get expensive.
...especially if there was a lot of wisdom.
But my questions were answered when I held the paper up to the light. Like a watermark, in the center of the paper was embossed a list of advice. I set it down here in the hopes that his wisdom may be known by all:
"Sneer not at those in poorer clothing, no matter how polyester they may be, for that person may be visiting royalty on their way to a keg party."
""Do not reply to insult, real or imagined, with like insult, for that is how Seneschals get involved, and before you know it, the entire damn BoD's breathing down your neck."
"Alway be graceful when you blow off someone who's wasting your time - if they don't feel like you've bestowed a great favour upon them for even noticing them, you haven't done it right, and when they're Queen, you'll pay for it."
"Never denigrate the love of learning, even if it doesn't float your boat, because if you change your mind, there will always be at least one Laurel who remembers what you once said, and will make you suffer for it. Especially if you insulted THEIR stuff."
"When asked to give opinions or take sides on contraversial subjects, dissemble. Even if you don't care about the thing that has everyone's knickers in a wad. ESPECIALLY if you don't care. Those things have a way of sucking in bystanders like a giant whirlpool; everyone gets wet and pissed."
"Find something nice and encouraging to say about every gift one receives, for then people will want to give you more. This is useful when you're trying to fill up yet another darn Kingdom gift basket."
"Always act as if everyone's reputation were spotless; even if it's not, they'll be grateful for your tact. If you humiliate them, it's guaranteed they'll win Crown, and you'll be hosed then, won't you?"
"Hide your steely strength under a velvet coat of grace. As a sword should not be unsheathed except in times of need, so should the ability to kick butt and take names only be used when there is no other alternative. That way, you have the element of surprise on your side."
There it was. I had been handed the wisdom of the ages, by a wino in ragged clothes and a greasy Redskins baseball cap. Who had he been? Where did he come from? How did he end up at the intersection of route 29 and University Boulevard? And most importantly,
Who did he piss off?
"For the least among us may find their way to the top one day, and if you are rude to those beneath you, don't be surprised when you don't get that cherry award you've had your eye on, my child."
Text and images copyright L. Mellin, 2000-2008, except where noted. All rights reserved.