Richard Fein


Our American dream is Ragged Dick
Horatio Alger's star boy,
who always returned lost sacks of money
to their rightful owners.
Ramrod straight and honest,
a paradigm of rectitude,
hard working young Dick sweated poverty away,
never blowing his chances, or swelling his head,
as he rose into the monied classes.
The reverend Horatio fashioned his Dick
with a sharp pen and indelible ink
that stained nineteenth century paper.

But that poor cleric Alger
had to hustle his ass out of Brewster Mass.,
for counseling choir boys too closely.
He settled near the Newsboys' Lodging House,
in the old New York Bowery,
where country lads sought their fortunes
on Gotham's streets by shouting,
"Extra, read all about it."
None of them read the fine print.
But shed nary a tear,
for our minister took them all in hand
and firmly pointed the way.

O you laggard of the free market world,
climb faster up the corporate ladder.
Behold, the CEO's penthouse only a few rungs above,
once you enter it
draw the diamond studded silk shades
and in that dark plush room
open the closet door.
So move!
Start stepping on all who cling to lower rungs,
and don't look down.
But keep your eyes ahead,
while  valiant Horatio and his Ragged Dick
inspire you from behind.


Once upon a true time
in a long extinct cafeteria,

(it was one of those roach on the wall, last dime eateries,
an edifice of low cuisine,
where you'd push your tray along rails
and a sneezy server would plop food
half on you plate and half on the floor,
then you'd throw down your copper, silver,
and occasional dollars
and  run to claim a seat
hoping that the fellow slob next to you didn't reek)

I was a 3 A.M. diner.

A disheveled Joe stumbled in looking for the john,
but was evicted by the manager
with a "Scram bum."
He had already spent his last cent;
we inside were yet to spend ours.
And he stared at us all
through the wide front window--
just a glass pane and pennies away.
He zipped down his fly,
and washed away window grime
as he marked his territory.
All the dining denizens dropped their knives and forks
and looked away,
except me.
I raised my spoon in an almost salute
and slurped my chicken soup.
The manager chased him away with a bat.
So much for marking territory without cash.
I would have feigned nausea
and skipped out on the tab
to keep a few more coins,
but I was dining in a cash-in-advance dive.