Jackson “T-Bone” Omen is chess wizard in a stocking cap and sideburns. From just after dinnertime to just before bedtime, six days a week, Jackson can be found at the picnic tables in Central Park, hustling chess games with a stupid, honest smile. He doesn’t play with a clock like a lot of the other chessmasters around him. He plays every game to the end, and he never loses. The money he makes off the games keeps him fed, and when business is slow he makes a little extra money reselling knockoff Chinese bike lights and metro daypasses. Hell of a lot better than his old job.
T-Bone used to work for Apple, believe it or not. Boeing after that. He worked seventy-hour weeks, ground his teeth, wore starched shirts that itched constantly. He designed navigation and target acquisition systems for fighter jets. And then one day, while he was trying to meet a coding deadline with one hand and remove an obnoxious tag from his starched shirt with the other, he thought: “Why the hell am I making all these other motherfuckers billionares and meanwhile killing all these other dudes who don’t deserve it?” Then he spilled coffee on himself.
As a hobo, T-Bone has found his bliss. He can stand on the sidewalk at 3:00 in the morning, pissing into a plastic bag. He can walk the streets wearing a Tiki mask and waving a wiffle ball bat, and sometimes the yuppies even give him money for it. And he can actually, measurably help people.
You see, T-Bone is called T-Bone by all the homeless people of Pasadena because of a friendship he’s developed with a certain student at a local cooking academy. The kid came stumbling through Central Park one day lugging four grease-stained plastic bags full of New York steaks and asked T-Bone if he wanted to help out. He said the cooking academy threw out so much food everyday it was disgusting, and asked if T-Bone could get all these steaks to people who would eat them. And now, every other day or so, a whooping crowd of gutterpunks, crackheads, vagabonds and unfortunates crowd around T-Bone’s chessboard as he hands out pecan coated catfish, Chinese BBQ short ribs, beer-braised lamb shanks …
Of course, T-Bone gets help, too. He checks into the local homeless shelter one day out of every month and sits through the mandatory sermon so he can get his hair buzzed by the in-house barber. He gets weed from the blind blues guitarist who sits on a milk crate in front of Jamba Juice. But one thing’s for sure. No one ever made a billion dollars offa giving him a haircut, and ain’t nobody ever got shot to death by a juicy steak.