Tiny, bowlegged old black man who sits out in front of the Chatham County courthouse in Savannah, Georgia every day. Nicknamed "Piccolo" (perhaps because of his size), he seems unable or unwilling to remember individual names, instead addressing every person he meets as "Bunk". Every so often he'll panhandle: "Hey Bunk, got any change?" It is rumored by some that he is actually rich and very shrewd, but those who know him best say that this is not the case and he is genuinely poor and more than a little tetched. Up until they finally stopped allowing him to speak, he would attend public meetings of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners and talk at length in praise of the County's employees in a garbled and incoherent manner. Minutes of the meetings invariably read:


JOHN SAXON PIERCE: (indecipherable)

BILLY HAIR: Thank you very much, Mr. Pierce.

In his youth, Piccolo was a major figure in the civil rights movement in Savannah, and marched with Dr. King - there is even a section of the local civil rights museum dedicated to him. Altogether a good-natured and beloved, or at least tolerated, old gent.

...or so it seemed. One day, shortly before I left the county's employ, my friend and boss Jonathan noticed that the Powers That Be had TAKEN AWAY the benches outside the courthouse. Mr. Pierce was in his usual spot, only now he was forced to lean up against a trash can in the full heat of the sun (which in the Deep South is a serious matter). We couldn't imagine any explanation for this except as a way to discourage loiterers - which generally consisted of Mr. Pierce and one other guy who I never actually saw panhandle, but who just sat there keeping to himself. In Mr. Pierce you also had someone who was arguably owed a debt of respect and honor from the community. And here was the Man, bringin' him down yet again! Fuck the Man!

It was in this spirit that Jonathan said, "I'm going to buy Piccolo a chair." We went to Wal-Mart's sporting goods section and Jon purchased a lightweight fold-out camping chair that could be carried around in a tube with a shoulder strap. We returned and presented it to Mr. Pierce, showing him how to set it up and take it down. He was delighted, and in seconds was comfortably seated at his station and greeting people as they came and went. Feeling that we had done a mitzvah, we walked inside and were met with the stony glares of the well-fed, white security guards.

"You better move that chair," one of them said.

"I just gave it to him," Jonathan replied evenly. "It's up to him where he puts it."

"Well, you don't have to encourage him," another guard growled.

Since then, at least two department heads have expressed their disapproval about the chair, one even suggesting to Jonathan that he take it back. Nothing serious will happen, of course - surely even they can envision how the headline "COUNTY EMPLOYEE FIRED FOR HELPING ELDERLY CIVIL RIGHTS HERO" would look - but it's served as a real lesson in the depths of petty cruelty to which the ordinary, seemingly decent enough people you meet at work every day can descend. How much trouble would it have been to leave the benches there? None. How much trouble was it to remove them? A lot. And toward what end? To take from a harmless old man the one thing he still enjoys in life.


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