Galveston is one of God’s forsaken packages, a place where the desperate and the disenfranchised wash ashore with every tide, so the wiry little man with the bleached peach-pit face and a fishing cap pulled over his ears looked no different from the other drifters waiting for food vouchers. The staff at the Jesse Tree, a small storefront charity on Market Street, a few blocks from the port and hard against a sprawling ghetto of shotgun houses and abandoned cotton-storage warehouses, was always ready to hear a tale of woe. Except Morris Black came not for a handout but with a proposition. He’d been surfing the Internet on a computer at the library, he explained in a high-pitched, rapid-fire voice, and he’d discovered that the same reading glasses that sold for $10 to $12 dollars at Wal-Mart could be purchased in bulk for 46 cents a pair.
“Interesting,” Jesse Tree’s director, Ted Hanley, told him, not sure what else to say.
Black seemed restless and impatient and repeated what he’d just said, then repeated it again, and then repeated it a third and a fourth time. Eventually he came to the point. “I need you to come up with two thousand dollars, and I’ll do the rest,” he said. His idea was to pass out thousands of pairs of eyeglasses to the poor and needy. He made it clear that he intended to supervise the project personally and screen prospective recipients. “This is how it will be,” he said. Hanley tried to explain that although the project sounded worthy, the Jesse Tree didn’t have that kind of money. Black wasn’t interested in explanations. He faded back into the throng of hungry men.
Hanley saw him again two months later, in March 2001. Black