HUDSON — The stoplight turned red. Barabus Ball jiggled his sign. Another light turned green. He grinned and waved.
Traffic blurred the intersection. The noonday sun hung above the intersection at State Road 52 and Little Road on Friday, bouncing heat off hoods and asphalt. Drivers smiled at Ball, and they sneered at him, but mostly they just stared. He waved and grinned and jiggled his sign.
This, he said, is the job of a "waver." Shift begins, he puts on the outfit and he holds up the sign, the one that says "Income Tax," the one that pays the bills.
Shift ends, he turns off his music and he drives on back home, where he hopes for a job that can last.
Ball has until Thursday, when the tax season ends, to wave at the crossroads as Uncle Sam. What comes next, he doesn't know.
He jiggled the sign and turned up his music, an Oak Ridge Boys song about "a smile and a moment." He grinned and waved.
Then the rap song started.
• • •
Ball last worked as a foreman for a lawn service. His wife of 26 years, Sharon, mowed the grass. Every morning the two of them would set out for work from the two-bedroom mobile home they share in Griffin Park with four of their five kids.
In December, Barabus, 44, and Sharon, 48, were let go "like a piece of scrap paper," he said. They cashed their last paychecks a few days before Christmas.
Desperate, the two applied for $8.50-an-hour waver jobs with Liberty Tax Service. The couple dressed as Statues of Liberty for the tryouts in January, putting on turquoise velvet robes and foam crowns, and were told to dance and get attention. Sharon remembers feeling embarrassed.
The supervisors liked their energy — the other applicants, mostly teens and twentysomethings, acted too restrained — and offered them part-time positions.
The couple's work began with a rocky start. Sharon had to compete with a panhandler who claimed the corner. A woman complained that Ball's beard disgraced the Statue of Liberty, so his bosses let him use a starred robe and striped top hat.
It hasn't gotten much easier. The couple has stood through rain and nightfall and clouds of exhaust. They've seen bare behinds and middle fingers. They've had a thousand eyes stare right through them like they weren't even there.
Yet they don't mind the job, Sharon said. They actually kind of like it. And when she doesn't, she knows a way to change her mind.
"I walk into my kids' bedroom," she said. "It makes me pull myself right out of it."
• • •
Ball's secret, he said, is his Kmart mp3 player. He called it "the MVP." Music drowns out the ad nauseam noises of the road, the tire screeching and car horns. It also keeps him going.
He turned up the rap song. The hip-hop beat of a duo called two4one — his two oldest sons, Barabus Jr., or B.J., 23, and William, 22 — drowned out the traffic. "They rap about everyday events," he said, "about when you switch lanes in your life."
Sharon and B.J. visited soon after, between her morning and evening shifts at the intersection. She had finished an interview for a laundry job at Amedisys, she said, and told him they might call her on Monday with an offer. It would be full-time. Three of their children work there.
The couples' kids told Sharon they couldn't be wavers. The first time a driver flipped them off, they said, they would chase down the car.
Sharon said she knows that feeling. A few months back, while on the corner, someone spit on her. She felt angry and disrespected. She thought she might quit.
But she changed her mind. For the next week, she said, until tax season is over, she'll be where the lights turn red and green. She'll wave and grin and jiggle her sign.
"You just look for the next car," she said. "There's always someone in the next car."
Drew Harwell can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6244.