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Posts Tagged ‘Homeless’

“I know where you live.”

I stop mid pour. The rich smell reaches my nose and it’s glorious, despite not being able to stomach the stuff.

“I don’t think you do.” I say calmly, tipping the pot once again. Little coffee bubbles dance on the old Formica countertop.

“I do,” he says. “Saw you outside the Laundromat last week. You were driving that old green wagon.”

He takes a sip and closes his eyes as if it’s the best thing he’s ever tasted. His lips pull into a wide, flat line.

“Yeah, well I don’t live at the Laundromat.” I joke.

It’s the simple things, isn’t it?” He sighs. “Coffee, black and hot. Cures whatever ails.”

“I don’t drink it,” I tell him. “But I imagine if I did, I’d be dousing it with cream and sugar.”

“Nah, that stuff just smothers the quality of the bean. I like to know what I’m drinking.” His eyes are still closed but they open when he asks; “How in the world can you work in a diner and not drink coffee?”

“Love the smell, can’t stand the taste.”

“Ah, it can be a cruel, cruel world.” He nods and smiles a little wider, exposing surprisingly white teeth from behind his reed-thin lips.

Ding.

Slamming my chit on the spike, I grab his order from under the warmer and set it in front of him. Two eggs, sunny side up, extra crispy bacon and sourdough toast, lightly buttered.

“How long you had that car?” He asks.

As he snaps off a piece of bacon and dips it in the ketchup he’s squirted on the edge of the plate, I can’t help but wonder where his sense of quality is now.

“Four years,” I answer. “My Grandma left it to me.”

The dark moons under his nails loosely string each finger together like a black crepe streamer and his clothes are on the worn side of things, much like his skin, supple and weathered.

“Ah, a treasure then. It’s a ’73, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, how did you…?”

“Lucky guess,” he says. “We used to have one back in the day. I learned to drive in it.” He chuckles. “Showing my age now, I suppose.”

“More?” I hold the pot over his almost empty cup.

He nods. I pour.

Despite his ruffled appearance, I can smell fresh shampoo and sharp aftershave as I lean in to wipe up the drips.

“It was a guilt gift,” I confess. “She wanted nothing to do with me. The car made her feel better.”

“Did it make you feel better?”

“Probably not for the right reasons,” I admit. “It’s the only thing I own. It’s more important than it should be now.”

“I’ll take it off your hands.” He offers and slides his business card across the counter. It claims he’s the owner of the Green Bean Organic Coffee Plant. The same coffee we use in the diner.

“I can’t. I still need it.”

“If you didn’t have it, where would you be?”

“Um, taking the bus?” My eyes shift.

“Sometimes it’s good to rid yourself of things that are holding you back.”

“I told you, I still need it.” I look away. “Why are you so hot for my car anyway?

“I could say it’s because it’s green. Or because, like I said, I learned to drive in that very same car.”

He lightly knocks his fist twice on the countertop. “

“But, I’d be lying. It’s because I know where you live.”

Green 1973 Wagon

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I sit outside a coffee shop on callous concrete, hoping someone will give me something, anything, money, food, a coffee, kindness, but it’s bitter out and they are all understandably numb.

Men in unyielding suits talk on their phones and hold doors for capable people. I watch women with big hair chatter and chide, wrinkle their noses and throw half full cups into the trash as they skip away.

Not one looks at me and too, feel less.

I cup my hands ‘round my mouth and savor the small touch of hospitality my warm breath provides. The air gets colder, my muscles stiffer, as time ticks on. I sit motionless, unable to think of much else other than where I’ll be in a few hours.

“Hey, can you hang on to my dog?” My body tenses at the unexpected voice so close to me.

I look at the little curly haired dog, and up at the little curly haired boy.

“I need to grab something real quick and he can’t run super fast, so if you’d just hold him for me…”

“No problem,” I agree, not sure what choice I have as the half-pint runs off without waiting for an answer.

The dog climbs up onto my lap. His belly is like a hot water bottle, his sandy fur a cozy coat. He stretches upwards and licks my face, his tongue soft and velvety. I feel myself loosen a little, a strained elastic slipping back to its natural state.

The very next person to come out hands me a five-dollar bill.

“Say no to drugs.” he laughs half serious, the next, a cup of steaming coffee and a few crumpled bills. “Cute pup,’” she smiles. “Buy him a treat!”

By the time the boy returns, I’ve had a sandwich, a conversation and the shake of a hand. A shop employee even leaves a bowl full of fresh water for the dog and a handful of broken cookie bits.

“Thanks for watching Jack,” the boy’s tone is raspy, breathless. “It would’ve taken me way longer if I’d had to drag him along.”

He hands me a somewhat grizzly sleeping bag and a greyish pillow. “Here, they’re yours.” he tells me.

“What? No,” I say, shocked. “Where did you get these?”

“I gotta go,” he says, grabbing the dog. “I can come back tomorrow though. People are way more generous when Jack’s around.”

He takes off so quickly I barely have time to notice his dirty fingernails, his hoodie full of holes or Jack effortlessly keeping up alongside him.

What I do notice as they trot off, is that I now feel more.

homeless boy and dog

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Slop.

A spoonful of potato hits the plate with a wallop and a little spec of mash lands on the hand holding it.  Instead of shuffling on like most, he pauses, making eye contact.  I steel myself, waiting for a curse word or a dirty look but all I see is empathy.

It’s the last place I want to be and if I hadn’t already committed, I’d be home, covers over my head.

“Bad day?” he asks, his voice soft, but hoarse.

“I’m sorry,” I apologize.  “I didn’t meant to…”

“No big deal.” he shrugs.  “I’ve had worse.”  His smile, as he moves on, leaves me with goose bumps.

“Yes, please.”  The next one says as I turn away from the man with the smile.  Her toothy grin, oily bob and blackened fingernails win her an extra scoop.

“Oh, thank you!” she squeals, as though I’ve just given her a hundred dollar bill.

My head throbs and pain stabs at my sinuses as I wonder which would be more disgusting; wiping my dripping nose with my cuff or pulling out the last damp, crumpled Kleenex I’d tucked into my sleeve.

There’s a lull in the line and I stand behind my steaming tray, looking out at the fifty round tables we had spent the morning setting up.  I find it alarming that all are full.

My toothy friend sits at the one closest, chuckling and chatting with whomever she can engage, her worn out red coat contrasting with her dark hair but matching her cheeks, her potato-covered tongue on display as she laughs.

They are all oohing and ahhing over the stockings we’d filled and placed at each setting; holding up the toothbrushes, bath beads and chocolates, hooting at the decks of cards and bags of mints.

Boom, boom, boom.  I’m tempted to leave my post to grab some aspirin, but the hoards are headed my way.  The warming lamps hover over the food, making me sweat and I start to feel very claustrophobic.

“Just a little, please.” The tiny girl in front of me requests. “I can’t eat very much and I’m not allowed to waste.”

She’s only about five and the sleeves of her shiny dress are completely tattered.  Her chin is just above table level and her big, gold eyes are like dollops of honey suspended over my shiny, silver tray.

“Yeah,” her dad confirms.  “Not too much for her.  Leave the rest of her portion for someone else.”

“How about you?” I ask.

“Oh, I’ll take my fair share.” He says, looking down.  I feel his shame.

“I meant, would you like the rest of her portion?” I shrug, trying to be nonchalant.

“Well, if…” he continues to look down, head hanging like a scorned pup.

Very gently, I place a double helping next to his peas.

“Anybody asks,” I offer, “you send them my way.”

He finally looks up and I can see that his eyes are an older, much more trampled version of his girl’s.  He too, smiles a smile that leaves me reeling.

After about twenty more servings, there’s another break.  I really am desperate for some relief.  My headache has turned into a machete attack and my nose is about to explode over the entire table.

I slide two fingers into my cuff and pull out the mutilated tissue.  Cupping it against my palm, I bring it up to my nose but it’s no use.  There’s more crumple than cotton.  Embarrassed, I try to stuff it back under my sleeve, unnoticed.

Plates are clamoring and I realize someone has cleared my tray away.  That’s my cue to get out on the floor and start helping clean up.

Coffee and tea is being served and everyone’s holding their cup with both hands, aware it may be the last warmth they feel until, well, who knows when.

I make my way around the room, the blinking Christmas lights taunting my overly sensitive eyes, while I push the bus cart loaded with well-used tableware.

As I reach out for yet another empty plate, a familiar finger brushes mine.

“I’m sorry.  I know I’m not supposed to touch you,” he says, “but I thought you might need these.”

I look up from the tan and weathered hand and see his forgiving face once again.  He’s holding out a small packet of Kleenex, the same one I’d placed in his stocking this morning.

I did need them.  I needed the Kleenex, I needed the compassion and I needed these people.

I was ignorant for being surprised that every seat was spoken for, naïve for being shocked that they wanted no more than their fair share, but mostly, I was foolish for thinking that this was the last place I wanted to be.

Give hands 3

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