It was the Third Hour into a Nine & A Half hour shift on the Second Day of a Six Day work week when I threw up my hands in the air and said, “Fuck it”.
My shift started at 8am and I had gotten just under 2 hours of sleep, courtesy of a jittery imagination and rampant insomnia. The 3 alarms I had set on my phone didn’t do the trick, rolling out of bed at 7:35 awakened by a garbage truck roaring by my window. I frantically kicked off my bed sheets, threw on some clothes that were lying on the floor and rushed out to my car, speeding past lollygaggers, grinding my teeth, and narrowly making the few second transition from yellow-to-red light a number of times, making it to the clock-in terminal at 7:59am. My halfempty pack of cigarettes left behind on my dresser. Caffeine and nicotine levels critically low. Red Alert.
A customer was berating me about something that was out of my control. I was standing at the register, staring deadeyed back at his angry beet red face. Expletives were flying out of his mouth at an alarming rate and then it dawned on me.
I didn’t care. Everyday the world rushes closer to a fullblown apocalypse. I’m not being paid a livable wage. And yet I was supposed to care that I couldn’t give this guy a refund on a $4.99 impulse purchase because he lost his receipt.
I cut him off midsentence and excused myself, leaving him standing there bewildered and mouth agape, and headed to the manager’s office.
“I’d hate to do this but is there anyway I can go home early?” I asked, speaking slowly & dropping my voice down an octave. She turned away from her computer screen and gave me a sympathetic look. “I really don’t feel well and…”
“Yes, you can go. I could tell you were under the weather when you walked in. You look terrible.”
“Yeah…” I looked over at the wall mirror on the other side of the room. My hair was uncombed & standing in a million different directions, unshaven bristles were jutting out around my cheeks, and my shirt was wrinkled, the collar lopsided. I started to leave and remembered: “Oh by the way, there’s a guy out here who’s mad about something or whatever. You may want to deal with it,” and slammed the door closed before she could ask anything further.
I didn’t want to go home and didn’t have anyone to call. Still, the day was young now that my schedule had cleared up. The sky was a mustard yellow, the sun fighting its way to be seen past the grey overcast clouds, the radio weatherman predicting a 50% chance of rain.
After about an hour of driving around aimlessly, and making a pit stop to pick up supplies to deal with my depleted levels, I found myself in the heart of High Street, a long stretch of road in Columbus where something always seems to be happening, arguably the busiest&liveliest in all of the city.
I dropped a few quarters in the parking meter and went on a stroll with no destination in mind. I saw a ragged homeless man standing on the corner. His grungy silhouette starkly contrasted with the vibrant hustle & bustle around him, it looked like he had been wearing the same outfit for ages. His tattered tshirt an unrecognizable hue and he sported a pair of original Air Jordan sneakers that he must have bought when the line was first introduced in ’85, the famous red&white design encrusted with dirt and creased from decades of migration. I pitied him and yet was happy that he was there, relieved to see someone even more forlorn than myself. I walked up to him and pulled out my wallet.
The cardboard sign he carried read:
AUGUST THE 8TH
“So what’s so special about the 8th?” I asked him, holding a couple of bucks out like a peace offering. He didn’t turn to face me, just kept staring off into the distance in front of him.
“It’ll be my birthday.” He talked like the weight of the world was perched on his chest.
“Oh.” I coughed, anxiously shifting from foot to foot, still holding the money. “Well… here’s an early birthday gift.” I moved my hand into his line of vision. It’s hard to say if he even saw the money I was trying to give him. His scraggly brows were so thick it was difficult to make out his eyes.
He suddenly turned and faced me with such speed it made me jump, he seemed just as startled, as if he was noticing my presence for the first time. Then he flashed a smile, exposing 2 rows of mossy baked bean-like teeth.
“It’s not only the anniversary of my birth. It’ll be the start of a New Dawn.” He leaned in close enough for me to see his eyes underneath the jungle of hair on his face. They were as jet black as a bottle of calligraphy ink. “This city will never be the same. I just need a little help to make it happen.”
“Would this be a good start?” I practically shoved the money in his face.
He tenderly plucked the bills out of my hand and shoved them in his pocket. “I don’t really need money for this movement. But this will come in handy.” He scratched his beard and looked at me, reading me like a book. I flicked my cigarette into the street and pulled 2 new ones out of my pack, offering him one. He took a huge drag, sucking up half the cigarette in a single puff.
“Ya know,” he said while exhaling a large plume of dark smoke, not unlike what you’d see coming out of the powerstroke of a pickup truck, “If you really want to help, you could give me a ride somewhere. I need to pick something up.”
Well, I had nothing planned for the rest of the day. If I had said no I’d have just ended up at home drinking myself into another stupor, eating, and jacking off. An embarrassing display that would keep repeating itself until I fell asleep. Plus, the time was about to run out on the meter.
“Where do you need to go?” I asked while pulling out of the parking spot.
“Stay on this street and head east. It’s not too far of a drive. But first…” He pulls the $3 out of his pocket. “Can we stop by a McDonald’s? I haven’t eaten in days.”