Ol' John Morgan
Leaves flew from the trees as a strong wind blew from the north. The temperature hovered between 60 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, all day long. Busy, the traffic was congested all day long. Holidays were nearing and shoppers were out and about. It was cold but there were no clouds and all but the snow junkies and farmers were pleased. Recent pay cuts and lack of bonuses had people in a stressful frenzy.
Stop lights flashed green yellow and red. The drivers would screech to a stop or race the red. All were impatient to get to the next store, the coffee shop, the gas station, or back home. School was out due to it being Saturday. Gangs of kids strolled the shops, sidewalks, and parking lots looking for something to do. Old men sat on benches or in their cars waiting for old women. Pudgy parents chased pudgy toddlers. Teen girls with over priced purses went from store to store looking for deals and teen boys. Teen boys with overpriced sneakers and tire rims went from parking lot to parking lot looking for trouble and teen girls. Police roamed looking for troublesome teens, misbehaving pick pockets, fender benders, tickets, and friends to talk to.
It was a good nice day. All was good all was just the way it should be. Nothing was out of place. Nothing, save for the bundle of scarves and jackets on the corner. It stood there with a very ugly brown card board sign. The sign in smeared Sharpie read, 'Hungry and Homeless Please Help'. The bundle didn't match any of the surroundings. Next to the manicured bushes, hedges, and the architecturally engineered artistic sidewalk it was offensive. The apparent poverty of this creature was blatantly rude and depressing. Good citizens and Christians had been calling the police all day to have the trespasser thrown in jail. Never the less the heap was still there.
Vehicles passing by would throw slurs and cruel slanders at the bundle. A glass beer bottle had even been thrown at it. Shattering it hit the sidewalk and the beer splashed all over it. Still it stayed. The bundle of rags should have had more decency. It was plain as day that it was not attractive. All could see how poor and how truly down trodden the creature was. To most it wasn't even human. To all, it was depressing to see such lack of wealth.
"Get a job you slob!!!" came from the passenger's window. The SUV with spinning rims and a Jesus sticker screeched off. It swerved away ignoring all traffic laws.
An old man that had been walking into a restaurant had observed the incident. Humbly he approached the heap of jackets. Offering up his own jacket he asked if there was anything he could and promised after handing over a dollar bill he would bring him a to-go coffee.
Another half hour went by. An old sedan with fading paint handed him a dollar. Latter a squealing Toyota truck with a lawn mower and four big guys handed him a taco, a free lawn clipping card, two dollars, and change.
The old man from the restaurant never came back. Comically a Hybrid with a Coexist sticker and slew of Democratic hippy stickers on their bumper had cussed him out. Slowly it had pulled up acting like they would be generous, kind, or thoughtful. The window had rolled down issuing a cloud of marijuana smoke. A kid, no older than 15, stuck his head out.
"Hey geezer where's the dealer? He said he'd be standing near a Mercedes. Well there's the Mercedes," He pointed at a Mercedes parked at the restaurant behind him. "Well have you seen him?"
The heap of jackets shook its head.
"Huh…fine you stupid bum. I won't be giving you the end of my nub. You f***ing bum someone should make you bleed. I can't stand your type. It should be a crime to be poor. As a matter of fact it is. You are a criminal. Loitering is punishable by law. And you're trespassing on this parking lot and sidewalk. I'm going to call the cops." Turning to the driver, "hey man let's go find some dope and I hear he got some hash this week." The car drove off.
Slowly the sun started to set. 55 degrees flashing on the bank's sign dropped to 43 degrees. The street lights and the cars' headlights flickered on. Sure enough the kid had called the police. Unlike other citizens this kid smoking dope most likely has wealthy influential parents. Therefore when he calls the police they respond. Case in point two minutes after the Hybrid Subaru pulled off a police car pulled into sight. Due to the freezing cold and a set on of Parkinson's the heap wasn't as fast to clear the area before the police car could approach. The backpack was on. The grocery bag full of the last month's donations was in hand. He was just about to push the button for the crosswalk. That's when…
"Hey Ol' Morgan where the hell do you think you're goin'? Hey!!! I'm talkin' to you! Turn around!!" The sheriff's shiny car pulled up alongside him completely ignorant of the traffic he was blocking. It was the most feared and hated of the whole force. This man was even hated by his own squad. "So what you'd panhandle this week?" Walking over he turned the heap around to grab his grocery bag. "Hmm… not too bad. A Snickers bar, some soap (you definitely stink), a free lawn clipping (that's stupid you're just a worthless bum like you'd ever have a home), oooh and a pack of cigarettes." The sheriff smiled that foul and dreadful sort of way.
The bag of goodies that had been piling up for almost two months Ol' Morgan had been wishing to go through slowly. The candy bar he had kept so safely in his back pack he had taken it out earlier to have as a treat after he was done. It had been treasured and guarded over since a month ago. The cigarettes he kept to use to barter for clothes and change from convicts getting out of the nearby jail. Contrary to the sheriffs belief he had bought the soap himself only three hours ago at the 98 Cent Store. Not only that, but the grocery bag had two half eaten to go boxes, a warm dollar burger, a milk carton, and his only bottle of aspirin.
"Well, I think I'll confiscate this for evidence of your apparent vagrancy. But here keep this and this." He took out one bar of soap and the free lawn clipping card. "The soap is for the smell and the card is just in case you ever need a lawn mowed." Chuckling he walked back to his car. Laughing even louder, "You having a lawn or a house what a joke," hysterically laughing, "Now next time I ketch you panhandling I'm gonna whop your ass then take you to lock up!!" Just before speeding off the passenger window rolled down. "Honey would you?" could be heard inside.
A girl no older than 16 in the passenger's seat, "Okay honey bear." Looking with disgust at the homeless man, "Here you pervert bum we don't need any sour milk!" The full milk carton came flying out the window.
The homeless man didn't catch the milk carton and it spilt all over him. Squealing laughter and tires the police car sped off.
Though the wind calmed a little the temperature was still 43 degrees and starting to flicker 42. Nevertheless he was now soaked to the bone. Reeking of stale beer and milk he crossed the road. Most stores were closing; aspirin would have to wait till tomorrow. Arthritis was starting to make his left leg ache again. Most would lie down, call a cab, or even an ambulance the pain was not only unbearable it was making it hard to breathe. Through the haze of his vision he could see the sign of the Circle K spinning slowly. The glow of the neon sign fell upon the homeless man. A chime of the door startled the owner from his slumber behind the counter. Until he recognized the homeless man he was about to turn his Wi-Fi Bollywood Radio down. He pulled his hand from the radio and went to stocking cigarettes.
1 + 5 + 2 + 55 cents +.10 + .50 equal enough for a treat. Two months ago it was his 80th birthday. There was no celebrating two months ago he had a spider bite. A brown recluse had crawled into his blankets when he was sleeping. It hadn't bit him till it crawled into his shirt. Due to his thick skin he didn't even feel the spider crawling on him. Just as he walked into the welfare center to check the bulletin board for work a warm burning sting hit his lower extremities. The spider had crawled into his pants. He had reached down to scratch his upper thigh and that's when the spider attacked. The spider bit him three times. All the while in the crowded welfare office he was jumping up and down trying to find the cause of the burning sensation.
"Are you okay?" A little toddler looked at him sideways.
"Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!," he kept jumping up and down.
"Maybe it's a new dance!" A mentally handicapped man started imitating him. Up and down the man hopped.
The toddler tried to join in but their parent stopped them with a glare and yank of their arm. All people in the office save for one smiling Spanish lady had snarls on their faces. Right then he overheard the social service worker at the counter calling the police. He had to leave before the psychologist came out of her office. At a glance, this cold hearted lady could have a person thrown in an institution no need of evidence or reason and with no issues in court. For the next month he had to recover from this spider bite. With no medicine except for one give away 8oz bottle of old aspirin at the clinic and with no proper nutrition it was a long painful month.
But what would be worthy of an 80th birthday treat? He decided to splurge on a dollar beer and a Snickers bar. Unlike some of the street wanderers and contrary to popular belief alcohol in anyway was out of the question. Just the smell of it on a homeless man and they could be locked up for drinking in public. But due to the smell of his rotting teeth and availability to a shower he and many other homeless would get a smell that was hard to bare. Most people that were not homeless would blame the smell on alcohol. If only they could see what happens when they don't take a shower for months on end and try not having a dentist. Maybe then they would know the truth of what that rotting smell comes from. But not wanting to upset a potential donation or admit to having such horrible hygiene Morgan would agree or even say the smell was from a tasty beer. It was always easier that way.
He approached the counter with ease. The store was empty of customers. Quiet, save for a computer radio softly playing some Hindi music, only Morgan and the owner were to be found in that part of the world.
"Is that all?" the owner monotonously rang up the items.
"Hey, it must be some special occasion or something. What is it Ol' Morgan? I never see you buy beer. What was it almost a year ago since I last saw you purchase a beer?" Morgan could never fool that man. He was always keen on everything.
"Oh, nothing just my birthday."
"Really? You must be what a hundred years old now. Like as old as Mohammed himself." A smile wrinkled on the owner's face. A face that was as weathered and tough as Morgan's.
Morgan laughed, "Yeah and who's speaking?"
"Oh I'm not that old. I'm only 79."
"And I'm 80."
"Well I don't turn 80 for another three months. So, you're like an ancient ruin compared to me."
"So those three months automatically make you 20 years younger than me?"
Quietly laughing to themselves about a simple similarity they connected on a level close to friendship. Though neither one was born in the same town or had any similar acquaintances in that split second it was easy to see that the two had more in common then could be deduced from the outward appearance. Two commonly out casted old men shared a common thread of age that made them both laugh in spite of public opinion.
A minute later that moment would be shattered for in a noisy display of ego two pimped out vehicles screeched into the parking lot. Both old men went into a stiff defensive mode. The owner turned his radio off and Morgan quickly grabbed his stuff. But before Morgan turned away the owner stopped him.
"Here I was going to throw these out any way." He gave Morgan a whole two grocery bags full of packaged pastries.
"How much do I owe you?"
"Nothing, go ahead and take them or I'll have to throw them away."
"I mean for the beer and candy bar."
"Oh just think of it as a birthday gift. Hey and here's a bunch of bananas." The owner loaded a huge bunch of bananas into a grocery bag. He also threw in a lighter. "You know my wife a devout Muslim and my own mother a devout Hindu are always bugging me about charity. I swear it's the only thing those two agree on and the two are always after me about it. Women you know."
"Thank you Jackson."
"No worries, now you take care and don't go telling everyone about this. I'm not usually so generous. It's just I like you, you don't steal from me, you are not racist, you never threaten me, you are polite, honest, even in your shape in your poverty you are still good and those are hard found traits in this place." The owner's eyes read the deepest sincerity.
BING, BING, BANG… The kids that had screeched in had gone into the tattoo parlor next door and now they were entering the store. Blazing cuss words, profanities, and racial slurs the five girls and two adults advanced upon the store. Morgan without another word raced out the door. A girl with a Gucci bag purposely blocked Morgan's path out the door.
"OMG. What a disgusting bum. So what would you do for a dollar you pervert? You know my stepmom would pay for a trick, you know a sexual one." All the other customers cracked up laughing.
Morgan pushed pass the thirteen year old. She glared with the most hopeless look of loss in her eyes. Cruelty reeked all over the adolescent.
In a fit of rage she uttered, "Watch it old man! Oh my god he touched me. SEXUAL HARASSMENT! Stupid perv."
"God he touched you. I hope he didn't give you Typhoid," A girl even younger than the other added.
"Or Clemidia." Another joined in.
"No that was your boyfriend who gave me that," the thirteen year old answered the twelve year old.
A man in his late twenties laughed at a man turning thirty that day. Clueless to the guys ages the girls thought they were only 20 and 21.
The thirty year old man chuckled, "Oh Tiff your just a slut sleeping with your uncle and this homeless man."
Completely affected by the cruel comment she quietly responded, "No I'm not only you baby."
Disgustingly the thirty year old walked over to the girl and grabbed her ass. He then along with the other man started yelling at the owner to hurry it up and get them their booze and the pink pills, Prozac for women or girls. Racist slurs raced from one man to the other. After paying they made jokes about robbing the store and 'putting a bullet in his skull'. This, the owner knew, they could do and get away with.
Morgan walked away with his head down. He had to shake his head when he passed by the vehicles parked in the lot. One lifted overly improved custom painted truck and a lowered corvette with spinning rims screamed egotistical assholes. Along with just the simple first impression one look closer and it was easy to see they were scum. A hitch cover on one was a highly detailed penis and a sticker on the back window was a highly detailed naked girl. On the other vehicle the license plate read, 'SK00lG1RLS'. On the license plate cover it read 'Pimp'.
Arthritis made the walk to camp slow. Half way there he sat at an unnoticeable picnic table in the industrial park. The beer was icy cold and made him recall old sweet hard to bare memories. Smells of a furnace turning on and diner on the stove, the sound of an active home, sounds of children playing in the yard, an announcer on TV advertising insurance, the taste of a Miller beer from a 12 pack, sunlight from a setting sun drifting through the dust in the air, and a dog curled up at his feet drifted painfully slow through his mind. A tear rolled down leather cheeks and got lost in the weeds growing at his feet.
Shooting pains in his back subdued and the arthritis was tolerable, the cheap beer was harsh but it gave him a false sense of hope. Though idiotic in scope, he felt like he was just like any other person for that hour he took sipping his beer. He felt like he did when he wasn't homeless. He felt normal. He felt for that one hour like he was just an average citizen. Not a hobo, not a stain on society, not weird, not a criminal, not a drain on the world; he felt like every other average American after work. Sitting down and popping a top not an alcoholic just an adult taking it easy. Just like all the adults at this time of night would be doing, sitting down at a table or in front of a TV with a glass of wine or a can of beer. Sitting down sipping a drink without a worry in the world, but he knew that sort of thing was almost not allowed for his type.
Against all unwritten laws of the homeless drinking was not a luxury. All alcohol was allowed for was to clean wounds with and as a pain killer nothing more. Those who openly drank on the streets in public were usually either not homeless or would end up in jail a lot.
Now that he was calm and didn't feel the pain so much Morgan could start to smell the beer stains on his clothes from earlier. Yet, to find an open and free laundry machines was impossible. Recently the place to wash clothes was a very pious church that had self righteous converters but at this hour it would be closed. One other place, but it was a last resorts, had been known to have people beat up or thrown in jail. The place was a low income housing mainly used to house out going inmates on parole. It was fine every once in awhile but the property owners didn't like bums using their facilities to wash clothes. The residents didn't mind at all. Problem was the property owner's kids were always ending up in prison and so whenever they were unemployed or on parole they would stay there. That was when the facilities were off limits and even a danger zone. Those months residents would actually lock their valuables in their trunks.
Morgan couldn't stand the smell any more. He decided he'd scope the place out. If he saw the owners' vehicles he would just go to the park a mile away and wash his clothes in the bathroom sink. A sigh of relief approaching the tenement he could easily see the owners' kids were not home. Spanish children and a group of hippies were out under the big old trees. A game of soccer was under way and people were sitting around smoking. He immediately made his way to the laundry in the building.
An old Apache woman was drying clothes on wires. She had just pinned up the last of her laundry when she noticed Morgan.
"Hola Morgan, como estas?" She remembered his name.
"Here is some soap if you could watch my things. I have to go to the bathroom. And, whew, you definitely need your clothes cleaned." She smiled then accidently dropped enough change to use the dryer. The dryer of course was a pay machine, unlike the washer.
All of his clothes were washed and dried when the Apache woman returned in a frenzy. Running in she almost tripped and fell. Morgan caught her. In her eyes was panic and fear.
All she said as she grabbed all her laundry was, "There here, there here… Aqui… aqui"
She flew out the door with laundry dragging and dropping. Morgan rushed to put his clothes on. Sure enough just as he opened the door onto the hallway the front doors facing the laundry room banged open. He nearly closed the door and hid behind as two big biker guys strolled into the hallway. Hiding behind the door of the laundry room, Morgan's heart raced with fear. He could hear loud stomps in the hallway. Thuds could be heard coming his way. Quickly he thought of just opening the door and running for an exit. Just then he heard one of the men yelling.
"Gus! Where yuh goin?!?"
"None of your business."
"Hey have mom clean your shirt at home. The Mexicans use those washers could have deceases in it."
"Your right cuz." The stomps stopped at the laundry doors.
Morgan stood there. All he could hear for one whole moment was his loud heart beat and breathing. He was scared that for how loud his breathing and heart beat was the man on the other side of the door would surely hear it.
The world stood still for that minute. All plans of escape had escaped his mind.
In three shorts seconds, in two short breaths that biker would bust through that door. He would bust the door down and then bust his head open.
The door knob turned and the door creaked and millimeter. Then the door stayed that way as footsteps retreated back down the hallway and up the stairs. Running he got himself out of that building as fast and as invisible as possible. He didn't look back until he got to the over pass and his camp.
It was relieving to see that all the make shift shelters were still standing. From the smell and the small noises of discomfort he could tell mostly everyone was still there. No one was dead, corpses smell better. No one from what he could gather died, got in a pedestrian accident, thrown in jail, or thrown in an institution. It was a small found comfort that he wasn't completely alone. His circumstantial friends were more like family than his own. For most days he was all by himself and alone.
He crawled into an unoccupied pile of clothes, plastic bags, and blankets. As always it itched with filth, fleas, ticks, and piss from animals in the region. Compared to other nights it was easier to sleep. Since the property owners had been keeping police and social service workers off his land they had a short window of unbothered sleep. Unbothered in the way of no raids, unbothered did not include the ever present suburb thugs raiding their camps or the lack of food that drove people to violence toward one another. Unbothered only meant not harassed by the better off, it was a blessing few knew.
Slowly the sound of his heartbeat put him into a restless sleep. Far away the midnight's train passed by blowing horns. The sound of that train made him think of memories often visited in his recent despair. Memories flashed in his mind of a big red barn with fading paint, a little brown eyed girl with a teddy bear, a golden brown field in the sun light, an old blue truck tailgate down train passing by and his soul mate in his arms.