coffee and charity

coins 3I decided to write a short piece about giving a guy a couple of bucks outside a fast food joint . I was inspired , again , by a recent post over at No Facilities , about giving cash to the homeless .

I was telling a story to my friend Phil , just yesterday or the day before , about an old friend of mine from way back , Fred Kail , who was an old man even then . We cleaned student apartments together and got to be buddies . There was one incident at the airport ( don’t recall why we were there ; probably a friend of his or mine was arriving ) and a young woman approached asking for money . Seems to me she was a Hari Krishna , or a Moonie , but that may be a memory revision of mine . Anyway , Fred reached into his wallet and pulled out a five dollar bill . Against my protest ( my policy is never to invest in cults ) Fred handed her the fiver . She took it and said , ” Most people give ten . ”  As drunken Freddy says in the John Huston movie The Dead , based on a James Joyce story : ( thick Irish brogue )  : ” Do you believe that , now ? ”

To his credit , Fred instantly grabbed his $ 5 back from her and told the greedy beggar : ” I’m not most people , young lady . ”

And he wasn’t , old Fred ;  he wasn’t most people .  I’ve considered writing about Fred Kail from time to time , but I don’t think I could do my old buddy justice in mere words , so I have chickened out several times on writing about him .Eventually he  moved out to “God’s Country” with a new girlfriend he’d met and was gone . I was never really sure where God’s country was , I’m sorry to say , and I lost track of him . By then Fred was probably ninety . Now , he’s probably floating around with little wings and a harp in another God’s country , I suppose . No doubt he’s still speaking up for the working man and holding his head high , complimenting Saint Peter’s wife on some piece of jewelry she is wearing . ” Women go to a special trouble in choosing a particular broach or necklace to wear , ” Fred instructed me once , ” and they appreciate a compliment about it “. .  Didn’t matter to him if it was a waitress or our crusty old boss Mrs. K , Fred handed out  his compliments to make someone’s  day .

But , this is not a post about Fred Kail . Somehow I often seem to wander off the beaten track. You know : meandering . I guess my short attention span is getting shorter . I’m trying to keep up with the national average on that , however . So , it’s all good . I’m waiting for that average American’s  attention span to slip into negative numbers .Won’t be too many years from now , I think . Then what ?  Perhaps you , too , should prepare . But I’ll leave that up to you .

So , I was driving back down to L.A. from Portland , Oregon , recently , and I decided to get a coffee . I was somewhere just past Medford and the pickings were thin . It was just before going over the pass into California . But I spotted a fast food place and that would be good enough to get a coffee . I had to wind around a curved little road after I left the Freeway to get to the place , but that was okay , too . I went in and ordered my coffee . ” I’ll make you a fresh pot ,” the middle-aged woman told me , like she was doing me a big favor . I think I woke her up or startled her a bit . A customer ! And she set about brewing the coffee . ” It’ll be just a sec ,” she said .cafe sign

A  “sec”  in that part of Oregon , evidently , stretches on and on . After awhile I went outside the place to enjoy the morning air . If I were a smoker it would have been a cigarette break . Smoke ’em if you got ’em . Light up another ; we’re not going noplace soon .

I’m used to fast food ( in this instance coffee only ) being fast . I thought that that’s the whole idea . People don’t go to fast food joints for the gourmet dining experience , despite the slick  corporate advertising . eg:” Ah ! You should try their bacon and fish combo with black pepper curly fries. Exquiseet ! ”  No . No.

While I was out there in no man’s land wondering when the coffee would finally be done , a ragged old guy walked up . He had come out of nowhere . Probably he was camped out under a nearby tree line . He walked up nonchalantly , as if he were merely out for a morning walk in the neighborhood . But , you have to picture this place . No neighborhood .  The isolated fast food structure was in a little ravine . There were a few rolling hills in the area , mostly bare of much vegetation . Pined- mountains on the horizon . A little cluster of trees not too far away . I was pretty sure I’d find this guy’s cardboard or tarp lean-to under there if I looked .

I wasn’t going to look , though , just because I had the time to do that , apparently , before the medium cup of coffee would be ready . By the way , the woman gave me the senior’s price , which saved me a dollar or two . She didn’t have the tact to ask if I were a senior — just pegged me as one without question , and applied the senior discount . I’m beyond , at this point , being irked by that kind of a thing. I’m beyond caring , likewise , when the drug store clerks ask me for ID before they sell me my six pack of beer . Policy gets you coming and going . It’s all corporate controlled nowadays , I realize . The store cashier is just following orders . Fred Kail would have , perhaps , said something about it ; maybe would have urged the clerks to rise up and resist . But  those days are pretty much over, I’m afraid . We just go along to get along .

I waited fifteen or twenty minutes for my medium cup of coffee with no complaint . I twisted the delay around in my mind a bit , though . I considered bailing on the coffee ; but I knew , then , I’d have to wait for Yreka , or Weed , to eventully get my java fix . I weighed it all at least a couple of times in my head . And , as it happened , I decided to wait .

” I’m trying to get my coffee ” the ragged man told me , as if trying to make small talk .  Just a couple of guys out for a morning stroll . It came down to money , though , of course . I gave him a couple of bucks , and he went right on in to the place and walked up to the counter . He was a dollar or so short of the price for the breakfast burrito and coffee . I was inside again , too , at this point , still waiting for my coffee . The guy was negotiating with the woman . I didn’t hear her offer him the senior discount . He out-seniored me by a bit , though . Finally a kid who worked back there in the kitchen came up with a dollar of his own to hand to the guy and we were in business . The coffee was done , too ! , and the world was , again , an exciting place to be .

The coffee tasted like peach pits that  had been marinated in kerosine and flavored with moldy potatoes . But still —-I had the senior discount and I was on my way back to the freeway .. I was afraid that if I had ordered food there I might wind up like that ragged old guy , sleeping under the trees under a dirty tarp and dependent on begging for breakfast burritos in the middle of nowhere  because the purpose of life had mysteriously vanished . Or , perhaps I exaggerate .

By the way , the ragged guy seemed happy enough to get my two dollars despite the fact that he surely knew he’d need a dollar or two more to get his food . It wasn’t like there was a big crowd of suckers to beg the money from . I was it . He and I were comrades , in a way , I understood .  He didn’t have to wait for his coffee , though . He happened along right at the right moment when the coffee was finally done . He got it fast , just like all was right with the world ; just like fast food was exactly what it was meant to be .

I could see a smile on his face , I think , that ragged old man . The woman behind the counter smiled , too , her ( perhaps ) corporate -ordered smile . I tried a smile , too , although it was a bit forced .

All was right with the world !  (More or less , anyhow ).

9 Comments

Filed under humor

9 responses to “coffee and charity

  1. Reblogged this on No Facilities and commented:
    When your post inspires another post, you’re not in control of where the inspiration takes the writer. Fortunately, Dan (the other Dan) never disappoints. He winds meanders a bit, but then, that’s his stock and trade.

  2. I reblogged this on No Facilities. I love the way you lead us through the woods on posts like this. Nice job.

  3. I have been told some of my longer, more rambling posts are like a buzzing bumblebee, Dan! I like the word “meandering” and how you told your story well. It made its point and you made it interesting 🙂
    I give a little depending on circumstances. I am pretty sure I would not give any money to a Hari Krishna member. It was a shame that the girl did not appreciate $5 from your longtime friend, Fred K.

  4. “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25

  5. Nice meander, Dan. As an Oregon resident. Yep, things move at their own pace around here.

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