Tuesday, June 1, 2010

More From the Halfway House

I am being schooled by Jessica (though everyone calls her Jess) on the rest of the ragtag bunch of folks from the halfway house down the street. What to bring them, and how to treat them. 
There is Steve, the blind man with a gentle face. He gets a cup of black coffee and tons of sugar and creamer. He spills the sugar everywhere, but I can't get irritated because he loves Steppenwolf. He seat-dances and I give him tons of free plays on the jukebox. Steve very occasionally orders breakfast and Jess tells me where to place the ketchup so he can find it on the table. Steve always comes in alone and sits for hours. 
Then there is my personal favorite. I can't remember his name. His story is the most interesting. This man has wiry hair and a deeply lined face. His smile is full of holes, and he speaks with a very heavy accent that I cannot place. I ask my fellow servers and discover that he is a former boxer. From Bosnia of all places. Apparently he was in the states for a match and was hit by a car. That not only explains his halting speech, but the dent in his forehead as well. He lives in this halfway house because, for some reasons unexplained; he cannot return home. This makes me very sad almost daily.  His breakfast order never changes: two eggs (up) with hash browns and toast. I am warned to deliver his eggs to him unbroken. And one day I fail in this. Doris hands me his plate and whispers intently, 'Bring this over to him quick, I broke one but if you haul ass he might not notice.'
He notices. 
Never in my life; before or since, have I been shrieked at by a possibly brain-damaged Bosnian ex-boxer. Its an experience that sticks with you. 
I apologize and bring the plate back to Doris. He keeps yelling and I am a little afraid. Doris re-makes his breakfast and takes it over personally, since the sight of me only angers him further. 
The next day he walks in wearing headphones and an ear-to-ear smile. He walks right up to where I am standing at the counter, stocking coffee filters. 
"Hey man, how's it goin'? Whatcha listening to?"
The grin on his face grows as he lifts a headphone from one ear. 
"Peeeeeeenk Fllloooyyyyd" he croaks. 
I smile, and he gently places the headphones on my head so I can hear a scratchy recording of 'Wish You Were Here' on his Walkman. 
And I know he doesn't hold a grudge. 

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