Herb sat on the curb for hours in the direct sunlight. The 100 degree temperatures didn’t bother him anymore. Nothing bothered him as he nodded off in what he thought was a heroin chic fashion. Herb looked like a street bum in his dirty ripped sweater and baggy corduroys. His face was yellow with a coat of sweat glued like mucus on his skin. He was unshaved and his dirty blonde hair was greasy hanging over his shoulders. He was out cold but the sweat was dripping like a retarded full body fountain inside of him. A 24-year old that looked like he was 40. He wasn’t alone.
Sarah sat next to him in a summer dress that was once meant to be colorful and comfortable. It was faded and stained under her leather jacket. She wore engineer boots over her unshaved legs to top off the winter look in July. She was still awake and waiting. Waiting for something. Or was it someone? She grabbed the last warm cheap opened beer and took a sip and spotted someone.
A man crossed the street towards her. Towards them. She forgot about Herb already. She hid her beer quickly as if it were the police approaching her but it was more of a quick hide to get what she needed. Part of what she needed. As the handsome casually dressed man approached her she stood up as fast as her dehydrating dope sick body could.
“Hey. Remember me?” She asked the man.
“Uhh. No. Sorry” he said.
“You bought me a few beers last week and…”
“Sorry. I have to go.”
I don’t think he remembered her but if he did he wanted to forget her and avoid her.
“Can I get a few dollars from you?” she asked.
The man stopped. He thought for a moment while looking at her and smiled. A change in mind.
“We can work out a nice deal and you’ll get more than a few dollars.” He said.
Sarah looked at Herb who was now awake singing some song about Jesus staring into space. She shrugged him.
“Herbie. I’ll be right back. I’m going to earn a little money from this guy. Ok?” she asked.
By the time she finished telling Herb he was asleep again. She left him there and got into a cab with the man.
His name was Brad. He loved sex. He figured that he’d take Sarah to a motel outside of the city and wash her up first then have his way with her. He had the money to spend and in his mind he was doing a service. Washing, feeding and paying Sarah for sex was better than throwing a dollar in her cup on the street. He’ll take care of her for an hour or so and go back to work.
An hour or so later Brad dropped Sarah off on the curb where she found him and left in the cab. Brad was dropped off about 6 blocks away at a coffee shop. He decided to take the rest of his busy day off. He didn’t even need to call work. They knew he’d be back the next day. He approached the counter and stopped to think a minute,
“Large boiler maker Brad?” the cute awkward girl with the apron behind the counter asked.
“Sure Sue.” Brad answered.
Sue rang up his order excited that Brad remembered her name forgetting that she wore a nametag. Another taller and heavier woman named Carrie made Brad’s drink. She knew how to make it best and was eager to please Brad. All of the coffee shop girls were. He only slept with one of them so far and she wasn’t there.
Brad grabbed his coffee and gave a secret tip to Sue and Carrie. He paused like he was going to sit down. Sue and Carrie were watching his every move. Brad walked out the door into the blazing hot city sun.
“OMG. I love when Brad stops in.” Carrie said.
“I don’t know whether I like his tips or his looks better.” Sue said.
“I would never date and older man except for him.”
“I just want to fuck him”
“Yeah. Me too.”
“Andrea was lucky o get that.”
They laughed and went back to work ringing up and making coffee after coffee. Making each customer smile with their great attitudes and sincere smiles. They were great at their job. When it slowed down Sue went through the shop to clean up the condiment area and gather trash.
“Hey Gary. How’s the novel coming?” Sue asked a customer sitting with his laptop on a couch.
“Hey Sue. I didn’t see you coming. I’m still writing.” Gary said.
“I love what you’ve read to me so far. I can’t wait to read it when it’s finished.”
“You’ll be top of the list of complimentary copies when it’s published.”
“Haha. Of course, Sue. Of course.”
Sue touched his shoulder and smiled as she moved on cleaning. Gary thought of asking her out for brief moment but went back to writing instead. He was in what he referred to as the “zone”. Gary’s novel was his version of the great American novel. The same goal of many successful and even more failed writers.
The novel was called Pictures of Karen. It was about a man named Doty and his life long obsession with Karen. The one that got away. Doty kept tabs on Karen since his early twenties. It’s actually a love story but Gary will have to finish it and you’ll have to read it to decide.
Gary’s novel starts off with:
“I’ve never loved. I never loved the way I loved her. I thought I loved before and before and once more or so. Not the way. Not the way I loved her. Love her. Love. Her name was Karen. Still is as far as I know. I’ve known her since grade school, maybe even longer. We lived next door to each other for almost 18 years. I watched her get older and mature. I always watched Karen.
We used to play house when we were 10 or 11 years old. It was Karen’s version of playing house. She reversed the roles. I had to squeeze into her sister Ann’s clothes. Her sister was only a year older and not much bigger than Karen. Karen even made me wear her sister’s underwear. This explains my cross-dressing and love for women’s underwear, as I got older. Karen would wear my clothes including my underoos. I usually wore Star Trek underoos with Kirk and Spock. I wanted Sulu or Uhura but they only had Spock and Kirk. The were baggy on Karen’s little body as opposed to Ann’s tight cotton panties and a bra on my chubby frame.
Karen pretended that she came home from work and I was supposed to cook dinner. We used a kid’s cook set with Play-Doh. Well I did. I cooked and set the table. She kissed me when she came to the table. We usually played when no one was home at her house. The last time we played it was a terrifying experience that may have scarred me for life.
We just finished playing house and were getting undressed before anyone got home. We were down to our underwear and Karen’s bedroom door burst open. It was Karen’s sister Ann. She laughed at first. We tried to get dressed and she stopped us.
“No. Stay. You 2 are going to do what I say or I’m telling mom and dad and yours too Doty.” Ann said.
Ann forced us to –“
Gary caught Sheila “the bird lady” reading over his shoulder. Sheila was a regular at the coffee shop and out of her mind. She was tall and skinny and looked like Big Bird. Some people called her “Jesus lady” because she was always handing out religious leaflets and preaching about Jesus. She was whispering his words in his ear. He looked at her and was speechless.
“You heathen!” Sheila exclaimed.
“Hi Sheila.” Gary said quietly.
“Your child pornography stories are going to send you straight to Hell.”
“It’s just a fictional novel, Sheila. It’s about innocent kids.”
“It’s child pornography.”
Gary looked up and saw the customers staring and Sue looked over and shrugged her arms. He closed his laptop and put it away, grabbed his cup and walked briskly out the door.
Sheila soon forgot about him and went back to the counter and ordered her 3rd refill of iced decaf coffee for the day so far. She put on a sweater and a raincoat and headed outside with no destination in mind. She only had a few leaflets left and wanted to give them to the right people.
She walked a block and stopped on the corner and tried to hand out her leaflets telling people that Jesus is coming and they need to be saved. Most people avoided her like a kid avoids a dentist. It took her almost an hour to get rid of her leaflets. She still had some iced decaf coffee in her hand. It looked like rusty water at this point. The temperature was reaching 104 degrees and it seemed to keep going. Sheila headed back to the coffee shop.
As she walked a head poked out of a cab yelling “Hey bird lady. When is the world going to end this time?” It seemed she was well known, especially for her predictions of Armageddon. She had a new date almost every month it seemed. She hasn’t been right yet but who knows?
Carl was the guy yelling out of the cab. Carl knew Sheila the bird lady from the coffee shop and the streets. His small pudgy belly moved fast along with his breath from yelling. He was out of shape middle age man. He was in the cab with his work buddy Bobby. Bobby was a handsome tall blond that has managed to remain in the closet for 42 years. He’s had a crush on Carl since their first run in at the Law office when Bobby first started 3 years ago. He could never figure out whether Carl was gay or not. Carl was single and seemed to hang out with and spend nights with men more than women. He’s a very masculine man so Bobby’s gaydar was thrown off. They worked a few floors apart but talked a lot on the elevator after work. They eventually started hanging out. Carl’s guy friends also threw off Bobby’s radar. He never had the courage to just ask and after 3 years it was even tougher.
They were on their way to lunch at the Browley Towers Bar and Grille. They both liked the food and the beer selection was pretty good. They walked in like they owned the place. At times they felt like they did because of the way they were treated.
Carl ordered the caramelized onion stuffed flounder with glazed pineapple. Bobby ordered a rare filet mignon with a butter fluffed potato and mushroom sauce. They both ordered the newest beer the bar listed. This one was a Russian beer called Tinkoff.
“What do you think it means in Russian?” Bobby asked.
“Tinkle I assume. It tastes like tinkle.” Carl said.
Bobby smiled but didn’t laugh. He thought it tasted pretty good.
“I never thought of a guy like you saying the word tinkle.” Bobby said.
“Ha. I’m full of surprises. Wait. What do you mean a guy like me?”
“Ha. You know. Kind of macho.”
“It’s a good thing Carl.”
They laughed and finished their food and continued drinking. Carl paid the check with the corporate credit card and pulled out a wad of cash for the tip. Bobby thanked him for lunch. His mind wandered to his crush on Carl. He was feeling pretty buzzed and wanted to tell him now. He made up his mind.
“Can we have a few more drinks and talk, Carl?”
“Uhh.. Yeh, let me call Marie and tell her I won’t be back in the office for another hour or 2.”
As Carl made his call Bobby was getting nervous and practicing what he was going to say in his head. Was he going to chicken out? Carl got off his phone and ordered more beer.
“Hey Carl. You know I’m gay and all, right? Have you ever wondered if I liked you?”
“Uhh. Well the way you look at me sometimes I get a feeling from you. “
“Well I have to tell you. . .”
The waiter interrupted and handed them their beers and walked away. The waiter’s name is Phil. He is an older man in his 50’s waiting tables. He is also an actor whenever he can find work. You might remember him from that TV commercial with the guy dressed as grape selling car insurance. Phil was they grape. It was played a lot for a few months on as many slots as it could fill. Phil’s been in a lot plays and made many appearances on movies as an extra. He will keep acting until he dies whether he makes a living off of it or not.
“I think I interrupted a gay man proposing to another.” Phil said.
“No way.” Stan answered.
Stan was a stunning young black college student majoring in Economics. He was there to pay for part of his school. He also liked all of the women he meets. He had a gift with the ladies.
“It looked that way. They’ve been coming here 5 days a week for years. They seem very chummy. Extra chummy. You know?”
“I guess it makes sense. How’s that work? Can men get married to each other in this state? I don’t know much about gay people.”
“You know I’m gay right, Stan?”
“Uhh. I do now. Thanks for sharing.”
“You never suspected me?”
“No man. I thought you were just a lonely old workaholic.”
“I am a little freaked by all of this but I guess that’s life. Can you watch my tables for a few minutes Phil?”
“Can’t handle it Stan?”
“No. I’m cool. Just want to grab a smoke and take out the trash.”
Stan walked away into the kitchen and grabbed the trash to take out back to the dumpster. The air outside was so humid all he could smell was the rotting food in the dumpster and he gagged a little and threw the bags of trash into the dumpster. He walked around the corner to have a cigarette.
“Got an extra smoke man?” a dirty man with a winter coat and wool hat named Gerald asked.
Stan knows Gerald from hanging by the dumpster for his smoke breaks.
“Hey Gerald. Of course. Here ya go.” Stan said.
“Why you out here in this heat Stan?”
“I needed a smoke. Little shell shocked from something.”
“What could shock you?”
“Oddly enough gay people. I just found our Phil was gay. I’ve been working with him over a year and he showed no signs.”
“Signs? Hahahaha. What signs do you expect? Pink underwear and fuzzy boas?”
“Nah man. No mannerisms. I don’t know. He just seemed normal. I mean heterosexual.”
“Who cares whether he slurps a rod instead of chewin clam? You’ve known him for a while and he’s still the same guy.”
“Yeah. I know. I’ll get over it.”
“Hey ya gotta dollar for me today?’
“Heh. Yeah. You’re the cheapest therapist around Gerald.. Thanks.”
Stan handed him a 10 dollar bill.
“Thank you Stan. See ya round.”
Gerald walked to the liquor store and bought the best bottle of whiskey he could find for 10 dollars. Every customer stared at him as he walked through the store and to the counter. The guy behind the counter was shocked that Gerald had money and was being polite for a change. He was a little slower than usual because of the heat.
“Hey buddy, take this and promise me that you’ll drink the whole thing. It’s hot out there and I don’t want you dying from dehydration.” A total stranger standing behind him said.
He handed him a giant bottle of water and told the cashier he’d pay for it. Gerald nodded a thank you and walked out of the store into the now 105 degree temperature outside.
The stranger’s name was Billy. He watched Gerald walk out and open the bottle of whiskey the minute he hit the sidewalk. Billy put his beer on the counter.
“You ever wonder how someone becomes like that?” Billy asked the cashier.
“No. I just sell booze.”
“I always wondered what makes a homeless person become that way.”
“Not me. Next in line please.”
Billy left with his beer contemplating the homeless and how good his life is and what would happen in his life to put him in that position. Billy headed down the street and gave a few more bottles of water to every homeless person he saw. Most of them weren’t too grateful because they wanted drugs and alcohol. He wanted to do something nice on his way home. He still was wearing his suit from his morning job interview. It was the only one he owned and every hot summer day like this one was ruining it slowly. Billy’s shirt and pants were wet with sweat. He only had a few blocks left to his apartment. He felt good but couldn’t wait to get out of the suit and kick back and have a few beers and watch a little TV before his dinner date.
It was a first date with a girl he met on a dating web site called sympathydating.com. The idea was you never knew which one of you was getting the sympathy. Billy hoped she’d be the way she looked on her profile and connected in person the way they did online. Her name was Nancy.
He got home and changed into shorts and a wife beater. Billy sat on his giant recliner and leaned back as he turned on the TV. He opened a beer and took a big sip. He flipped the channels and all he could seem to find were Judge shows. He thought about renting a movie on demand. He thought about masturbating. The phone rang.
“Yo.” Billy answered.
“It’s Harris. I’m outside. Let me in.” Harris said.
Billy opened the door and Harris came in from the hot temperatures. Harris was dressed for the heat in shorts and a light button up shirt. He made himself at home but Billy didn’t care. They’ve been friends for so long they were at home with each other.
Harris pulled out a baggy of marijuana and loaded his glass pipe. He took a huge hit and handed it to Billy. Billy did the same and got up and grabbed Harris a beer. They drank and smoked for a while.
“Ready for the big date tonight?”
“I guess. We’re meeting at a coffee shop and then going off to dinner.”
“Excited or scared?”
“Not really. The same old drill. Coffee conversation will reflect where we go t dinner and how much I want to spend. We eat then either hang out or bail. Either I get lucky or I don’t. Then we either have another date or we don’t. Same thing over and over.”
“I don’t miss being single when I think about all of the pain in the ass games and work involved.”
“Then why do you complain about your wife all the time?”
“You hear me complaining now?”
They smoked a little more and Harris left so Billy could get ready.
Harris hit the heated city streets and decided he wasn’t ready to go home yet and stopped at the coffee shop around the corner. Sue and Carrie were still working. Sue took his order and Carrie made it. They didn’t know him as well as the other customers but they recognized him as the guy that hits on every girl he sees in the coffee shop.
“A small triple shot Cappuccino, please.” Harris said.
“Coming up. That’ll be $3.98” Sue said
Harris reached in his back left pocket to get his wallet and it was gone. He started freaking and checked his other pockets. He remembered leaving it at his mom’s house before he went to see Billy.
“Uh. You’re not going to believe this but I forgot my wallet.”
“Do you want me to make a tab and just get me next time. I’ve seen you here before.”
A woman’s hand appeared with 4 dollar bills from behind and handed it to Sue.
“I got it” The woman said.
“No. that’s ok. I can skip it.” Harris said.
“It’s no big deal. It happens to all of us at least once. Just Pay it forward.”
Harris decided to sit down and enjoy the buzz he was on from Billy’s house. The woman who paid for his drink sat down next to him.
“This seat taken?” The woman asked.
“Nah. Sit down. Thanks again for the coffee.”
“Right. Thanks for the cappuccino.”
“Like I said, do it for someone else. Pay it forward.”
“Oh. Like that movie?”
“Basically. Hi. My name is Nancy.”
“Hi. I’m Harris.”
“You are Harris or your name is Harris.”
They talked for about an hour or so and really hit it off. Sue and Carrie were watching. They liked to observe the customers especially if it looked like they were hitting it off.
“Listen. I had a really great time talking to you and I’d love to do it again but I am meeting a sort of blind date here in a few minutes and it might look bad.” Nancy said.
“Blow him off and we’ll go out to dinner.”
“Are you telling me or asking me?”
“You’re married. Aren’t you?”
“Uh. Yeah. The ring must have given it away eh?”
“Yes. You’re too nice to be single. I assumed you were married or gay.”
“You’re pretty entertaining and I have a date so uh. . ’
“Wait a minute. Are you meeting a guy named Billy?”
“Yes. Well, he told me his name was William. How did you know?”
“He’s my best friend. I was just at his house and he told me he’s meeting a girl here. You seem too interesting and are way too beautiful to be dating online.”
“Well, I don’t do it often but it’s worth a try.”
“Billy’s a good guy. You’ll like him.”
“Is he as entertaining as you Harris?”
“He’s different. You’ll like him.”
Harris said his goodbye and was headed to the door when Billy came in.
“What are you dong here Harris?”
“I was ah . . warming up Nancy for you.”
“Wha. . .?”
“Just kidding. I just happen to run into her and. .”
“You didn’t make any of your famous moves did you?”
“I started to until we figured out she was waiting for you.”
“Oh and then you just pulled back after charming the panties off of her?’
“I told her I was married. She told me she was waiting for you. That was that.”
“That was that, huh?”
“Ok. Wish me luck.”
“You don’t need it. She’ll love you Billy.”
Harris left and Billy approached Nancy. Sue and Carrie were still watching in between making drinks and taking orders. They knew Billy too.
“Wow that girl is popular.” Sue said.
“Yeah, I think she was waiting for Billy when that other guy made the moves on her.”
“You guys analyzing customers again?” Roberta the manager interrupted.
The girls nodded and went back to work. Roberta made her point. She wasn’t a strict manager. She just liked to bust stones now and then. She was a beautiful tall black woman in her 30s with a big chest. Customers loved her.
“I’m going to run to the bank. Carl is in charge until I get back. Please don’t break his balls.” Roberta said.
“Will you be back before we leave?” Sue asked
“I should be. If not make sure you count your money on the register and give it to Carl to count and clock you out. Carrie. I need you to refill everything and brew fresh coffee before you leave.” Roberta said.
“Ok.” Sue said.
“No problem. Have good day if I don’t see you.” Carrie said.
Roberta headed towards the door with the bank deposit in her hand. Passing Billy and Nancy in the middle of the shop laughing. She smiled at them and out the door. As she turned the corner towards the bank she saw a guy and girl sitting along the wall of the coffee shop begging for change. It was Sarah and Herb. They moved the 6 blocks to the coffee shop. Looking at Herb you wonder how he even moved in the heat and his condition. The temperature lowered back down to 100 degrees. Roberta looked at them for a minute with disgust.
“You guys can’t sit here begging for change. You need to leave.” Roberta told them.
“Ok. Can we wait a few minutes? It’s really hot.” Sarah said.
“No. Leave now or I call the police.” Roberta said.
Sarah nudged Herb to wake him up as she drank the last of her bottled water Billy gave her earlier and the warm bear as a chaser. She stood up and grabbed her bag and was more aggressive in getting Herb to move. It wasn’t working so she started kicking him and yelling at him in the most annoying ear shattering voice you can imagine. He opened his eyes and looked at her and nodded back off.
“Wake up. We have to leave ya piece of shit.”
Roberta was long gone but Sarah knew she’d be back and they better find another spot. The day was winding down and the sun was going down. She finally grabbed Herb and pulled him onto his feet and he barely stood up and followed her.
It was still 100 degrees as Sarah and Herb stumbled down the city streets as the sunset.