© Nicholas 2004


I remembered to get two cups of coffee and a dozen sugars when we went through the line. Mom was shaking already, so I knew she needed a lot of coffee to get going. I hated the stuff, but took it and the church ladies had long ago stopped saying anything about it. I'd still get a "Morning Sweetie," or "Let me fill that plate Sugar, so you can fill that tummy." Geesh, not like I had a big stomach or anything, seemed I could never get it full even when they filled the plate. I looked through the serving window all around the kitchen. He wasn't there. Well, what the fuck, I knew he wouldn't be. Geesh, what was wrong with me!

I sat across the table from the big black lady and put the coffee in front of Mom. Shit, Mom forget to get a glass of milk. Now I only had the one. Oh well. Mom was digging in her purse again and they were talking about something like lipstick or something. I was eating my eggs. They were pretty good this morning, almost yellow, I better remember to tell the church ladies thanks.

"Now'em you do's what I says with that and you be all great all day," the black lady was saying. Mom was passing something across the table, looked like a Micky D's napkin.

"See now, I found this sample at the store and wrapped it careful," she said.

The black lady peeked inside and beamed a big grin and laughed again. "Yep, I bet you wrapped it nice and warm and cozy tight!" Damn, she shook the whole table. Don't know about tight in a napkin, but she made me grin to see the coffee dancing at the top of the styrofoam cup. Wonder if coffee danced more with the sugar in or the sugar out? Wonder if milk danced the same? Can't check, already drank all of mine. Last bite of toast too now. Guess we'll be leaving soon.

Sure enough, Mom pushed her tray at me and I took them both to the window. When I turned around she was already almost outside with the last cup of coffee in her hand and pulling a cigarette out of her pocket. She didn't smoke a lot and I wished she'd stop. She told me she would once we got a place back, but it was just too hard to quit and everything. She laughed though that she would never quit her coffee. "Settles my nerves," she said and I guess she was right. She was usually shaking bad before her cups and not so much afterwards. I used to make her coffee in the morning. I'd even learned to use half of yesterdays grounds with some new to make it last longer. Sugar and cream was always easy, shit, Micky D's just had it out in a tub and I'd breeze in and get a handful or two. Ground coffee was harder, but I watched the prices at the store and saved whatever money I found and then would dig around for the stuff in the bottom of Mom's purse. Always seemed to get us through. It wasn't like I was stealing from her, I never took real money, just the change she'd throw in there and forget about. Then we had to leave and couldn't take the pot. Wonder how much grounds it takes at the shelter to make that real big pot? Wow, I could never buy that much I bet.

Mom was hugging the black lady and then turned to me. "You be good at school today," she said and gave me a little kiss on the head. Geesh right there in front of everybody!

"Yeah Mom, good luck finding a job," my morning ritual over, I turned and headed the other direction. I didn't want to worry her, but I didn't really like lying either. There wasn't any school to go to for kids like me here, but I knew she couldn't take me along and find any work, so I pretended for her. Wasn't bad though, almost like school in a way. I'd learned all kinds of things since we'd been here. I learned how to read the map of the bus lines and had even taken one all the way out to the place where everybody lived in mansions! I learned if you got the transfer thingies you could ride around all day for 50 cents if you were a kid. And all the buses kind of changed at a great big mall, so you could get a burger, or walk through and just look at everything, all for about two bucks! I could make that in about an hour on most corners, sometimes a lot faster too. I'd try that new corner again this morning. Maybe........

Shit, dufus, get over it! Geesh what a dork.

"Hey mister, I dropped some of my lunch money on the bus I guess, could you spare a quarter for me? I gotta get to school quick." He didn't look, but reached inside his pocket and gave me what came out. "Thanks Mister! You saved my life!" He walked on by like I almost wasn't there. Cool, almost 75 cents right away!

"Uh could you help? I forgot my lunch money, could I borrow a quarter lady?"

She looked and frowned, then looked and smiled and reached in her purse. I loved it when they looked. Ladies sometimes really gave a lot too. Yes! She pulled out two dollar bills and told me to have a big lunch today! "Thanks lady, I'll pay you back tomorrow!"

She smiled and laughed like we both knew the real chance of that.

Oh well, now I had enough for the day, maybe I'd see where that number 96 bus went. Edison Lakes it always said. Maybe there was a big lake and I could find a pole and fish or something.

Wonder if fish ever skipped school? I was grinning at the thought and skipped off toward the big bus stop a couple of streets over.

Edison Lakes my ass! Six big office buildings and four kind of ponds out front. Sure they had some big fountains shooting water way up, and the blue glass buildings showed the clouds seeming to collide with themselves. But Lakes? Not to my way of thinking.

Well I'd gotten off the bus, so I might as well explore it all. Walking down the fancy grass it felt like a sponge beneath my tennis shoes. I couldn't resist and flopped down and rolled and rolled down the hill. I was laughing and rolling and rolling and laughing and I figured I better stop or lake or not, I'd be swimming! I came up with one shoe untied, so I just shucked them and my socks off and ran back up the hill and rolled down it again. Oh God! I felt as free as one of the birds up there. Oh Shit! Oh God! Oh NO!!!!!!! The building's falling over! Oh SHIT! It's gonna crush me!

I jumped up and ran kind of dizzy like down to the pond and looked back. Damn, the building wasn't moving! It was standing rock still. I slowly walked back up to where my shoes and socks were laying and sure enough, just before I got there the building is falling over again. I backed up, I moved forward; still, falling, falling, still. Damn that was the craziest thing! The clouds whipping by made it feel like the whole thing was tumbling down. I laughed and ran along the pond shore weaving in and out so the building would fall and then stand still and then fall again and then stand still. I was laughing so hard I had to stop and sit down. The grass felt so soft beneath my feet and hands. It was softer than the mattress at the shelter! Damn, this would be a great place to go camping! Not that I had ever been camping, but you see them car commercials where everyone is in the woods and making marshmallows and stuff. No bears though! Shit, I didn't need no bears!

"Hi son," some suit said behind me sudden like.

Damn, where did he come from! Scared the shit outta me. "Oh, Hi." I managed like a complete moron.

"Saw you running and you looked kind of scared like, everything okay?" he asked.

I looked, he looked, right at me, saw me right there. Not like the ones that saw me for a plop of pigeon poop splattered on the pavement; white around the edges but with a sickly wormy kind of brown thing inside. He saw me for a boy and wanted to know if I was scared! I giggled, well, I had been right? "Come on!" I said and grabbed his hand and ran back up a bit and pointed at the top of the building. He didn't hesitate, just followed right along. "I thought it was falling on me!"

"Damn!" he laughed. "I'll have to talk to the architect!"

"Nah," I said and pulled him back toward the pond. "See? It's some kind of optional solution."

He was laughing full time now and choked out, "Optical Illusion!"

"Yeah!" I squealed, "Like that!"

"I haven't taken time to see that in about 20 years," he said. "Used to be telephone poles tipping over! How was the grass for rolling?"

"Great! Wanna' try?" I pulled on his hand.

"Whoa, whoa, cool your jets," he laughed. "I can't do that in my suit."

"Well then take it off!" I hollered as I ran back up and started rolling down again. I came to a stop kind of near his feet and he was smiling and shaking his head. "Oh, yeah, guess you can't really do that here either, can you?" I said.

"No, but watching you sure makes me want to," he said tousling my already messy hair. "How about we skip some rocks instead? You know how?"

"You bet! Who doesn't?" I cried and ran down to the pond edge. There were a few good rocks, but mostly round ones. I kept getting about three bounces.

"I thought you said you knew how," he kind of made a face at me.

Making one back I said, "Bet you ten bucks I can get more hops than you!"

"Deal!" he said and flicked a rock out of his hand. Geesh, he got seven skips right away! That's okay, right in front of me was the perfect rock I was going to use next.

"Uh, mister, I don't have ten bucks," I kind of pouted.

"No prob, if I win I pay you ten bucks. If you win, I pay you twenty. What you waiting for, the lake to freeze over for better bouncing?"

"You're dead meat mister!" I said and picked up the rock and hefted it once, then threw it out there. I wished a bit and sure enough, seven, eight, nine, ten and a motorboat slide about three feet before it sank into the pond. "Yes!" I cried and did a victory dance.

"Hey, that may be a Quiksilver shirt, but you didn't tell me you got it being a shark!" he laughed fishing out his wallet.

"No, you don't have to pay me. That was a crazy bet anyway, you lose the money either way!"

"Hey a bet's a bet and this is the most fun I've had out here in a long, long time. Why aren't you in school?" He handed me a brand new never folded twenty dollar bill. One of the blue ones too! Wow, I'd never seen one close.

"Uh, well, we just moved here and my Dad's over there in that building getting his orientailing. So I'm just hanging out for an hour or so. Hey, I better go too! He'll be looking for me." I stuffed the money careful in my pocket and ran for my shoes and socks. In a flash I was racing around the pond and waving back, "Thanks Mister, don't get hit by any falling buildings!"

"Bye son, come back anytime!"

"Paul, I'm Paul!" I yelled and sprinted across the street. I got around the building and sat down in the shade. I brushed a little grass off me and took the twenty out. Geesh, there was a secret picture of the old guy and a little shiny line right up the bill. I'd seen that on TV so I knew it was real. Damn! I'm rich! I saw the bus coming and sprinted to catch it at the corner.

The mall was okay, I grabbed a dollar double cheese at McD's and walked around looking at stuff. Shit twenty bucks seems like a lot of money, but it doesn't buy much. Not that I could get anything anyway, no place to keep stuff except Mom's purse and my pockets. That Gameboy would be great, fit in my pocket too, but geesh! That's a lot more than twenty dollars. I splurged and bought three cookies for a dollar. Now I just needed to make a quarter to get the bus back downtown. Can't get money inside, the security guards are like all over that, so I'll try at the bus stop.

"Mister? I spent too much in the arcade, can you loan me a quarter so I can get home?" Nothing, nothing, nothing, finally one lousy quarter. Well, I guess that's what I needed, so back on the bus!

The door squeals and Manuel looks up as I dance over showing off my twenty dollar bill. "Look what I got! See, the secret picture and the stripe and everything!"

"Ay, Paulito! What you do to make such dollars?" Manuel is like frowning at me, but I just spill out the whole story, falling building, rolling grass and skipping rocks. Finally he's laughing and smiling and Carlota is passing a Coke through the window and he gives it to me.

"Paulito, you be careful, bad men out there sometimes. Be careful, Bueno?"

"Si, Manuel, I'm careful."

"Bueno, now you want burrito or fajita?"

"Really? Fajita again? Oh Manuel that is so wonderful!" I jump up and hug him around the neck. He's holding me to him and we are kind of dancing in front of the grill.

"Si, Si, Carlota and me, we talk: you no pay no more. You eat, maybe help sweep floor."

"Give me the broom! You'll have the cleanest place in town!" I'm searching all over for the broom.

Finally Manuel shoves the stool at me and yells, "Asiente!"

I sit!

"Ay, ay, ay!" Manuel mutters at the ceiling.

I look up too, but there's only a big grease spot there, so I don't know what he's Aying about. Anyway, he's cooking a bunch of orders and passing them through the window and I'm about to ask when he puts the biggest plate I've ever seen down in front of me. Geesh, I thought it was food for a whole table out in the restaurant. I dive in and suddenly he's pulling the plate away.

"Carumba! Poco, poco!" and he makes like he is slowly eating some.

I laugh and nod and say, "Si!" and go back to it, but realize it's going to stay there, so I can eat it slower.

Geesh that fajita was so way good! Wonder how anything can be so smooth on the tongue and explode such flavors in my mouth. I'd sure like to learn to cook like Manuel. Hey! Then I could like eat all the time too! This broom is kind of old and beat up, wonder if he only uses it outside? I sweep along the front of the building and kind of push everything toward the gutter. Hey! This is funny too! Here I am, dirt to most people who see me, pushing the dirt and crap they drop all the time while never thinking. Seems like a lot of stuff people throw away. Geesh I never knew there could be so many cigarette butts all over. I'm going to talk to Mom again about stopping smoking.

Just as I get to the edge of the sidewalk and one long swipe would put all this trash in the gutter Carlota scares the pants off me. "Paulo! Muy bien?" she says like out of nowhere.

Geesh, she been watching me all the time? Okay, I see, she wants me to use this big scoopy thingie to gather up all this trash. Gosh, I guess I was just going to be as bad as everybody else and just dump this stuff on the road! Geesh, what a dummy! I sweep everything to a big pile and then Carlota holds the scoop and we kind of get it all inside. Geesh! She's carrying it into the restaurant? Don't tell me that's what goes into the powders Manuel rolls the meats in? Gross! Oh man, no, she dumps it into the big garbage can near the door. What an idiot I am! 'Course they wouldn't use that in the food. Wonder if they knew I was so stupid they wouldn't like me any more? Most people just put me in that garbage bag too; that is the ones who even bother to see the dirt in front of them. Wonder if I just laid on the sidewalk or in the gutter would anyone even bother to broom me away? Shit, clock says I better run; don't want Mom to smack me again. I smile big at Carlota and rush through the door and jump on Manuel for a big hug, then I'm racing out the back door again.

Screech, slam, " Buenas noches, Paulito! Mañana!"

"Si!" I yell. Man, I never felt this happy!