Solutions: A Dog's Dilemma
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Rick rolled over and slapped a hand to the sidewalk. His mind raced with thoughts of misery having been awoken over and over again in the night with an annoying hack and cough that reverberated from one abandon warehouse to another. His eyes squinted in the early dawn light. They scanned the surroundings to identify the inconsiderate camper who dared to disturb the escape he so counted on each day. Last night was even more important for him to escape because of the lousy day he had sniping and canning. With a few rollies left, fifty cents in his pocket, he had no choice but to purchase the watered-down version of what Henry called coffee and puff on the harsh rollies.
His ears detected the hacking. He jumped to his feet and stared down the object of his anger. Mumbling every profanity he could think of, Rick crossed the street to tell his fellow wretch to camp somewhere else tonight or else there would be hell to pay.
Since he had relegated his life to serving time and space on the street until death without any specific goal, he figured others should recognize this and let him go about his business of nothingness in peace. No more words of hate or judgments to attack his existence. No more life as a substitute target for misplaced anger. No more rants and raves from someone’s inability to understand the voices screaming in his or her mind. He wanted so much to use any reason that might still be present in his mind to explain his philosophy to others about just desiring to exist, to be invisible, and to simply exclude himself from the perceived madness of life. He just could not understand the reason why such things happened to him on a daily basis. He just knew they did.
Rick was tired. He was tired from a lack of sleep and a lack of peace. He realized more and more the sheer chaos around him. Can’t be courteous anymore, he thought, because people only see it as an assessment of their intelligence. You can’t follow an orderly pattern of walking down the street because others are oblivious to anyone around them at all. You can’t cross the street anymore because cars now have the right of way at all times. You have to move out of the way of bicycles riding on sidewalks and dog owners walking their precious little darlings because they ain’t moving.
A lot of things irked him. He thought about how everyone seemed to have broken the laws of physics by watching people line up in such disorder that a line becomes a three dimensional jumbo of bodies. He observed that the closer you came to an entry the further back you moved because people used any object or person available to exist at two places at the same time. He witnessed time itself evolving into condensed frames moving faster and faster where anyone could perform a number of tasks at the same moment; politeness excepted. He even overheard one time two men discussing the rejection of the Age of Enlightenment to describe what was going on, but when he thought about the word “enlightenment” his warped mind transposed it into “entitlement” which just made sense.
With anger raging within, his senses were working at their peak. He walked directly at his intended target and was about to unleash a hoard of angry words when a little head popped out from behind a blanket. The sight of the little one was unusual in the waste land occupied mostly by empty warehouses, abandoned repair facilities, cracked sidewalks and streets. Only a few businesses, unable to afford the higher rent just blocks away, remained.
He breathed deeply, let out a sigh, and stared at the two as he towered above them. Quickly he decided not here, not now, not under these circumstances. Surely, he reasoned, if it had turned out to be familiar faces then somehow that would have made it right to scream and shout displeasure. But it just was not in his heart to exact his cruelty on the innocent before him.
“Lady,” he said, “why on Earth would you bring a little girl out here?”
The woman looked up. Rick could see a quivering in her lips, the terror in her eyes. She did not say a word. He noticed how clean the area around them was, the suitcases that shielded the sides of the makeshift bed, the bright and colorful quilt that covered them, and understood the situation.
“You know, wait around here for the cops. They’ll be here shortly to make sure everyone is up and ready to leave. Ask them to get you in somewhere. Okay? And don’t let them tell you about all the places being full. There are plenty of shelters for women and children.”
Rick turned away from the frowning faces. All of a sudden he heard that voice lecturing to him, resounding in the mind. The lecture was too familiar. He had jumped the gun on the two and his mind pointed out what a fool he had been. He once again failed to allow compassion to lead the way.
His mind spoke volumes concerning the selfishness of his existence. All he could do was agree with the thoughts that told him what a miserable piece of work he was. He hated that, hated to admit it because it came into conflict with the desire to be invisible. It made him look at himself and see the hatred and anger that raged in his mind, spill out onto others.
He started walking back to his camp when Henry rolled up in front of the store. Rick thought to say good morning, but he knew Henry was not one to be pleasant so early in the day. Instead, he just walked over to his sleeping bag and stuffed it into his backpack. He then went to pick up the cardboard and noticed something. He reasoned it was a piece of trash that was deposited by the cool winter wind during the night, but on closer examination he saw that it was an envelope.
Rick’s thoughts once again raced, but this time with excitement. As he reached to pick it up he could only hope that during the night someone had dropped off a little present for him. He carefully opened the envelope and “Eureka,” he shouted. “Thank you so much.”
He pulled a crisp five dollar bill from its inside along with a card, but the card was meaningless to him. He shoved the trash into his pocket to be filed in the garbage.
“A pack of tailor made smokes and a cup of coffee, no, two cups of coffee,” he said aloud with glee.
He laid the cardboard against the building, laid the backpack on the ground, and whistled a happy tune as he walked into the store.
“Good Morning my dear old friend.”
He was greeted by a hard stare.
“I think this morning I will treat myself to your finest cheap pack of cigarettes and to one of the best cups of coffee west of the Mississippi.”
As he strolled through the center aisle something caught his eye. Rick stopped and picked up the object. With some quick math in his head he realized that there was just enough money for everything he wanted minus a second cup of coffee.
“Henry my friend,” he said grinning widely, “I think I will also have some of this fine powdered creamer and sugar with my coffee this morning.” Rick poured the coffee into the cup and eyeballed the amount of sugar and cream he desired. To the hum of “Happy Days are Here Again” he stirred the coffee thoroughly until it had the appearance of something that actually tasted good.
With the cup of coffee in one hand and a bottle of medicine in the other he strolled up the aisle and laid the items on the counter. “And Henry, I will take a pack of those cheap cigarettes.”
Henry looked at the items then reached up for the pack of cigarettes, tossed them on the counter. “Seven fifty.”
Rick quickly rechecked the price for the medicine and recalculated the sum of the items. “Seven fifty? No. Five fifty. It’s two dollars for the smokes, fifty cents for the coffee, and two ninety nine for this liquid stuff.”
“It’s four ninety nine for the medication,” Henry stated.
“No, two ninety nine; look at the cap.”
“The price went up.”
Rick held his tongue from unleashing the vilest words he could think of but knew he feared losing his sleeping place in front of the store. “Ah, forget about the cigarettes!”
Rick mumbled a few obscenities and threw the five on the counter. He then reached into his pants’ pocket and pulled out two quarters and tossed them on the counter. He noticed the smirk on Henry’s face as he reached up and put the cigarettes back up top. He wanted those cigarettes so bad. After all these years, he thought, of coming in and buying all the cheap stuff he sells, and he pulls this on me. He stood in front of the counter and convinced himself that Henry was ripping him off because he was a no good bum.
“You thief, you no good rotten thief,” Rick suddenly yelled. He then picked up the cup of coffee and sent it splattering against the back wall of the store.
Henry grabbed a bat and ran from behind the counter, “Get out and never come back you dog.”
Rick grabbed the medicine from the counter and yelled and cursed Henry as he left the store. He stood just outside the door cursing and screaming at Henry, accusing him of taking advantage of everyone that does not meet his standards for what a human being is. Henry picked up the phone. Rick knew it was time to scamper.
“Just great! Just absolutely wonderful!”
He ducked around the corner and stood there quietly, waited to calm down. He felt the bottle of flu medicine in his hand and wondered if it were just a useless product. He walked to the corner of the intersection and peeked around the corner. “Oh, isn’t that just great!” he yelled. “Isn’t that just wonderful!”
The spot occupied by the woman and child was now vacated. He thought just how stupid this all was, a waste of a perfectly good five dollar bill. No cigarettes, no coffee, nothing but a useless bottle of medicine that he simply had to eat. The bottle of medicine plopped to the ground. He popped his head around the corner to Henry’s doors and thought another burned bridge. One more useless day to get through.
Rick rushed back to the entrance to retrieve his belongings. Once safely out of sight of Henry he threw down the cardboard, slammed the backpack on the ground, then plopped himself down on the sidewalk. He pulled out the prized envelope from his back pocket and took out the card. “World Care Solutions,” he whispered. “Six twenty nine Seventh Avenue.” He noticed the massive building and gated yard sitting idle across the street. He knew it mostly as a little used warehouse, but when it was active it was bustling. Tractor trailers, sometimes for days, would hustle in and out dropping off or picking up tall pallets of boxed merchandise. Then, as fast it started, the activity stopped. The warehouse would go back to a tranquil state of nothingness and sit as an empty shell occupying space and time. "Just like me."
Rick noticed there was not one car parked in front of the building, but figured at some point someone was there and dropped him off the envelope. But who and why? he wondered.
Nonetheless, he craved for coffee and smokes. He picked himself up, grabbed a plastic bag from his backpack and took off down the street.
As he went from trashcan to trashcan picking up whatever recyclable can or plastic bottle that had been tossed, scanning the ground for snipes and any loose change that might have been dropped but deemed too insignificant for the person to pick up, the anger slowly subsided. Rational thoughts came into focus.
He realized that he would just move his sleeping spot as he had done on occasions in the past. As far as coffee he figured he had no choice but to walk a few blocks away to another store where the coffee was twice the price yet twice as good. In other words, he thought, just a temporary inconvenience. At least one thing stayed the same for Rick, and that was the daily routine of hunting and searching for the cash he needed to occupy the space and time of nothingness.
Backed in a Corner
A motorcycle screamed by. The whining acceleration nudged Rick awake. His legs and arms stretched far out, his back arched, and a yawn as big as the early morning dawn announced the presence to the awaken state of nothingness.
It was cold. The thought of removing his body from the warm confines of the sleeping bag made his thoughts shudder. But the cold day waited. He thought about saying nothing, just leave the matter alone, but the thought to do something was just too overwhelming not to do something. Maybe just a note, he thought, thrown in the mail slot? Maybe just shout out a thank you to the first person I see coming in or out of the warehouse? But the more and more he reasoned with himself not to confront an actual person face to face, the more and more he knew he had to. The day could only get warmer, he thought, just get going.
Sitting up, he noticed a car parked in front of that warehouse. Should I, he wondered. Come on now. At least a thank you? Maybe come in and do a little cleaning? Maybe a job? “Naw,” he laughed aloud, “just a thank you.”
A whiff of the musky odor rising from the soiled clothes he had worn for the last three days caught his attention. All sorts of putrid waste from the canning activity, sweat leaking out of pores within the winter jacket, produced the normal stenches of rotting food and beverages and body fluids that managed to escape from within and attach to his clothing from without. He rummaged through his back pack seeing if there was a hidden set of clean clothes but all were dirty. He knew he needed a shower, thought about running down to the mission, but knew it would be a few hours or so before he could get back and the car might be gone.
Confusion set in as usual. Clear decisions and directions were muddled with the lifestyle he had come to accept. He desperately wanted a shower and change clothes before appearing before whoever was in the warehouse, but then again, he thought, did they actually care? He figured they must all know of him and his lifestyle by now. They must know. Then, figured Rick, it’s no big deal just to go in there and say thank you and get out.
He looked to the warehouse but his mind craved a cup of coffee and a cigarette The previous day’s canning had produced enough wealth to afford the real coffee a couple of blocks away as well as a pack of tailor made smokes. He shook his head remembering the bridge was burned to Henry’s store and figured an apology to him so soon after would fall on deaf ears. He had no choice to accept the fact that Henry’s was now off limits for awhile.
He looked again to the silent warehouse. The opportunity was at hand. Rick decided that the need for action was now. It was the time to do it.
The sleeping gear was left behind as he strolled across the street to the front entrance of the warehouse. Eyeing the SUV parked in front, he opened the door and found himself unexpectedly facing a lit office window down the long stretch of an empty corridor. He could hear a voice, then a few muffled coughs as he approached the closed door.
The attempt to eavesdrop failed as an ear had trouble fitting flush against the window pane. He wanted to find out if a man or woman was behind the closed door, but the voice was indistinguishable and too muffled to ascertain the identity. He held his breath for a moment hoping that in the complete silence he would be able to hear and be able to distinguish between a man’s or woman’s voice, but that too failed.
The door became an obstacle and produced impending fear. Thoughts screamed to flee but the body was frozen in position. He heard a voice telling him over and over again not to do this, you cannot do this, who are you to do this? But finally he found the strength to form a fist, to raise the arm, and got the knuckles to knock on the door.
He could hear shuffling. The door flew open. “Who are you? How did you get in here?”
“The door was open,” responded Rick, “I mean it wasn’t locked or anything.”
“Who are you?”