Pawn Takes King, Part 3

Donnie's own struggle revolved around food, shelter, and money. Having food, he headed to his makeshift home. It took him about an hour to walk the distance to the park. If only he had a bike. Briefly, Donnie had even considered using roller blades to get around faster. Not having the coordination for inline skates, Donnie decided a bike would make a better mode of transportation. His leg hurt him. The walk brought out the pain in his femur. He could handle short distances, but the long trek to his shelter pained him. His shoes were worn almost down to nothing, and provided little arch support.
    Donnie glanced around at the various tents in the park. Occupy Iowa. What a joke. The only thing Donnie could see them resisting was the urge to bathe, or smoke pot for over a half hour wait. Another similar gathering was in Iowa City. Those IC hippies didn't get a permit for their impromptu protest, but the mayor didn't care. He allowed them their beatnik sit-in. In Cedar Rapids, however, it played out much differently. At the Occupy CR event, when the demonstrators didn't gain that permit, cops came in and took people away in squad cars. But, the tent city sprang up again, like a malignant tumor. If only they knew better. Free love wasn't without cost anymore.
    Donnie had relegated himself to Cedar Rapids, although knowing it to be a poor alternative than what Iowa City could be. Donny didn't like what Cedar Rapids had become. The flood of '08 had washed all the undesirables out from the ghetto-like areas by the Cedar River. The stream of homeless and ne'er-do-wells spread through the city like osmosis. No longer were the wretched concentrated to a single area, but dispersed throughout the city. The leftover homes were ruined from the deluge of water. People said it was a 500 year flood, at unprecedented heights. The residential district by downtown looked like a row of carcasses now. The business district seemed to recover, but how would business fair without the people to shop there?
    The kids in the tents were nice enough. Donnie could bum a smoke from them occasionally, or maybe even a passing puff of marijuana. If they had leftover food, they would share with Donnie. Even if it had bites taken out of it, Donnie would finish what they started. Most were college kids, who hadn't lived long enough to have their ideals squeezed from their hearts. A lot of them had jobs and other obligations, so they left during the day in their cars. Others, who seemed to have more money and shorter attention spans, abandoned their tents, which were then taken by other homeless miscreants like Donnie. His friends may have taken up residence in the acquired tents, but Donnie didn't. He was afraid the cops might come asking questions, starting trouble. Besides, Donnie already had a place to rest.
    With practiced care, Donnie pried the lattice free from underneath the gazebo. Making sure no one was watching, Donnie wriggled like a worm through the opening. Once inside, he replaced the criss-crossed section of wood. Now, he was home. There was just enough room for Donnie to crouch, and he scuttled across the rough cement to where his things were. The sleeping bag was old and musty, but still kept Donnie warm. Liters of sweat has soaked into the fabric, making it smell eternally of salty seawater. But smell had long ago ceased to be a deterrent to Donnie.
    He flicked on his small lamp, illuminating the darkness. No one in the tents noticed. Donnie may have thought he was being secretive, but those college kids knew there was a bum under the gazebo. the light was dull, but shone out of the lattice in a diamond-work pattern. Donnie ate the last of his burritos and wondered how the fuck he could keep this up. He had been homeless for going on 6 years. Time passed a lot slower without shelter, and there was nothing to look forward to. He briefly considered going to a homeless shelter, like the YMCA, or similar establishment. But his pride kept him grounded. Besides, if he lived at the Y, he couldn't smoke pot like he wanted to. What to do, what to do???
    The lamp was feeding off an outlet in the gazebo. Thankfully, it seemed no one had enough forethought to stop service to the little picnic center there. But, as Donnie lay on the harsh cement, his lamp went out with a pop. Donny groaned and rattled the bulb. He could hear the filament jingle, and that was the culprit.
    Donnie rubbed his tired brown eyes and felt the sting of tears. He had no other lightbulb. HIs little cave, like his life, was now steeped in darkness. He felt claustrophobia clawing at his senses. In the night, everything seemed to be closing in. He shut his eyes and prayed that he would not wake up tomorrow morning. Let him pass in the night peaceably, it would be better than facing the day.
    Daytime came, despite Donnie's wishes. It was late August, and Donnie could feel the weather cooling off. Snow was the real worry. He had lived under the gazebo for most of his poverty experience. But that first winter put real fear into Donnie. He learned eventually that he could stay in the library most of the day, because it was public space. But when the libraries closed, it became a desperate trail to find a heated place to hunker down.
    There was a 24 hour gas-station that Donnie frequented. He went out of his way to befriend the young clerk there, Harold. The kid was eking his way through college, working 3rd shift to make ends meet. Harold didn't give a shit. He let Donnie stay all night, to have some company to talk to. The gas station had a small display of warmed food that Harold was supposed to dispose of once every hour. So few people came in, however, that Harold let the tasty bits simmer for up to 3 hours. Drunk people coming in from the bars didn't notice the stale taste, and so no complaints ever came Harold's way. At times, Harold carried the food out back, where he was supposed to hurl it into the dumpster. But Harold would simply leave it in a plastic container, or wrapper, on the snow, and Donnie would procure it later.
    Harold was a good dude. Donnie used to chat away with Harold about computers. Donnie had gone to classes at the community college, but dropped out due to extenuating circumstances. His original program was for computer repair, an interest that Harold shared. Many was the night they stayed up till the wee hours, discussing processors speeds and firsthand experience with brands of towers and such.
    Harold helped Donnie survive that first winter, no doubt. With a constantly chipper attitude, Harold turned Donnie's terror and uncertainty into something stable and safe. Harold had to have known he was homeless. They never really discussed that, though. The closest Harold ever got to actually addressing it was a few days before X-mas.
    "Where are you gonna spend Christmas day?" Harold asked casually. Donnie just stirred his cheap gas station coffee and shrugged.
    "I dunno," Donnie mumbled, "just someplace warm, hopefully. That's all I want, someplace warm."
    Neither men said much after that statement. It was busier than usual, because of the upcoming holiday. Harold was occupied with activating the pumps for the self-serve customers, and making sure no one did any gas drive-offs. Donnie can always remember the look of sympathy in Harold's eyes. It only showed when Harold thought Donnie wasn't looking. Donnie would turn abruptly, to finish a point, and would catch the sorrow in Harold's face. It was sorrow for a walking dead man, Donnie Grieves. Harold's face would always revert back to his cheerful exterior, but Donnie knew the depths of the good man's heart.
    Harold was fired by the manager. There had been some thefts, which the manager thought Donnie was responsible for. In truth, a thug named Jessie Baxter had been the one to thieve. Donnie had caught the prick running out the back of the gas station, with arms full of a box of liquor bottles. Jessie continued past him, the bottles rattling with the crook's steps. Donnie had thought briefly about tackling Jessie, and making him return the stolen goods. But Donnie did not want conflict with that psychopath. There were some men who you just didn't fuck with, and Jessie was one such man.
    The manager posted a picture of Donnie by the cash register. Although he was innocent of the alleged crime, it didn't stop one clerk from calling the cops on Donnie one late night. It was how Donnie came to know he was not welcome at that store anymore. Unable to prove anything, the cops let him go, but warned him not to return. The manager puts a lock on the dumpsters in back, to prevent anymore food loss as he called it. It was one less place of refuge for Donnie.
    Donnie lay on his back for another hour or two, unsure what to do. One advantage to being homeless is that he could sleep in as late as he wanted. His schedule was based not on a work routine, but from one heartbeat to another. Staying alive was a full-time job.
    Eventually, Donnie got up, feeling stiff as always from the unforgiving patch of cement that made up the foundation of the gazebo. Once standing outside, he put his arms at shoulder-height, and rocked back and forth, side to side. His back cracked audibly with the first few twists of his torso. Donnie had no watch, but judging by the sun, he's have to guess it was 9:30 am, or so. Many of the protestors had left for their morning priorities. Donnie could hear all their cars pulling away earlier in the dawn.
    What was on today's agenda? Yesterday, Donny had used money for clothes and food, so today his expenditures would be for any little shred of weed he could get his hands on. He would not eat today, if it meant he could smoke. With a shameful sigh, Donnie hauled out his garbage bag of cans from his resting place. Time to cash in.

Uploaded 09/22/2012
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