Donnie wasn't much of a conversationalist, even when in the company of the downtrodden. Donnie sits on a bench, isolated by himself, but within earshot of the other homeless people. Donnie was always more of a listener. But with no one to talk to, he was mute.
"you got a smoke?" an older man asks.
Donnie shakes his head. "I don't smoke."
"That's smart," the man says, running hands through his silver hair, and adjusting his cap. Donnie squints to make out the faded logo, but the hat is quite stained.
"Smokes are expensive," The anonymous gentleman comments, "everything's expensive now. Prices always go up, never down."
"Rent's high," Donnie says, watching as birds flit and scamper on the bricks of the walkway.
"Damn right," the old guy says in agreement, crossing his arms and nodding, "I used to have it all. But the carpet got pulled out from under me."
The man says this last phrase with a touch of insinuated irony. Donnie is an adept listener, and can make out the tones of people, which is just as important as what is actually said. Donnie finally glimpses the man's hat, through a ray of light sifting through the branches of a tree.
The Carpet King, is printed in unraveling red stitching above the brim.
Donnie smiles. "I know you. You used to be on a cable TV commercial, right?"
The Carpet King smiles and shakes his head, rubbing his eyes tiredly.
"Yeah, I was the king of the south east Iowa carpet sales. I had the market cornered down here, in the edge of the state."
"You had a jingle," Donnie says, frowning, "I can't remember how it goes, though,"
"I'll hum a few bars later on, kid," Carpet King says, "but not right now. It's been a long day for yours truly."
He extends his hand. "Gus Landry," he says, "the carpet King has been dethroned. Just call me Gus."
Donnie shakes it emphatically. His first friend is a fallen worker.
They talked for hours. Neither had a place to go, or anything to do. Gus lived in his Blazer. Most people would find that shocking. Donnie wished he had some wheels to drive him around, and take up residence in. Donnie felt himself looking up to this grizzled veteran. Gus hadn't been homeless long, only a few months. His Carpet Empire had been undermined from within, pillaged by barbarians that were once allies. An employee that started out as a job shadow for the university ended up plundering all that Gus had built up over 20 years.
"The bastard then married my ex-wife!!!" Gus shouts, his voice echoing throughout the pedestrian mall and store fronts, "What he didn't get, she ended up with in the divorce. Between the two of them, they took me for all I had."
Suddenly Donnie's problems don't seem so all-encompassing. Others had deeper depths to their rock bottom. What made Gus' story even more heartbreaking was that the old dude had tasted success. Too bad the flavor turned bitter for him.
Gus asked many passerby for change. He did it with a casualness that Donnie envied somewhat. Begging and talking to girls seemed to have a straight-forward execution that Donnie didn't possess. Donnie had about $50 to his name, all jammed in his pocket. He had enough Oxy to sell, but no way to get more. All his hookups were in Cedar Rapids. Maybe that's the real reason he approached the homeless people: to find out where to get more dope. Donnie decided an ice-breaker was needed to introduce himself to the poor.
Donnie promptly left the rabble. He went to Burger King and bought 10 sanwiches. They were on the dollar menu, but still it constituted a large share of Donnie's money supply. Donnie took a burger for himself and handed the rest of them out to the other bums. They ate fast, and it was actually kind of a gross sight. Some of the older, more disheveled bums got ketchup and mustard smeared in their beards.This included Gus, who had rough stubble which picked up the condiments like bloody spikes. Some licked the wrapper of all cheese, a habit that Donnie was already picking up, too.
"Thanks dude," Gus says.
"It's Donnie," he replies, "I don't say much. Not even my own name."
"Your fly is down, Donnie," Gus points out. Donnie pretends to zip up. The zipper will move up and down, but won't close the metal teeth together.
"YOu got a place to crash tonight, Donnie?" Gus asks tentatively. Donnie shakes his head.
"You can bunk with me tonight," Gus says, "I get the flatbed, with the mattress, but you can have the front seat, if it does ya."
"It's better than a park-bench," Donnie comments, "It's a deal."
The others warmed to Donnie nicely. However, for most it made Donnie a constant source of alms-giving. People would constantly ask Donnie for change, or another burger, or anything. It got old after a short while.
Talk swung around to Donnie's fat friend at the traffic light. His name was Greg, and he owned a store, or something. Several of the bums commented on his kindness, and the amount of money bestowed to them. Greg always gave something, even if it was only a couple dimes and nickels. Word had it that he was hiring out for some of the repairs on his store. Greg had supposedly gotten a small business loan and was currently renovating the store he inherited from his father. Donnie was determined to try to get some kind of paying labor from the fatman. He needed all the help he could get, and if Greg was hiring bums, it seemed like his business was in dire need of help also. The Pawn and Payday was the name of Greg's domain.
Eventually, Gus stirred from his spot on the bench and motioned for Donnie to follow him. Donnie felt like a little kid being led home from the bus stop. Hopefully Gus wasn't setting him up for a robbery, or something else foul.
Gus and Donnie shacked up in the "Blazer Hilton" as Gus called it. As cramped as it was laying across the front seats, Donnie counted himself lucky. This was loads better than his previous accommodations. Gus snored loudly, and Donnie could hear it even through the glass partition that separated the front cab from back. Despite the raucous breathing, Donnie quickly fell into a peaceful slumber.
LINK TO PART 8: http://www.ebaumsworld.com/blogs/view/82822295/