By Jack Bates
I'm standing in front of a grocery store, the kind that does all of its advertising in those circulars that clog my narrow mailbox at the Harbor Apartments, ringing the bell supplied to me by the Cole City Charter School. The bell has a wooden handle lathed in some shop to better fit the contours of my hand. The bell is brass, the ball inside it tin. It makes an annoying, high pitched ding-ding-ding. I can only take it in short bursts.
I wait for the people walking past, their collars pulled up or their hats pulled down against the wind, before I give the bell a few shakes. I don't get much from the people just going past. I get mostly the people going in or coming out of the grocery store. Those that do give donations give whatever change they have just shoved in their coat pocket so that even if they have gloves on, they can just scoop the coins and drop on the plastic lid of the sealed bucket. I thank them and push the coins into the plus-sign opening with my free hand as I ring the bell harder and louder with the other.
It's not a fun job. To be honest, it isn’t a job. I’d like to say I volunteered to do it but it was my probation officer who suggested it. Community service and all that. I can hear the wind before the blast of cold hits me. It hurts, the cold I mean.
The wind blows empty plastic bottles past me and on up the sidewalk. Bits of newspapers float off like crumpled angels. Flyers for a missing cat, that is bound to be a pussycle by now, get caught around a no parking sign before ripping free. The metal sign makes a wommm noise as it gets shaken in the gust. I can feel the wind pulling at my cheeks. I want to take the bell and smash it against the wind’s head but how crazy is that?
About as crazy as when I took the beer bottle and smashed it over the head of the drunk guy hitting on my girl down at the Old Detroit Bar. He wouldn’t back off. Down came the brown bottle. Boom! D.A. wanted Assault with Intent to Commit Murder. My public defender got it dropped to Assault and Battery. Time served with 200 hours of community service. If I’d done the 90 days I’d be inside away from the friggin’ wind and cold. But I took the deal and I’m doing my time collecting for those less fortunate than me along Michigan Avenue. Ring the bell, God bless ‘em, and give a happy secular holiday to them all.
A Jag pulls up. The driver parks beneath the sign I’ve been watch the wind whip around for the last hour. An older guy in a leather coat gets out. He wears a pair of those thin, leather, Italian driving gloves. There’s nothing on his head except a crop of thick, white hair. Even in the yellow glow of the grocery store letters I can see the dude sports a tan and not a store bought tan.
I also see the smoking hot blonde in the passenger seat. She’s not his daughter, she’s not his wife. She’s his Christmas gift to himself. They are clearly not from around here. I have no idea why they are road tripping on Michigan Avenue near Trumbull.
Maybe they’re on their way to one of the casinos?
“They sell liquor in there?” he asks.
“Think so,” I say.
He smiles. His teeth are as straight and white as his hair. I watch him go in. A cop cruises past. Doesn’t even think to stop and ticket the Jag. I smash a beer bottle over a stranger’s head and get 200 hours of community service. Fate is a fickle bitch.
I ring the bell. The woman turns and watches me. She is so fracking beautiful. Her eyes drop to her lap and she rifles through her handbag. I think she’s looking for something to put in the bucket when the old dude comes out carrying a paper bag wrapped around the neck of a bottle of something. She lowers her window.
“Harry, put some change in the bucket,” the woman says.
“Do what?” Harry asks back.
She nods with her head at me. Harry’s internal light bulb goes off. He digs in his leather coat pocket and drops some coins onto the lid. They lay there like tiny golden suns. He bites off his glove and reaches for the coins when the wind blasts us both. His perfect white hair gets ruffled.
“No problem, sir,” I say. “I’ve got it.”
He starts to tell me something when the horn honks.
“Harry, come on I’m hungry,” the blonde says.
Harry smiles at me and hurries to the car. Seconds later he drives off.
I start to push the coins into the plus-sign slot. I drop five in there when I look at the last one still sitting there. There’s a woman with a crown on one side, a maple leaf on the other. Canadian. They must have been in Windsor for the evening or were on their way there. These aren’t ordinary gold coins; I know what the Loon looks like. These coins are different and I don’t think he meant to drop them in there and even if did have the kind of money where he could drop that kind of coin for charity, he chose the wrong bucket to drop them in. I take the bucket and walk off down the street. I have no idea what the gold
coins are worth. What I do know is there are five more inside the bucket. They have to be worth major dollars.
The Cole City Charter School will get its money.
Detroit will get its 200 hours of service.
But I get the coins.
And to all a good night.