Day 82: The Contagion

“Dammit,” Dougie said to Krista. “Too many people look at shoes.” He held up his cardboard with black magic marker: ‘Homeless. Need Food. God bless you.’ He wore a faded gray T-shirt and a ratty Redskins baseball cap. His shoes were a newish green and white pair of ASICs.

“I told you not to wear them,” Krista said. She followed closely down the Morgan Street median along the turning lane. “Notice how few of the givers are women? Why should I wedge for you if you’re going to kill the numbers that way?”

“My feet were hamburger yesterday. I just wanted some relief.” Even though they clearly discouraged a lot of marks, Dougie was almost happy with the trade-off. He felt like he was walking on marshmallows.

“Then take a day off,” she huddled next to him and put on her pathetic but hopeful face for the driver.

Dougie accepted a few ones. “Thank you. God bless you, sir.”

“You, too,” said the driver.

She let go as he moved on to the next car.

“What does prime time usually bring in on this corner?” asked Krista. “Three hundred? Four hundred?”

“More like six,” said Dougie.

They accepted a few more dollars then scored a twenty at the end of the line. They started back toward the corner as the green arrow cleared out the turning lane.

“A honey wedge should give you half again as much. Now because of your damn shoes we’ll be lucky to pull two.”

“You could go beg on your own,” he said.

“You know that’s not safe.”

“Then be happy with the take and shut the hell up.”

In spite of the obvious drop, they took in almost four hundred eighty dollars in three hours, maybe a half hour of that avoiding cops. Dougie gave Krista her fifteen percent and promised to wear the tattered costume shoes tomorrow.

A half block away he stopped at Sweet Frogs Frozen Yogurt and filled an eight dollar cup, then started toward the Shoppers parking lot for his white Chevy Tahoe. Traffic was backing up because of a Jeep Cherokee stalled in Morgan Street’s inside lane, emergency lights blinking. Cars honked and pushed into the next lane, slowing traffic to a crawl.

As he neared, he saw a very old lady in the passenger seat, head lolled back, fanning herself with an iPad. In the passenger seat was a much younger man, probably in his sixties, sweat pouring down his face, talking on his cellphone.

Dougie trotted into an Exxon, dumping his half-eaten yogurt in the trash. He grabbed two large Dasani bottled waters from the cooler and paid the cashier. He wove through cars to the Cherokee and handed the lady one Dasani, then walked around the front to hand the driver the other.

“God bless you,” he said, and walked on toward Shoppers.


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