I was writing in my notebook at a McDonald’s restaurant the other day around late afternoon time-ish when a dirty man, probably homeless, came in and claimed a table near me. He was carrying one of those older boom-boxes with the dual cassette port, but no CD player. The battery compartment did not have a cover, so, as he set down the radio, all of the C-cell batteries, I’d say about eight, spilled onto the table. He quickly gathered them into a pile so as to keep them from rolling onto the floor. Then, he stood for a second, looking around and rubbing his hands together, before he took a few steps in my direction and, still keeping his distance, he asked me, “Hey, do you have a buck, so I could buy a burger?”
“Sorry, I don’t have anything,” I said, trying to look apologetic.
He paused for a moment, sighed like he was disappointed in me, and then turned to hunt for someone else. He asked another man for a dollar and the guy gave him some change. Our sun-beaten friend looked at the change, briefly, and, then, simply dumped it all over the floor. Apparently he only takes cash. He sat down near me, again, and, then, almost instantly, got up and looked at me.
“Thanks for the buck, buddy!”
“I told you, I don’t have anything.”
Standing there, looking at me, he white-knuckled a nearby chair and began shaking it. Noise clamored from the legs hitting the tile/linoleum floor. His pile of batteries began to disperse and, worried that he might reach for them and that, once in hand, he might throw a battery at me, I got up to leave.
“Yeah, walk away! Leave! You fuckin’ faggot! Fuck you!”
As I got to the door, I wanted to say something. Something simple that would show this man I had won. You know, take the crazy, broke, dirty, homeless guy down a peg. So, over the tables of people who were watching the events unfold, I lobbed a simple sentence:
“By the way, I had the buck.”
Then, I scurried out to my car while he screamed obscenities from his table.