Although Nano prefer The River’s Edge Cafe, which he usually just called the Cafe, there were times when it wasn’t open so he had to go elsewhere. The Cafe closed at mid-afternoon. That was too soon for Nano and some others to go back to the shelter and sit for hours till supper. However, many of the homeless did just that, sit all day just waiting to get inside the main facility, or now the warehouse. Day after day like pigeons they roosted waiting to eat or sleep inside where it was cooler or warmer depending on season, or sleep at a table. Many barely ever left the shelter, would not even walk a mile into downtown Aurora. It seemed a very limited existence to Nano to be self-constrained to just the shelter, as if pretending the nearby world didn’t exist or to be threatened by it or feel uncomfortable in it amongst the ‘normal’ citizens. To merely shuffle from one spot to the other depending on the hours of breakfast, lunch, supper and bedtime was little more than being dead.
Yet, Nano was interested in learning how homeless people existed, what they thought and their habits. That was why he was here. Today he had ask Father Pope where else homeless people went to stay cool, since clearly only a few had shown up at the Cafe on the few occasions he’d gone there. Father had suggested he go to the McDonalds in south downtown Aurora. Father Pope even came with him to show the way, since Nano was unfamiliar with the area. It was a short walk of about 25 minutes, but the morning was already hot and humid and both sweating when they got there at 7am. It was cool in the restaurant and having brought their computers, they settled onto an table large enough for both to use with electrical outlets nearby.
Over the next hour more homeless came to McDonalds and they usually sat one per table. ‘Normal’ customers came and went as they headed to work, just grabbing a bit or coffee or both. Some normals came inside and sat, but left soon. The homeless were more interested in staying for a few hours or more, so it wasn’t long before a good portion of the tables were occupied with homeless people from the Aurora shelter looking to avoid the hot day and thus keep some cleanliness about them by not soaking shirts in their sweat. Being broke, they hardly ordered food, yet coffee or soda was the norm. That might not be much business income per person Nano realized, but given they came five or six times per week in numbers, it had to be the most regular group to frequent the eatery and thus, a nice steady income that amounted to more than even several sizable families eating there everyday. Unfortunately, today wasn’t going to be a good day at McDonalds for the homeless. After about an hour and with at least half the restaurant tables loaded with homeless a shelter resident came in drunk and sat down by a patron with paint splattered pants and a shirt.
The drunk, Jose ‘Cuervo’, confronted the man loudly, “When you gonna pay me fer the work I did? You said youse gonna pay me. Give me my money!”
“Hey pal, sit down. No need to shout here in public”, said the patron, an self-employed, part-time painter named Henry Diddle.
Cuervo grunted and sat down clumsily. His clothes were dirty from laying last night in some woodsy spot to sleep. He smelled bad and he had several days of beard growth on his sallow cheeks. “I just want my money. You owe it to me fer that paintin job I done.”
“I’m gonna pay you, but I have to go to the bank to get it”, replied Diddle. “You going to be around this afternoon? I can pay you then.”
“No, I’m not falling for that agin”, said Cuervo. “You said that yesterday and last week on Friday. You don’t wanna pay me. You better pay me or I’ll call the police you sonofabitch. Pay me!”
By now the restaurant was all listening to this exchange including the morning manager with an unpleasant look you couldn’t blame her for. Nano thought it was all very interesting. The dynamics were complex. Patrons, both ‘normal’ and homeless, the staff, a drunk confronting a patron, a social conflict about a job done and not being paid for it. Nano thought the homeless looked both nervous and amused. The ‘normal’ people looked disgusted and upset. The staff was trying to ignore the event, but the manager didn’t have that luxury. She was staring at the two men, deciding what course to take, depending on how this event transpired over the next minute.
“Look”, Diddler repeated, “I promise to pay you today. Just let me get to the bank and met me back here later today.”
“No”, Cuervo yelled. He was getting really wild now in his stupor. “You’re lying. You’re a liar. You’re always late with paying people who work for you. Pay me now or I’m calling cops. Pay me goddamit!” he ended fuming, face red and his breath smelling of vodka.
The painter looked around, noticing the manager headed this way. He’d run out of options, so he took out his wallet, removed $50 and paid the drunk. “Now that was all I had, but you couldn’t wait, so now I’m broke.”
“Your broke?” shouted the drunk. “Do it look like to you I got money? I ain’t working for you agin and Ima telling everybody what a lying cheat you are.”
“Gentlemen”, said the McDonalds’ manager, a short, robust Hispanic woman, now beside them. “I’m going to ask both of you to leave now. You’re behavior is unacceptable. Yelling and cursing and being drunken isn’t allowed in here. Please leave now and next time, settle your business before you enter the restaurant.”
The two men left, but the manager turned to the rest of the homeless. The homeless looked at her like they knew what was coming and were just waiting for the bomb to drop.
“There is a thirty minute time limit policy in this McDonalds. Either buy something or leave. If you’ve been here a half-hour and most of you have been, please leave unless your going to buy something right now.”
The ‘normal’ patrons seemed to nod slightly and take relief from her words, even though a good portion of them had been here that long too and more. They knew they were exempt to this thirty minute rule, it was for the homeless. The homeless looked unhappy and upset now. They started to pick up their coffee, bags and whatever else they’d brought with them and make for the doors. There was some grumbling about the fairness of it, who was to blame, the drunk or the painter or the manager or the policy, some of those or all of those. Father and Nano exited McDonalds, but past the door while some lighted up cigarettes, Father paused and looked at Nano.
“Now you see what happens when someone makes a problem and how things are. We all pay for one person or two’s mistakes or bad habits. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it usually is. They wouldn’t ask all the ‘normal’ people to leave if one of them made a problem, but homeless are all equally guilty by association.”
Nano nodded, having seen it for himself. It was a lesson of sorts for him, but all he could think to say at this point was, “It’s a strange priority system.”