If You Give a Man Some Coffee

14 02 2008

Now finally at home I have so many more South America stories to tell, but this one needs to be told first…

On day two of no hot water, with my hamper of dirty travel clothes eagerly awaiting a bath and my closet of clean clothes mocking me, I don’t really know what to do with myself. Since yesterday afternoon I have done little besides sponge bathes with a pot of boiled water, unpack (which meant throwing all my clothes into a hamper and piling up a few souvenirs to be dealt with later), and watch half of The Gilmore Girls season 3. A mini-post-trip depression? Perhaps. Also an inability to think about anything but how much I’d love to shower.

After an email from my roommate stating the the landlord reported no hot water until 3 p.m., I decided it was finally time to take my unwashed hair out for a walk, mainly because I needed to at least purchase some cereal to keep me company in my “I’m still not clean and I’m mourning summer” hibernation (in an apartment that, because the heat is water-based and there is no hot water, also has no heat). I threw my hair into a ponytail, pulled on my biggest jacket, and headed into the great outdoors, feeling a little disgusted and not a little self pity.

Then I heard a cheery voice shout, “These will go well with you” and looked down to see the happy homeless man who often sits on the stoop two buildings from mine holding out a couple of white carnations (and a little bit of humble pie). Flowers in hand, the rest of my walk to the grocery store was spent mulling over how fantastic nice people are and how silly I’ve been for whining over my hot water when the sweet man outside is handing out some Valentine’s Day cheer. That and trying to decide if bringing him back a Cliff Bar would be nice or offensive.

I have often wanted to give the friendly, and always cheerful, man on the stoop something to eat. We’ve never had an actual conversation, but every time I pass him he always has a smile an a friendly word or two, and always makes my day a little more cheerful. One day this year I actually carried around a bag of cookies that were left over from a “I just want a cookie but insist on it being homemade” study freak out, for a whole day because I wanted him to have the leftovers but was unable to find him. But buying cookies at the store just seemed a little lame in comparison, and like a halfhearted attempt to give back to the man who made a dirty (feeling for herself because she had to return from an amazing trip) girl feel human again, so I left the store with only my cereal, some apples, and every (ridiculous) intention of walking home the other way to avoid walking back past him empty-handed.

Then, my gloveless hand freezing, I realized I had turned one block too soon for the avoidance plan and was about to backtrack when I found myself right in front of the coffee shop. Light bulb. A cup of coffee was just the thing for a cheerful man sitting outside with a stack of flowers and cold hands. And I could use a cup myself.

So a few minutes later, and one block less, I handed off the cup of coffee. And in exchange, despite my protests, he gave me more flowers, pink ones this time. I’m now back in my cold apartment and still haven’t showered, but at least I found my welcoming committee after all.