by Dan Verner

As a cold Detroit wind swept around the corner, John Frederick huddled again the chilly brick wall of First Bank. He begged there because people came out with cash and sometimes threw a few dollars his way. He didn’t need much. In the past four years, he had learned how to dumpster dive, to find a warm place to sleep and how to stay safe. But man, it was cold today and people coming out of the bank, far from being in a Christmas spirit, were rushed and preoccupied. They were well-dressed and, judging from the additional pounds they packed, well-fed.

He smiled as he held out his hand. For each person who ignored him, he called, “Bless you! Merry Christmas!” and then muttered under his breath, “Asshole!”

He ought to relocate to Florida. His sister lived there, although she had been estranged from him for a long time. She was pissed because he never paid back the money she “loaned” him. NO need to get her knickers in a knot. He’d pay her back when he got back on his feet. It would just take a while.

Maybe he could somehow get to Tampa and look her up. It would be like that movie—what was it?—the one with Dustin Hoffman and the pretty cowboy guy. Anyhow, it showed them riding a bus to Florida at the end. “Goin’ where the sun keeps shinin’ through the pourin’ rain.” But the guy died in the movie. “Everybody’s talkin’.” That was the name of the song.

Well, no one was talking to him. He moved down the block to get away from the worst effects of the wind, pulled his dirty Tigers hat low over his face and stood by the liquor store. Maybe someone would buy him a drink, ha, ha. Maybe he would grow wings and fly to Florida. “Skipping o’er the ocean like a stone…” He’d like to be stoned about now. That would ease the pain.

A businessman in an expensive gray topcoat started toward the door. John lifted his cap. “Merry Christmas, sir. I don’t suppose you could spare—“The man made a face as if he smelled something bad and quickly pushed through the door. John muttered, “Up yours, Santa Claus.” He slid down the wall and sat there. The store manager would shoo him away if he stayed too long. He would call the cops if John didn’t move when he told him to. Hey, maybe he should get arrested and spend Christmas in jail. He bet the food was better there.

He dimly remembered a short story he read in school a long time ago, about a bum who kept trying to get arrested so he could have a nice warm, dry bed and three meals a day for Christmas. But he couldn’t get arrested. Finally he got a ticket to Florida but was arrested for loitering and ended up in jail. It was ironic.

Mr. Businessman bustled out of the store carrying a bag. John knew what was in it. Fat chance he’d be invited to have a drink of that. Just then Mr. B.M.’s phone rang. He answered it and set the bag down. Involved in his conversation, he walked off leaving the bag. He strolled down the sidewalk and turned the corner. John thought, I could be a real good guy and chase after Mr. Generosity. Or I can go over and see what’s in the bottle. He crawled over and found a big beautiful bottle of Jim Beam. Well, here’s to me, he congratulated himself. He scurried around the corner with his prize, twisted open the cap, and took a long, satisfying pull of the rich amber liquid. He raised the bottle and said aloud, “Here’s to you, merry gentlemen! And here’s to me!

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