A thousand bronze and silver coins scattered across the counter. Or what seemed like a thousand as I counted them one by one. The nickles first. Then the dimes. Lastly, fifty-three cents in pennies. The man soliciting service was a regular. Jim was his name, or so he told me. Fridays were his day. The day he was allowed to wander outside the parameters of the local mental care facility. Just a stones throw away, the building housed a cast of people who would meander in an out of Dunkin Donuts. On that afternoon shift I worked alone.
“H-h-h-how are you sir?”
He asked cordially after dumping that full piggy bank of change next to the register.
He was a great big man. With an unkept, graying beard. His outfit was the same each Friday: A t-shirt with a white and black spotted cow. “Go vegetarian!” printed in bold lettering directly above the heifer. Jim’s blue medical scrubs were layered in grime.
With his right eye, he’d stare at me. His left, a walleye, trailed off in the distance, pondering incomprehensibles layered somewhere in foreign dimensions. Was he mentally ill? Or was it a gift to see a reality tucked away in the ether?
“C-c-can I have a tub of salmon cream cheese?”
I’d grab it from the mini fridge, tucked underneath all the other, much more appealing options: garden vegetable, chive, and strawberry.
Taking the tub with one hand, he flipped through the plastic cutlery. He dug until he found a butter knife.
“T-t-t-thank you sir.
Turning around, he sat in the booth directly behind him. The one booth in Dunkin Donuts that faced me. Me, behind the counter.
I began counting the change. Jim began talking.
Not to me, but to those people I didn’t have the ability to see.
“Y-y-yes, you remember, don’t you. The truck passed by me. I got outta the way.”
I looked up. Jim had pealed the cellophane off the container. It was stuck to the faux-wood, Formica table.
He stabbed his butter knife into the tub of lox. Giant, white chunks of curd strip-mined. Gelatinous gobs falling into his mouth. He chewed, then swallowed.
“I-i-it’s about time. Give me the news. You know I like good news.”
The amount of inconsiderate assholes that frequented the store were too many to count. Petty. Their mood dictated by the proper amount of jelly applied to their bagel. The correct number of spoonfuls of unrefined sugar dumped into their coffee. Constant pressure on me to remember who they were. To know exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it.
Not Jim. His request was streamlined. Simple.
We, the employees, were to abide strictly to the rules of a senior discount. I.D. shown. Fifty five and up only. In turn, a dime taken off a dollar cup of coffee. It was a right achieved through arrogant seniority. It was an honor granted to those who had really “lived.”
I grimaced when it was asked of me. The dick-ish, “And my discount?”
I had counted each pile of change. Color and size coordinated. The nickels equaled sixty five. Adding the pennies and the pile of dimes, Jim’s total reached one dollar and ninety eight cents.
He was twenty short.
“F-f-finished.” Jim yelled out at me. Looking over, a mess of cream cheese speckled the table. The tub, flipped upside down. His knife lying on the ground.
“I-I-I told him. I said you got to go out and mow the grass before it rains.”
Jim pulled himself out of the booth. Slowly, he shuffled to the door. Partially talking to me. Partially talking to a crowd of other people: present only to him.
The door opened, and Jim’s sillouhette trailed out into the parking lot. The afternoon sunshine was muted, its orange luster calm and warm.
The total on the register flashed in front of me.
I couldn’t ask Jim for the balance owed.
He had seen a lot. His experiences: a laundry list of traumatic experiences. And for him, that trauma, availed endless one-way conversations. And those conversations, a fruitless attempt to attain some sort of semblance of rationale.
Jim suffered from Life. A life encompassing many lives, none his own.
And for that, I hit the button allotted only to seniors.
More than anyone, Jim deserved that.