Just like any other day, Mandy watched him from behind the coffee shop counter slowly walking east on Main St. He stopped at the corner of the intersection, waited for the bright orange hand telling him not to walk to change and continued walking with his head down. He dragged everything he owned behind him, all of it strapped to a dolly with dirty, blue and yellow bungee cords.
He made his way up to the Black and Brew patio and swung open the door. Today, the door bore a sign stating that the coffee house would be closed the following day for Thanksgiving. Without giving the sign a second glance, he parked his dolly full of odds-and-ends in the corner and made his way to the counter to stand in line.
He took his place in line behind families, young students who had the day off from school and businessmen and women on their lunch break.
He wore a dark-colored, long-sleeved shirt underneath a tan vest. The vest had several pockets that snapped closed, all seemingly full of odds and ends. On his left hip sat a fanny pack—yet another compartment in which he could store his things. His glasses sat in their usual spot—on the very tip of his nose, where he could easily see over them when he wasn’t reading.
Mandy and the other girls working behind the counter greeted him.
“Hey, Roger,” they all said simultaneously.
“Hey,” he said quietly, almost to himself.
He waited patiently behind the several people in line. He watched them pull $20 bills and credit cards out of their leather wallets and overflowing purses to pay for their meals and coffee like he did everyday.
When he made it to the cash register, he gently placed his portable coffee mug on the counter.
“How are ya today Roger?” Mandy asked.
“Oh, I’m alright,” he mumbled.
All the girls at Black and Brew had long gotten used to how quiet he talked. The whistle of the espresso machine and the many lunch hour conversations often swallowed his soft mumble.
“Just some coffee today?” Mandy asked.
“Some water too, if you don’t mind,” he said quietly.
Mandy took his thermos and the lid that went with it and rinsed it out with soap and water before she refilled it.
It used to be a blue mug, but the heat, the cold, the rain, the journeys it took on the back of Roger’s dolly, and the twice-a-day washing and drying had taken their toll on it. The paint had slowly chipped off until all that was visible was the shiny silver underneath and the faded Black and Brew sticker Roger had placed on it after another employee bought the portable mug for him as a gift.
At Black and Brew, the coffee is cheaper if you bring your own mug.
The baristas at the coffee shop gradually stopped letting Roger pay for his coffee though. He used to come in everyday and just ask for a plastic cup of water, extra ice. Every few days, he would accumulate enough change to be able to buy a coffee. He would carefully count his change before he dropped it all on the counter. Exactly $1.34 every time.
After Mandy washed away yesterday’s coffee residue from the inside of the mug, she placed the full cup in front of him.
“How’s the weather lookin’ for today?” she asked him.
“It’s not supposed to rain for another couple of days,” he mumbled. “Supposed to get down to 40 tonight though.”
“Ugh, I hate the cold.”
“Yeah, me too,” he said.
He had blankets, a thick, hooded coat and a pair of boots that someone had bought him, but once the temperature dropped below 60, he would walk into the coffee shop with his hood up and his gloves on, shivering.
Roger studied the weather from the newspaper everyday and he could recite the high temperatures, the low temperatures, humidity, chance of rain, and the high and low pressure systems on cue. His daily routine depended on the weather.
“Well, my blankets haven’t been stolen yet so that’s good,” he told Mandy with a small smile.
Mandy placed his water next to his coffee, obviously scrambling for a response.
“Thank you sweetheart,” he said.
“See ya later, Roger.”
He shuffled to the condiment station to bulk up his coffee, and a few minutes later, balancing his coffee and water in one hand and pulling his dolly behind him with the other, he pushed through the doors and headed back towards his bench in Munn Park.
Once at his bench, the same one he sat at everyday, he unfastened everything from his dolly and arranged it around him.
He had blankets, newspapers, cigarettes, crossword puzzles, Sudoku puzzles, books, and notepads. The largest piece of luggage strapped to his dolly was his guitar. He pulled it from the bulky black case and set it on his lap. He left the case open at his feet and began to play a simple tune.
He used to have no need for the dolly because the guitar case had a handle and everything else could be put into a backpack. Once the old, rusty handle finally detached itself from the case though, he was forced to carry it around the way a businessman would carry a stack of papers pinned between his arm and his side—if a businessman was required to haul around a 15 pound stack of papers for several hours a day.
Occasionally, he sang along quietly while he played. His singing, like his speaking, was mumbled and passersby would have to strain to make out any words at all.
Eventually, he fell into his daily pattern of alternately playing his guitar, solving Sudoku and crossword puzzles and smoking cigarettes. He broke up this monotony by taking a slow walk around the park. He bravely left his belongings unattended on his bench while he walked from trashcan to trashcan. He looked up to check inside each black, metal bin, reaching in every so often if something caught his eye.
Today, like most days, he came up empty.
After a few hours, Roger made his second trip to Black and Brew. Again, Mandy spotted him through the glass doors before he walked through them.
“Hey, Roger,” she said.
“Hey,” he said back, in the same tone as before.
She watched him as she poured his coffee and noticed, even more so than most days, he looked clearly more disheveled and tired than when she saw him earlier in the day.
His reddish-gray hair that he usually kept neatly slicked back into a low ponytail was messy and unkempt. The hairs on his head were sticking up and away from his head in a way that, instead of concealing the baldness on the top of his head, further exposed it.
Usually, when Roger is having a good day, he makes it obvious. He makes conversation about the weather, his Sudoku puzzles, or the day-old pastries that he has every morning, courtesy of Black and Brew. At the very least, he smiles.
Today, the day before Thanksgiving, he wore his not-so-good day on his sleeve. Roger took his second cup of coffee after muttering the softest “thank you” possible—his dispirited demeanor obvious.
He walked back out the door while Mandy had her head turned, not giving her a chance to tell him to have a happy holiday.
Black and Brew closed at 8pm and from the time he’d gotten his second cup of coffee until then, Roger busied himself with the same things he’d been doing earlier.
From the patio where she was stacking chairs, Mandy again spotted Roger. Across the park, he was packing up his belongings and carefully situating them around the guitar case and strapping them all to the dolly.
He was leaving his day spot and heading to his night spot—an area presumably less than a mile away that no one but Roger has any knowledge of. He started walking towards the intersection where Mandy first spotted him that morning. Before he could get there, she crossed the road to meet him.
“Roger, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?” she asked.
“Oh, I’ll be here,” he said.
“Are you going to have anything to eat?”
“Well, sometimes on Thanksgiving I get a lot to eat,” he said slowly. “Sometimes I don’t get nothin’.”
“Well, my family’s going to have lots of leftovers,” Mandy said. “I’ll bring you some.”
“Okay,” he said with a smile. “Thank you sweetheart.”
The next day, Mandy found Roger on his bench, writing in a notebook. Piled next to him, among his usual clutter, were three Styrofoam to-go boxes.
“Hey, Mandy,” he said cheerfully as she walked up with a covered plate of food in her hands.
“Looks like you don’t need my food, do ya?”
“I got way more than I thought I would,” he said, smiling.
After a short conversation about who brought him what and what was in each box, Mandy asked him if he wanted her to save the plate she brought him for the next day.
“Yeah, I don’t even know how I’m going to carry what I’ve got,” he said.
“How about I take what you can’t carry and keep it at Black and Brew?” she asked. “You can come get it tomorrow or whenever you want it.”
“Yeah, if you wouldn’t mind,” he said. “I just won’t be able to carry this stuff.”
“Yeah, sure. It’ll be there tomorrow.”
He handed her two of the to-go boxes—both labeled Golden Corral. The top box contained only desserts. The bottom box held what looked like a 16-course meal.
Roger is a quiet man that the people that know him don’t actually know much about. He has family somewhere but he doesn’t speak to them or about them. He sleeps somewhere off of West Main St. but no one knows exactly where. It’s some people’s guess that he’s a war veteran, but no one really knows for sure.
They do know that he has made friends with the employees at various businesses in downtown Lakeland, as well as the policemen that patrol the area. He never causes trouble. He has a few friends that also inhabit Munn Park. He shares his day-old pastries with them. He doesn’t like when Black and Brew closes because he has to get his coffee from Harry’s, the seafood restaurant across the street from his bench. He’s good at solving Sudoku puzzles and has gone through an entire book of them. His favorite soup is Potato Bacon and he doesn’t eat white bread because it’s bad for him.
Roger is soft-spoken and kind. He doesn’t expect handouts from anyone. He is a man of few words, but the carefully chosen words he does speak, despite being muffled and sometimes hard to understand, are enough.
“Happy Thanksgiving Roger,” Mandy said, as she walked back to her car with more food than she came with. For anyone else, this might be considered an inconvenience. Because it was for Roger, it wasn’t.
“Thank you sweetheart,” he said.