Five Bucks

Sitting on the toilet, I quietly picked my feet up and leaned them against the stall door. I’d hear the security guy coming down the hall and knew it was him because whoever it was paused at every doorway and rattled the locks and latches. The door to the restroom swung open and I could hear the man walking around, no doubt peering in all directions and I heard him crouch down to look for feet in any of the stalls. He grunted as he stood back up and I heard him cross to the sink and run the water. He apparently washed his hands, having put them on the floor to scan for feet. I next hear him yank a few towels from the dispenser and the paper rustle as he dried himself. After that, he left. I waited another few moments in case he decided to duck back in for some reason, and when he didn’t, I transferred my carry bag with my clothes behind me to fashion a kind of pillow. Leaving my feet propped against the door, I drifted off to sleep.

Sleeping in public rest rooms, even those in shoddy hotels wasn’t my idea of high living. But when the outside temperature is in the twenties and there’s a couple of feet of snow everywhere, you take what you can get. In Pittsfield, Massachusetts that particular night, my choice was creative nesting of walking through the night to keep warm. I was much to tired for that having spent the day hoofing it the twenty miles from my school in Lee to visit the object of my lust in Pittsfield. Nanci-Jean was a high school senior at Pittsfield High School, a townie. I was a senior at the Lee boarding school, a “preppy” and the object of scorn for Pittsfield High School males. We were interlopers on their turf, competing for already slim resources. Nanci-Jean liked me, but had not committed to a first kiss or even a session of hand holding. However, she was more than happy to have a long conversation with me should I choose to stand in her yard and speak to her through her bedroom window. This I had done for almost four hours, ignoring my feet going numb and my ears and nose burning with the ache of cold, already tired from the long hike into town. Nanci-Jean told me that she figured she better get along to bed, needing to get up early to go to church with the family in the morning. Just before she closed and latched the window, she explained that I was a really nice guy, but thought it would be better if we didn’t see each other anymore, since she had decided to go steady with the quarterback for her school’s football team.

Bitch. That is what I would have said had this happened today, but it happened back before the word had blossomed to the staple it’s become in today’s lexicon. Instead, I mumbled something like “aww, man” and shuffled off dejectedly to discover that the bus I’d planned to take back to the town of Lee had departed an hour previously. I’d walked all that way and bypassed buying anything to eat so I would have the $1.25 I would need to get a ride home on the midnight bus. Try as hard as I could, I couldn’t think of where I might go since it was one o’clock in the morning on a Sunday. So I made my way in the general direction of the bus station thinking I might spend the night in its waiting room. No such luck, I arrived to find it locked up and the lights off. I next tried the train station. It was open and so I took a bit of warmth while checking the train schedules. There were four trains going north through the night, but nary a one going south. I settled into a chair in the waiting room and gripping my bag, cuddled up to try and catch some sleep.

“Hey, kid.” I startled from the twilight I had so comfortably been embraced by. “Are you a passenger waiting for a train?” I was being asked this by a man in a rumpled and ill fitting suit who was showing me a New Haven Railroad Security badge. “If you are, show me your ticket.” he demanded.

“I was just resting and thinking about taking a train to Lee.” I said. “But I see the next one isn’t until seven-thirty tomorrow morning.”

“Do you have a ticket” he asked again. I told him that no, I didn’t. Yet.” He made it plain that I either had to go buy one or I needed to leave the terminal to make way for the paying passengers. I looked around the completely empty room, shrugged and decided I would go ahead and get the ticket. At the counter, the clerk told me a ticket to Lee was $1.86. This was more than the buck and a quarter I had. I asked if I could pay the $1.25 and send the rest later and the guy just walked away from the counter after a derisive snort. I sighed and grabbed my bundle and pushed out through the doors. Things were not going my way.

I knew a couple of girls who lived in town who would sneak me into their cellar, but there was no way to reach them unless I wanted to gamble on traipsing to their home and trying to get their attention by tossing snowballs at their windows. At after one in the morning, I figured I wouldn’t get much of a warm reception. That’s when I saw the marquis for the hotel, which actually said ho el because the neon T was burned out. I walked over and peered in the door. A bored looking older guy was sitting behind the counter watching a small black and white television. I opened the door and strolled in like I owned the place and headed to a stairwell in the back. I crossed the open lobby like I belonged and took lively steps up the stairs, walking more and more lightly as I ran in place about three steps up. The stairs were out of the clerk’s sight and I crept back down and quietly snuck into a hallway to the side of the stairs marked Restrooms. So that’s how I came to be sitting on a toilet and using my carry bag for a pillow and tried to sleep with my feet resting against the stall door.

Something awakened me and I looked at my watch. It was a little after five in the morning. I heard someone in the stall next to me and so I froze and tried to keep my breathing light. I saw motion out of the corner of my eye and saw a gnarled, old hand reaching under the stall divider. The fingers wiggled and made a come here gesture. I stared at the fingers in horror until a few seconds later, they disappeared back under the divider. They reappeared another few seconds later, a five dollar bill pinched between gnarled digits. A voice whispered “I can make you feel good.” That did it for me. I reached down, grabbed the fiver and flipped open the latch to my stall. My legs were asleep from being pressed against the door so long and I collapsed as soon as I put weight on them. The door in the stall next to mine began to open and I shuffled myself backwards, crab walking toward the door. Flipping myself over, I staggered to my feet and fairly flew through the restroom door. As I blew through the lobby, the old guy behind the desk called out “Hey!” …but I was through the front hotel door and out.

I hustled back towards the train station, with the five I snatched from the pervert, I could afford a train ticket back to Lee. Almost to the station, I looked down the block and saw the lights on in the bus station and remembered that it opened at five in the morning. I hustled over and discovered there was a bus to Lee at 5:45 and I bought a ticket. Departure, according to my watch, was only 10 minutes away. The bus was out at the platforms so I walked out and climbed aboard. The driver collected my ticket and I found myself a window seat about midway back. There were only two others on the bus, and only one more person joined us before the driver closed the door and backed away from the platform. A half hour later I was in Lee and hiking my way up the hill to the school. So early on a Sunday, no one was about and I made it to my room without encountering anyone.

I slept through breakfast, not waking until pas eleven am. I made my way down to the day room and ran into a couple of my buddies. They were making plans to go to the movies in Lee and asked if I wanted to go along. “Why not?” I said. “I’ve got five bucks.”