“Jim do you realize how cheap we are?” I asked into the darkness. I stretched my arms and folded them behind my head, starring up at the dark ceiling, the shadows forming shapes every once in awhile until I blinked them away.
“Huh?” Jim asked in a tired voice.
I turned on my side and looked to where his bed was. “Dude, we’re sleeping in the same room and we’re how old? 27 and... how old are you again?”
“45,” he replied, the numbers slurring together because of the sleep in his voice. I nodded and moved back onto my back with my arms behind my neck. I went back to looking at the shadow creatures on the ceiling, counting the number of dragons that appeared that turned into monkeys when they moved. “You’re still awake,” Jim mumbled from his bed after about ten minutes. “Go to sleep, Hanson.”
I glanced down at the clock and sat up suddenly. “I’m going out,” I announced grabbing my jacket and a room key from the table before entering into the hotel hallway. “It’s almost 1 in the morning, we got nothing accomplished today just by sitting in that damn hotel room watching movies on pay-per view, and I can’t get in touch with Clare. There has to be a bar open some place,” I mumbled getting into the elevator and traveling the fourteen floors down to the lobby.
The lobby was buzzing with people; employees, guests, tourists, all with somewhere to go and someone to be with. I was all alone in a city that I didn’t know quite well and didn’t have anywhere to go that didn’t involve flying there.
I shivered as I walked through the first set of doors of the hotel and was hit with a blast of cold air from the outside. I didn’t have any gloves, I only had a scarf and my wool dress coat to keep me warm. I didn’t know at the time I packed that I would wind up in Chicago in the middle of a blizzard.
“Are you sure you want to go outside, sir?” A man asked to my right.
I looked over and discovered a doorman standing there with his hand on the door handle ready to open it if I said yes.
I nodded. “I have nowhere else to go,” I told him, standing in front of the door shivering every once in awhile from the draft that was seeping in through the crack between the glass doors. “Two days before Christmas and nowhere to go.”
“No family?” He asked.
I shook my head. “I’m supposed to be with them in New York right now,” I told him, “but because of this thing I’m not!” I gestured towards the falling snow that had once been so beautiful to me. Now it was a hazard, an obstacle keeping me from reaching my destination. It was falling so hard and so cold that I could not even remember the times I felt warm looking at it falling gently to the earth. Now all I felt was cold and emptiness.
“It is supposed to let up by morning,” the doorman informed me. “I don’t know how clear the runways at the airport will be but there is always a chance for a flight.”
I nodded and cast my eyes once again to the icy roads and falling snow. “Are there any bars open near here?”
“There’s one right around the corner,” he replied pointing down the road. “It stays open late, even on holidays.”
“It’s not a holiday yet,” I told him, pushing the door open myself.
“It’s Christmas Eve!” He called after me. “Merry Christmas, sir!”
I flinched as the snow was blown into my face. The white shield was coming down even more since I was standing in that lobby. It was like a blanket suffocating me, causing me to choke on it when I took a deep breath. I leaned over and spit onto the white sidewalk neglecting to see that there was a blob of a coat sitting next to the spot I had chosen. The blob held out a thin, shaky arm with a dirty cup attached to it and shook the cup lightly, almost as if it was the last ounce of strength it had left. The coat coughed and it’s breath went up in a hot cloud of mist into the cold air.
“Spare some change, sir?” It said meekly looking up at me when I stood up straight again, pulling the collar of my jacket up around my face to block the snow from burning my cheeks.
“Bah,” I said trudging away through the snow in the direction of the bar. I could barely see it’s bright lights through the snow. I longed to sit down at the bar with a draft and drown away my sorrows, singing old rock and roll hits that occurred before my time. Christmas was a depressing time for some, especially for those like me who wouldn’t be home for Christmas, with money galore to spend on alcohol and cigarettes in bars, no one to care if they came home drunk or if they came home at all.
I finally got to the end of the street and entered into the hot room. I shook the snow from my hair and grabbed an empty seat towards the end of the bar.
“What’ll it be mister?” the bartender asked the moment I joined the gang at the counter.
“A Heineken,” I responded to her. She left to get my beer and I scoped out the place; dark, noisy, and full, exactly the place I wanted to be in. I got to talking with the two men next to me and pretty soon had downed three drafts and was waiting on the fourth. During that time the bar had started to empty out and when I finished my fourth Heineken, the two guys left to go home to their wives. I was wrong, some people did have a place to go home to.
I starred at my empty beer glass and looked up at the bartender who was getting ready to close up. The only people left in the bar were me and a couple of guys playing pool near the door.
“Sorry, mister,” she said shaking her head. “But I think you’ve reached your limit.”
“I know,” she said interrupting me. “You’re Taylor Hanson. You used that to get the last one out of me.”
I blinked. I had?
She took the empty glass from the counter and brought it to the back to wash. I turned around to get off the stool I was sitting on but the ground looked incredibly too far away. I couldn’t get down because in order for me to get down I would have to jump about a mile to the ground. The room was spinning and I knew I was way beyond drunk. It took all of my energy for me to stay on the stool and not fall down to the floor that was a mile below.
I turned back around and leaned on the counter top waiting for my bill from the bartender. She rang me up on the cash register and asked if I needed her to get my money out for me. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wallet. I held it in-between my fingers, feeling the smooth leather on my finger tips and remembering the birthday I turned 18, when I first got it. “A bigger wallet for a bigger check,” my brother had joked when I had opened the package on my birthday. He had been referring to our hopes of selling more records than the previous release. More records sold meant more money to give to our girlfriends.
I smiled at the thought of the past and for some reason started to think of the coat of a person I had snubbed outside. I started thinking about his past: did he ever have a girlfriend? Did he have a brother? Did he have a wallet he got on his eighteenth birthday that he carried around for almost ten years? Was he married? Did he have a family?
I jumped down from the stool and although I was relieved that it really was not a mile to the floor, I paid no attention to it. I grabbed a bill from inside of my wallet and stuffed it into the hands of the bartender, shoving the wallet back into my pocket. I grabbed my jacket from the stool next to me where I had put it hours prior and stumbled towards the door. It used to be closer to the counter, I could have sworn.
“But mister!” The bartender called after me, rushing over. She held up the bill. “This is a-”
“Keep the change,” I insisted finally reaching the door, leaving her speechless a few miles from me. “It is a hundred, right?” I asked in a concerned voice, realizing I didn’t know if I jipped her or not. The bartender nodded. “Good,” I replied. “I thought I gave you a thousand by mistake” I joked opening the door.
“Merry Christmas!” The bartender called after me.
“Yeah,” I muttered to what I thought was her but turned out to be the closed bar door. I half walked, half fell down the two steps that led up to the bar and turned the corner. I looked both ways to make sure I was going the right way. With the snow I was totally turned around and the fact that my blood alcohol content was way above the normal limit helped my confusion just a little. I started down the street that I was on, remembering slightly where I was going. I walked on, letting the snow hit my cheeks and not bothering to pull up my jacket collar around my face.
I stopped walking when I reached the coat that was sitting on the side of a building. The shaky hand didn’t rise with the dirty cup this time. The man didn’t speak. He didn’t even raise his head at me.
“I was wrong,” I started. My own voice sounded strange to me, slurring the words together. In my head they sounded fine, clear and distinct, but as they came out I couldn’t believe that it was me talking. The words were jumbled and I couldn’t understand half of them. I clearly thought my thoughts but they were slurred upon reaching the outside world. “I should have gave you change,” I went on ignoring the unclarity of my voice. “I was feeling sorry for myself and didn’t even think of others.” A wave of nausea passed over me but I swallowed it. “Not for one second did I think, ‘wow here’s a man with no money and no family, no one to care if he doesn’t come home, because he doesn’t have one.’” I realized in my thoughts that it was a very rude comment to make but the words poured out anyway as if I didn’t have a choice as what to say. “I’m a self-fish, self-absorbed idiot- and I think I’m going to be sick.” I grabbed on to the railing that led down a set of stairs that the coat was leaning on and vomited on the stairs. I sank down to the ground right next to the coat and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.
I leaned up against the railing and sighed, “too much to drink,” I explained to the unresponsive man. I struggled to get to my feet and had to use the help of the slippery railing. I fell a few times and started laughing. A few minutes later I got to my feet and brushed off my pants which I found quite amusing because the snow was falling quickly and it’s very hard to wipe off snow from your pants when you are standing in a snow storm.
I looked down once again at the homeless man and felt sick to my stomach. This time it wasn’t the alcohol, this time something in my brain was telling me that I couldn’t make myself feel better with words, or even with money. This man really did not have a family to go home to, nor did he have a home himself. I couldn’t help him forever but I could make his holiday a little bit merrier.
I felt somewhat sobered up. Maybe it was the weather, or maybe it was that the realization that at least if I wasn’t going to be home for Christmas, I’d be home some time. When in comparison, he could never go home.
I knelt down next to the man and reached into my pocket, grabbing my wallet and a business card and pen from the inside of my coat. I shoved the wallet back into my back pocket after grabbing out a few bills. I wrote the name of the hotel I was staying in and the price of a room on the back of the business card and shoved the pen back into my pocket. “Sir?” I said. The man looked up at me. I took his hand and shoved the bills into it. I held the business card in front of his face. “This is me,” I said pointing to my name on the bottom of the card. “And this is my partner,” I pointed to Jim’s name. “Our office number is on the bottom and my extension is right underneath my name.” I flipped over the card and pointed to the phone number and price, “this is the number to that hotel right there.” I pointed down the block at the hotel that was brightly lit up, looking so inviting with it’s homely atmosphere. No wonder this man had situated himself so close to it. “I want you to go inside and present this card to them. The price of a room is on the back. You have enough cash to stay for two nights starting this afternoon.” I pressed the card into his palm that was holding the money and rose from the ground. The snow was coming down lighter all around us. I turned to walk back to the hotel. The distance between where I was standing and the hotel was lessened, and the white blanket of snow that had been coming down was ceasing to a light shower of flakes.
“Merry Christmas,” I heard a voice whisper from the ground. I turned my head and saw the man looking in awe at the few hundreds I had give him. His voice sounded raw, as if he hadn’t used it to do more than whisper the few words ‘can you spare some change?’
“Merry Christmas!” He shouted, breaking free from the boundary of his soft voice.
I stopped in my tracks and turned all the way around. I grinned at the excitement in his childlike eyes. “Merry Christmas!”