Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Homeless guy's nugget not worth a Whopper

While standing in line at a local fast-food restaurant recently, the kid in front of me was having trouble coming up with the cash for his burger. I gave him a handful of change to move things along – impatience, not altruism.

The episode reminded me of an encounter several years ago when I was still working for the place with the printing press, downtown in the Land of Cotton. I had dashed out for dinner and made my rounds of the usual places, the ubiquitous chains that dot the corners of downtown streets, strip malls and suburban shopping centers.

I ended up at the “Home of the Whopper”, standing in line behind a homeless guy who was wearing a wrinkled and stained trench coat and holding a huge black garbage bag that apparently contained all that he held precious in the world.

He shuffled along, lost in thought until he reached the counter and a cashier waiting to take his order. It’s been a few years, but this is how I recall the little vignette playing out.

The cashier asks the man what he would like. He tells her. She rings up his order. They stare at one another. A moment goes by. The cashier tells the guy how much he owes. He then reaches into the depths of the garbage bag he’s been carting about and pulls out a rock, a very big rock, and places it on the counter.

The cashier stares at the rock, then at the man. Seconds tick away and I think I can actually here wheels twirling in the homeless guy’s brain. I can definitely here the shuffling of impatience behind and around me.

After another moment of silence, the guy speaks. “It’s gold,” he says, “solid gold.”

The young cashier glances at the rock, then back at the man. “I’m sorry sir,” she says, “but we no longer accept gold.”

The homeless guy offers up a world-weary shrug, suggesting this wasn’t the first time he’d tried the old gold-rock ruse, picks up his bag and heads for the door.

Without missing a beat, the cashier picks up the rock and calls out after him: “Sir, don’t forget your gold!”

At the time, I thought the cashier handled herself pretty well. It was all sort of funny and sort of sad. Today it would probably be a hit on YouTube or the makings of a reality TV show.

THAT AIN'T GOLD: Well, actually this is a gold nugget (photo above), a huge gold nugget. But, unfortunately, this isn't what I saw when a homeless guy was jonesing for a Whopper.

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