Article 25

The Human Condition

In Uncategorized on 06/08/2012 at 3:35 pm


Coffee, Change and Cigarettes

By Larry Gross


I got up in a grumpy mood that morning. Living in Covington, Ky., I was going to have to take a bus to Cincinnati to pick up a freelance check. I had been waiting for over 10 days for it to arrive in the mail, and now I was almost out of money. I had enough change in my pocket to catch a bus across the river to pick up the damn thing. Calling ahead, the person who owed me the money said it was waiting for me.

Having my normal two cups of coffee to wake up, I made a little extra for Josh. He lives in my building. He’s an out-of-work graphic designer who’s going broke. Trying to save him a little money, I told him I would supply his coffee until he gets back on his feet.

Josh entered my apartment as I was heading out. I told him to lock my apartment door after getting his coffee. I also told him to please return my coffee mugs and some dishes he had borrowed. I don’t mind supplying him coffee but didn’t feel like giving away my kitchen supplies.

Heading up to the bus stop, I thought to myself that, after getting back home, I should probably get more coffee. With Josh now drinking it, too, I was going through it faster than normal. With both of us needing it to wake up in the mornings, it wouldn’t be good to run out.

Turning right on Madison Avenue, I ran into Kris. If I had been more with it that morning, I would have crossed the street to avoid him.

“You got some change I could have?” Kris asked.

“I’ve got bus fare and that’s it,” I told him.

He gave me a blank stare.

“Come on,” he said. “I wanta walk up to Walgreens and get something to eat.”

“I don’t have it, Kris!” I said, annoyance joining my grumpiness. “Maybe I will later, but not now.”

I got to the bus stop just in time. Sitting down, I counted out the change I had left. Thirty cents. At least I wasn’t broke.

I had three cigarettes in my pack. If I paced myself, I would be able to go get my check, cash it, take a bus back to Covington and then go purchase another pack. Cigarettes are cheaper in Kentucky. I wasn’t going to pay Ohio prices.

Getting off the bus at Fourth and Main in downtown Cincinnati, I had to walk to Over-the-Rhine to pick up my check. I took a cigarette out of my pack and lit it. Walking up the sidewalk, I reminded myself I had two left.

Walking on a sidewalk and smoking a cigarette is what one would call “Asking for it.” I must have been stopped seven times by people wanting a smoke. If I have extra, I usually don’t mind giving a few away. I had no extra on that morning and felt pissed about it – at myself for being so low on money and at those thinking I was some kind of free cigarette dispenser.

Now walking in Over-the-Rhine, I had about four blocks to go. A guy stopped me who looked to be homeless. His clothes were rags, his white hair a mess and he walked with a limp.

“I could really use a cup of coffee,” he said. “Would you by chance have some extra change?

The guy looked like he probably needed the coffee. I thought of that 30 cents I had in my pocket, so I gave him the three dimes. He was grateful for it, and as I continued to walk, I started to feel a little less grumpy. I also thought I should have told Josh that before leaving my apartment to turn off the coffeemaker.

I reached my destination, saw the guy who owed me the money, got the check and then started heading back downtown. I lit another cigarette. Four more people approached me wanting to know if I could give them a smoke. All four times, I shook my head no.

I went to my bank and cashed the check. I walked quickly back to Fourth and Main. If I hurried, I could get back to Covington before noon.

As I paid my bus fare and sit down, I felt beat. All that walking had worn me out, but it felt good to have some money in my pocket again. As far as cigarettes go, I had paced myself well. I still had one left in my pack.

The bus let me off on Madison Avenue. Walgreens was right across the street. As I crossed the road, there was Kris sitting on one of the bus benches. Had he been waiting for me thinking I would come back from my trip with money to give him? That annoyed feeling started to return.

Kris saw me immediately and stood up.

“Hey, I know you don’t have any change,” he said, “but you got a cigarette I could have?”

“Sorry, Kris,” I said, lying. “I don’t have any on me.”

“Will you later?” he asked.

“I don’t know, maybe.”

As I turned right to head into Walgreens, I told myself that today I wasn’t going to deal with Kris and his always wanting something from me. I was feeling tired from the bus trip to Cincinnati and didn’t feel like responding to his frequent handout requests.

Except for the man in Over-the-Rhine and that 30 cents, I managed to get through the entire day without caving in to people who wanted handouts. I don’t usually feel that way, but sometimes charity really does begin at home. Maybe I would feel differently tomorrow.

As I entered Walgreens, I reminded myself to not only buy cigarettes but also get coffee. Josh and I would be needing some to wake up to tomorrow morning.


  1. […] few times, he’s asked me for change. So far I haven’t given him any. He likes my walking cane and he’s not getting that either. The […]

  2. […] To read “Coffee, Change and Cigarettes,” click here. […]

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