The alarm began to ring. Refusing to acknowledge the morning, he reached over and patted the nightstand. Only when his fingers wrapped around his cell phone did he finally open one eye. He squinted. Then he groaned.
After plodding through his morning routine, he put on a dark suit and light necktie. The leather laptop bag bumped against his hip as he exited the apartment. He reflexively looked down, only to remember that he had cancelled the newspaper a month ago.
As he walked into the deli, the man with the funny hair walked out. They waved to each other. This is what they did every weekday for the past four years. He knew that the elderly woman in front of him would order—
“Small coffee, cream, no sugar, and an egg bagel with butter.”
As she shuffled away, he wondered if any of them noticed the change in his routine.
“Good morning, chief,” the man behind the counter said. “The usual?”
He fished a five dollar bill out of his wallet. He knew that he should make his own breakfast and stay at home. He couldn’t do it. Routines were difficult to change. He hoped that things would return to normal again soon.
“Have a good day,” the man behind the counter said as he stuffed napkins into the white sack. “See ya tomorrow.”
From the deli, he usually walked three blocks north and entered the skyscraper. He hadn’t gone there in over three months. His boss had said, “Look, I’m sorry, you’re a good guy and all, but we just can’t afford to to pay you.”
So now, he instead walked five blocks east with his coffee and muffin to the public space with free WiFi. While he was setting up his laptop to review classified ads online, a man in sagging jeans and a soiled sweatshirt walked past. In his hand was a tall aluminum can in a brown paper bag.
Taking a sip from his coffee, the other man thought, It’s five o’ clock somewhere.
The man had bought the aluminum can in the brown paper bag from the bodega around the corner. He was celebrating his morning’s success.
His day started at 3:30am because he knew that the sanitation trucks would arrive around 6:00am. He also wanted to avoid the morning rush. People in the neighborhood often yelled at him and threatened to call the police. His cart, when full, was bulky and difficult to maneuver in the crowds as they streamed towards the subway.
This morning, the superintendent of a high-rise apartment building saw him pushing his cart.
“Hey, Papi!” the superintendent said, waving at him. “Take my bags.”
The five overstuffed bags could not fit in his cart. He was delighted.
Aluminum cans and plastic bottles earned him five cents a piece. He was smiling as he pushed the cart forty blocks uptown. On a good day, he could pull in $100. With this donation from the superintendent, he got close to $200.
“Thank you!” he exclaimed when the grocery clerk put the cash into his hands. He stuffed the wrinkled bills into his tattered wallet and walked into the bodega. When he reached the back of the store, he opened the refrigerator case. Instead of plucking out a single can of beer, he decided to splurge.
“A case today, huh?” the bodega clerk murmured.
“It’s a good day,” he said.
Routines were difficult to change. He knew that things would return to normal again soon.