Monday, April 23, 2007

The Regulars: Gus, Part 1

There is a core group of regulars that volunteer at the kitchen on the same day as me. They all come from different walks of life and their stories are as engrossing as the usual goings on at the kitchen. I'll see if I can get to all of them, but for now we'll start with Gus.

Gus is in his seventies. He stands about 5 ft 3, with salt and pepper hair and a slight paunch. Years of heavy lifting and manual labor have taken a toll on his back, and so when he stands he appears slightly hunched over.

Gus has led an interesting life. He is a Korean war veteran, and like most of the workers is very liberal. He volunteers seven days a week at the kitchen, because he really doesn't have anything else to do. He lost his wife more than 20 years ago and even though one of his sons lives in town, Gus is pretty much ignored by him. Gus' son is a rather famous plastic surgeon and even though the guy easily makes a couple hundred grand a year, Gus lives in a rundown house in a bad neighborhood. On a family trip down to Florida to which Gus was invited, his son made him chip in for gasoline and pay for his own hotel room. All this, while Gus is living off of social
security and a small military pension.

In contrast, Gus is very giving. Despite the fact that he doesn't have much, Gus rarely refuses a request for a dollar or a bus token, even when he knows the requester is probably scamming him. From some of the other volunteers, I've learned that Gus was actually homeless for a while...and I think he feels the honest need to be generous to those less fortunate.

Gus is easily a saint, albeit a sometimes crotchety saint who provides loads of intentional and unintentional comedy. There are two stories that I think illustrate Gus' personality well. I'll cover one today, and save the other for the next post...

Because we live in a college town, there is usually a storm of undergrads looking to do community service. Normally we give them menial, mundane tasks to do: chopping vegetables, organizing the pantry, cleaning out the freezers. But if they seem nice and not just there for a resume-booster, we'll let them do fun stuff, like serve or interact with the customers.

One particular morning I was helping Ruth and Sally cook the meal, when four rather attractive sorority girls walked in. (I would normally say four co-eds, but since the girls were all wearing clothing that prominently displaying their Greek letters, it only feels right to refer to them as that...) We were debating what tasks we needed them to do, when Gus walked in. He took a quick look at the girls, and then flashed what I thought was a shit-eating grin.

"Follow me girls. I'll show you what to do", he called out as he led them to the office. Ruth and Sally rolled their eyes and we all chuckled.

Now remember...Gus lived alone and aside from his time at the soup kitchen his life was devoid of any sort of social interaction. Of course he was going to take this chance to monopolize their time.

As we worked in the kitchen, we could hear Gus explain the workings of the kitchen, its history, etc. After twenty minutes of rambling, I peeped my head out to see if the girls were bored. To their credit, if they were uninterested they certainly didn't show it. I saw four heads nodding and smiling as Gus droned on, a smile never wavering from his own face. Maybe the girls saw someone that reminded them of their own grandfathers or maybe they were just being nice to an old man...or perhaps they were legitimately keen on what he had to say. Whatever the reason, they kept at rapt attention as Gus went on for another 10 minutes, before finally telling them what to do. (Incidentally, Gus' diminutive stature gave him the perfect eye level to stare directly into the girls' cleavage. And yes, there was an abundance of cleavage...)

We finished cooking the meal and started serving to the customers, and I noticed Gus had an extra spring in his step. He was walking around, exchanging banter with the customers, cracking jokes...he was truly in his element. As the rush began to slow down, I took a break and went into the office, sitting down on the couch next to Gus.

Gus was tired, as he had been working for nearly five hours, and was taking a much deserved break. I caught Gus smiling at one of the girls who was handing out sack lunches. The smile was one of pride, the kind I'd imagine a grandfather wears when seeing his granddaughter graduate. I immediately felt a pang of guilt for thinking of Gus as a dirty old man. I got up to go back to work and almost reached the door when Gus turned to me and winked.

"Watch this...", he whispered, flashing another grin and winking right before he threw his empty tumbler of coffee to the ground, and kicked it to the center of the room.

"Hey honey!", he said to the sack lunch girl.

"Yes, Gus?"

"I dropped my coffee mug. Would you mind picking it for me...I'm too tired to get up."

"Sure!", she beamed at him. Sure enough, she walked over to the tumbler. As she bent down at the waist to pick it up, Gus got an enormous grin on his face. He flashed me a thumbs-up with both hands, as I walked back into the kitchen area, trying my best to hold back my laughter.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was hilarious, dirty old man, lol

8:16 AM  

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