11,041 vagabonds plus:
first hot meal
I remember it was quiet, just in off the street, and we sat in a first-come first-serve shuffle, everyone in hard heels, strangers of brother and sisterhood, avoiding eye contact, but no matter, my mouth was hurting for food. It was a clean hall, and new, but dim lit. Everyone needed a bath, all dressed in ill-fitting salvation clothes, the men with top button fastened and straight ties. Silent, expressionless ladies served thick, square, slices from loaves in clear bags with no writing, and the best ever fried baloney with crisp edges slid off a spatula of a second lady server, the one nearest me had a hairnet, but no safety net for her hairy arms.
I felt a nudge on my right elbow and wanted to ignore it, but the man said excuse me barely above a whisper and I felt compelled to clear my throat and excuse him. Our eyes met quick and I could see he had been crying.
It was so quiet. Me too, 'cause I was saying grace the whole time. And then about two rows behind me a new man said he'd sure like some hot coffee.
George Tooker, 1964
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