The two of us had not eaten for almost three days. Generally, the restaurants would dump their scraps into the dumpster, located in the alleyway, at the end of each shift. However, for some unknown reason there was no food to be found.
We had been on the run for two days. We left the orphanage at about seven o'clock Friday evening. We planned to head for California as soon as we raised enough money to start hitchhiking. Wayne Evers had just turned eleven the week before, and I was a few months younger than he was. We were use to the streets of Jacksonville, Florida. We had run away many times and we never had a problem finding food or raising money. For hours we wondered from restaurant to restaurant looking in the garage cans in search of food.
As we past a large, red, brick church on Park Street, we noticed a man standing behind a restaurant peeling potatoes. We watched as he peeled each one and then threw them into a large metal tub. We must have stood there for five minutes just watching, neither one of us saying a word. We automatically knew that dinner was nearby.
Once the man finished peeling, he reached down, grabbed the water hose, and began washing the potatoes. With eyes opened wide we watched as he cleaned up the peelings and packed them into a large paper bag. As he was about to throw the skins into the garage can, he looked up and saw us staring at him.
"Can I help you boys?" he yelled out.
"We’re just looking," Wayne yelled back at him.
"You two boys might as well head on down the road. You are not getting these here potatoes," he said, in a somewhat gruff sounding voice.
"We were going to ask if we could have those peeling skins," said Wayne.
"You ain't getting them either," he said, as he opened the door and sat the bag inside.
"Ain't you just going to throw them away anyway? Ain't that what you were going to do?" I asked.
"You two get out of here before I call the police. You hear me?"
"But we are hungry. Can we please have the peelings?" I begged.
The man stood there for several moments and then he said, "I'll tell you what. You boys clean up all these papers hose down this back area, and I'll give you the peelings."
"That's a deal!" hollered Wayne. We began running around the small lot picking up the papers and trash.
Within 30 minutes, the area was very clean. I turned on the water and I began to hose down the cement for as far as the small hose would reach. When we were done, we walked up to the back door and began to knock. After three or four knocks, the door jerked open and there stood the man with a very angry look on his face.
"I thought I told you little tramps to get the hell out of here," he screamed.
"But you said…," I started to say.
"The police are on their way. You had best get your little asses on the move," he said, as he came walking toward us.
Wayne and I backed up as the large man neared where we were standing. We did not stop until we reached the sidewalk.
"That's not a fair thing to do," said Wayne.
"And we’re hungry," I blurted out.
"I don't give a rat’s ass if you little bastards starve to death," said the man, as he looked down the street to see if the police were coming.
"But we weren’t asking for something for free. It was something that you were going to throw away. And besides, we worked for it," I hollered at the man.
"You two are a couple of stupid fools."
"But don't you care if we are hungry?" Wayne asked the screaming man.
I reached over and slapped Wayne on the arm when I saw a police car pull up to the red light and stop. He and I took off running between the large buildings. We did not stop until we were at least ten blocks away from the restaurant.
It is strange how that incident affected my life. Each time I peel potatoes I always think about that fellow and how hungry two boys were at the time. However, more than that, I will always remember how cruel people can be to one another, for no reason whatsoever. I have always understood being mistreated in the orphanage, but why would anyone in the outside world be cruel to another human being for absolutely no reason? To this day, that is something that I have never been able to understand.