Stories and photographs by Jim Hamerlinck©2009, 2010, 2011

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Stray

Outdoor Seating, Former Doughnut Shop, Wallingford, 2009

Dutch shook out his umbrella, stomped his feet a few times, then stepped out of the rain and into Winchell’s. He waved at Steve as the Assistant Manager-Trainee took a customer’s order. Steve winked in return.

The doughnut shop's aging linoleum floor was muddy wet. Bare florescent bulbs cast a blinding reflection off the glass display case. The radio played something closer to static than Soft Hits. The windows were covered in condensation. Dutch traced a smiley face above a Puffies poster that clung by a single piece of tape, then slid into his usual seat at his usual table, removed his parka, and waited for Tina to bring him his coffee and lemon jelly doughnut.

It was a just another dreary Tuesday morning in the Wallingford Winchell's Donut House and Dutch couldn’t have been happier.

Dutch Kerrigan would turn sixty-eight next week. He would mark the occasion in the same manner as he had for the last ten years, the length of his sobriety. He would pull the thick wallet out of his coat pocket and show the kid behind the counter--probably Steve this year--his driver’s license. “See? It's my birthday today. I'm still here,” Dutch would grin. “Where's my free doughnut?”And the kid would find a candle, stick it in the doughnut or apple fritter or maple bar, light it, and make Dutch’s day.

Dutch was everyone's favorite regular--gregarious, sweet and unassuming. He regaled the staff and fellow customers with stories about the Wallingford of his youth. He told corny jokes. He handed out trinkets to little kids. He greeted everyone who walked in the shop like a long, lost friend.

Steve walked over with the coffee and lemon jelly. “Morning, Dutch. Here you go.”

“Thanks, kid. Where’s Tina?”

Dutch had a special fondness for Tina, a tough, ornery street kid, a runaway from Wisconsin who escaped an abusive boyfriend by hitchhiking across the western states with nothing but the clothes on her back and plenty of guile and perseverance. When she started working at Winchell’s last summer, Tina treated Dutch with the same poorly disguised contempt as everyone else she encountered. But Dutch saw through her tough fa├žade. He recognized the disillusionment and hurt beneath the scowls and attitude. She reminded Dutch of his oldest daughter, Kimmie-- the one who got away.

In spite of her resistance, Tina evenutually warmed to the doughnut shop's beloved fixture. With a few words exchanged each morning across a grimy, laminated table in a poorly lit, nearly empty doughnut shop within earshot of the Interstate's drone, a friendship was forged.

Entrance, Former Doughnut Shop, Wallingford, 2009

Steve looked solemnly at Dutch's jelly doughnut, then took a seat across from the old man. “Tina’s probably not coming in today, Dutch.”

“Oh. Why’s that?” asked Dutch.

Steve explained that the Winchell’s corporation was losing money and closing unprofitable franchises. He told Dutch that all of the employees at the Wallingford location were being laid off or offered part-time positions at a shop in Kent, some twenty miles away.

Dutch took a sip from his cup and considered this news. He scanned the empty room and noticed that his smiley face had disintegrated into something abstract and lifeless. “Are you going to Kent, Steve?”

“No, Dutch,” replied Steve, “I’m done with doughnuts. I’m thinking of going back to school.”

“Oh, that’s good. What about Tina?”

“I don’t know, Dutch.” Steve heard the chime indicating the door had opened and turned to see a couple of teenage boys enter the shop. He got up from the table. “When I told her about the lay-offs yesterday she was pretty mad. She stormed outta here without saying much. I don’t know where she is, Dutch.”

Dutch couldn’t finish his doughnut. His felt anxious.

Tina was strong, a survivor. She had been through far worse than this, but still Dutch worried for her. He couldn’t help it. He envisioned her somewhere out on the streets frantic, beside herself, with no one to turn to. He left the shop without saying goodbye to Steve.

Dutch waited in the rain for the number 44 to take him into the U-District, to the dilapidated house on 7th that Tina shared with a bunch of other kids. He would find her and offer her whatever comfort and support he could. She might refuse him, he knew this--fall back on her street instincts to protect herself--but he would be there for her. He would not lose this one.

Service Entry, Former Doughnut Shop, Wallingford, 2009

© Jim Hamerlinck.All Rights Reserved.

  • “There's nothing to be gained from passive observance, the simple documenting of conditions, because, at its core, it sets a bad example. Every time something is observed and not fixed, or when one has a chance to give in some way and does not, there is a lie being told, the same lie we all know by heart but which needn't be reiterated.” Dave Eggers