The college campus was near the center of town. The boys walked past a fire station, a Unitarian church, a small hardware store until they reached a road that circled a large green area in the center of town that served as a rotary for traffic. In Massachusetts, the green is known as a common. Small stores lined the street on both sides of the common. One of the stores was Martini’s Deli.
The boys crossed the street, walked across the green, and crossed the street on the other side of the green. Nick tapped Buttons on the arm, “How about a meatball sub?”
Buttons nodded, and pointed to an old guy fishing in a trash can outside of Martini’s Deli. “I can’t stand that guy. Look at him. He disgusting. He carries a trash bag with cans and who knows what else in it. I bet he eats road kill.”
“Do you know him?” asked Nick.
“No, but my dad said stay away from him, he’s no good,” said Buttons.
“I know him. His name is Johnny, Johnny Balboni. He’s a nice guy,” said Nick.
“He’s dressed like a homeless bum. Look at his clothes, even the Salvation Army wouldn’t take them. I bet he hasn’t had a shower in years,” said Buttons.
Nick ignored Buttons, as the boys passed Johnny, Nick said, “Hi Johnny, how’s it going?”
Johnny looked up from the trash can, and gave a smile. His beaming smile opened a mouth with four teeth on top and three on the bottom. He tipped his worn old gray fedora to Nick, and said, “It’s a going okay. I find maybe twenty cans. They a nickel each. So far I make a buck.”
“Good luck, Johnny,” said Nick as he opened the door to Martini’s.
Nick ordered the meatball sub. The boys ordered Cokes and took their order to a booth near a window. Nick gave half of the sub to Buttons, who unwrapped and bit into it as if he hadn’t eaten for a week.
Nick took a sip of his Coke and said, “You can’t judge a guy by how he dresses, Buttons. Johnny does the yardwork around our house in the summer. He doesn’t charge much. Mom gives him a sandwich and some money when he’s done. He never counts the money. He stuffs it in his pocket, tips his hat and takes off until the next week.”
Buttons wiped his mouth on a napkin, “What’s with him and that hat? I never seen him without it. You think he’s hiding something inside it?”
Nick didn’t answer. He slid out of the booth, “I’ll be right back.”
“Where you going?” asked Buttons but Nick was already at the door.
Buttons looked out the window. Two guys from their class were hassling Johnny. He saw Nick talking to them. One of the guys pushed Nick. Nick stumbled backward and fell. As he was getting up, the other guy hit him in the face bloodying Nick’s nose. Nick got up and charged into the guy that hit him, wrestling him to the ground. The other guy was pulling Nick off his friend when Tino Martini came out and broke it up.
Nick brushed himself off. He went back into the deli. He returned to the booth but didn’t sit. He reached for some napkins and wiped his nose and the blood off his chin and hoodie.
“What happened?” asked Buttons.
“They were bullying Johnny and taking cans out of his bag and tossing them back in the trash. They thought it was funny. I didn’t. I don’t feel like eating, let’s go,” said Nick, grabbing his sandwich and Coke.
“Look what it got you, a bloody nose,” said Buttons.
“If you don’t stand up to a bully, they’ll never stop, said Nick.
“Yah, but they weren’t bullying you. You made it your fight,” said Buttons.
“Johnny’s old and can’t fight back. Somebody had to stick up for him,”said Nick pressing the cold can of Coke aside his nose.
The boys left Martini’s. Nick walked over to Johnny and handed him sub. Johnny took the sub and tipped his hat to Nick.
“I have to find a way to go to college anyplace but here,” said Nick.
Buttons didn’t say anything. The subject changed to sports, girls, and Christmas. By the time they got home, the fight was forgotten.
Nick has a good heart. Come by tomorrow and see where our story is headed.