Monthly Archives: January 2011

Lost and Found Street Hustle

Stepping off the curb onto a dim lit street, Connor dropped an expired Marlboro and crushed it with the sole of his boot as he continued across.   He was not sure where he was heading at all– just heading–thoughts of life and age, and shoulds and shouldn’ts on his mind, cold, damp bay air nipping his ears.

Too old to start smoking, too lost to care.  Up the hill or down?

He turned down the San Francisco street not looking ahead, just down.  On he walked, past house gates, over steamy sewer grates, across quiet side streets and further into the night.

“Hey!  Hey, man.  Slow down.  Lemme aks you somethin’.”

Connor turned to see a scruffy, street-worn black man of indeterminate age.  His light brown skin was punctuated by dark freckles across his nose and cheeks.

Great, more street hustle…fine..nothing better to do

“Yeah?  What do you want?”

“Hey hey, man…relax.  I don’t want nothin’..shiiiiit.  I just wanna aks you somethin'”

“Ok, so ask.”

Connor kicked the gritty sidewalk with his foot watching the tip of his boot and discreetly touching the pocket that contained his wallet.

“Come here, man.  I ain’t gonna bite you.  Shiiiiit.”

Every phrase he uttered broke into a raspy cackle which caused him to bounce and shake his head.

“I’m standing right here in front of you, man.  What the fuck do you want?”

The man took a step toward Connor as if he were about to intimate something to him.  The smell of cheap musk cologne barely masked his stale bodily filth.  Connor held his ground, but sharpened his senses for anything.

“You from around here?”

Connor shrugged.

“You got any weed?” the man asked.

Connor shook his head, keeping his face darkened by a brown, corduroy driver cap.

“Why?  You know where to get some?”

“Shit, man.  If I knew dat, I wouldn’t be askin you.”  What teeth were remaining gleamed yellow under the street lamp.

Connor relaxed his posture a little and smiled.  “Sorry, man.  Got nothing.”

“Das alright.  You just look like the kinda dude who might be able to help a brutha out.”

Connor chuckled.  “Oh yeah? Whatever you say.”

“Hey, listen.  Check dis out.  Man, you ain’t gonna believe dis shit. I’m gonna show you somethin you ain’t NE-VAH seen on no brutha.”

Connor held up his hands and took a step back, still smiling, “Whoa!  Now hold on!  I don’t need to see nothin!”

“Nah nah nah…it ain’t like dat, yo. ”

The man reached up, and with all the flare of a magician offering his audience a slow reveal, pushed the front of his raggedy toboggan hat up over his forehead.  Connor squinted and took a step closer as the man pointed with a dirty index finger protruding from his finger-cut glove.

There on the mans wrinkled forehead was a scratched-in homemade tattoo of a symbol that Connor truly was surprised to find:  a tiny swastika.

“That is fucked up! That is sincerely fucked up man!”

For a moment, they were just two men on the street laughing at the surprise and oddities of life.  The man laughed and wheezed at his own bizarre joke.

Wanting to know why a black man would have a swastika on his forehead, but not wanting to linger any longer on a lonely street past midnight with a bum, he looked further down the street and then back at the jovial beggar, he said, “Ok, man.  Umm…yeah…thanks for that.  That what truly weird, but I’m smiling, so thanks.  See you around, brother.”

“Ha ha!  Alright, yeah, I will.   Hey, but…maybe spare a few dollars?  Just need to get me a burger or something.”

“Shoot, I’ll do you one better.”  In a moment of rare clarity, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his pack of Marlboro Reds, a lighter, and a ten dollar bill and extended it to him.

“Alright, brutha!  Das what I’m talkin about.  Sure you ain’t got any weed?”

“Yeah, man, I’m sure.  Later.”

Before Connor had even taken a step, the man was lit and taking his first puff.

As Connor reached the next crossing light, he could hear the mans voice echo after him, “Thaaaanks!”

And Connor walked on, this time headed for his hotel, ready to give up his wandering…at least for tonight.


Cheap Irish Whiskey

“Why’d you fill my sorrow with the words you borrowed?” mourned the Irish singer as Eric stepped in from the cold city street.  The singer sang with his eyes closed in a revery to misery on the small stage at the end of the long, polished wooden bar–a meticulous and lavish tribute to Irish pub culture.

For a moment, he felt as though he were intruding on a sacred event.  The singer’s passionate outpouring of music and love and sorrow kept his audience rapt.   But thunderous applause and raucous thumping and cheering broke the spell as the song came to a close, ending their set.

“Tank you! Tank you! We’ll be comin’ back after a piss and smoke, so don’t you be going anywhere!”  he said into the mic, and the packed bar settled into a steady rumble of chatter, some streaming out onto the street for a smoke as well.

Eric scanned the bar for a seat, and saw a woman putting on her coat and slinging her purse over her shoulder.  He pushed through the crowd to claim her stool before anyone else spotted it, brushing against warm bodies, through a scented haze of beer and fish and chips.

Got it! But the triumph provided only a glimmer of joy.  He had come searching for a missing piece of himself, hoping to find it in a connection or lose it in a bottle of whiskey.  Seeing nothing but doting couples, armchair basketball coaches, and lonely bastards like him , he started with the whiskey.

The bartenders wore white dress shirts — a white as Jesus fucking Christ’s robes after the goddam transfiguration — with green and black striped school ties, and long aprons.  They tossed bottles and slammed drinks and chatted customers while he perused the whiskey shelf for the perfect drink to start his evening.

A bartender stopped by and raised wiry, grey eyebrows at him.

“I’ll have a double Laphroaig 10 neat. And can you pour it in a single-malt glass?”

He grabbed a small brandy snifter and held it up for Eric to see.

“Closest we got, pal!”  said the old bartender, his voice like the grit on a damp side-street.

Eric glanced down at all the other patrons.  Pilsners, Rocks glasses, tumblers, wine glasses, high-balls, old fashions.

Not wanting to be the dandy with the snifter, he shouted back, “Just pour it in an old fashion.”

The bartender smiled and nodded and reached up for the green bottle with the simple white label and poured out to the brim.

As he set it in front of Eric he raised his eyebrows and said, “Single malt drinker huh? You know they used to sell this Laphroaig stuff as medicine back in the prohibition days,  right?”

Laughing, Eric replied, “Yeah! No one could believe anyone would drink the shit for pleasure…smells like iodine and burnt tar.”

Despite the Friday night rush, the old bartender grabbed a shot glass and poured himself a dram of the same.  Raising it he said, “Cheers!” and the two clinked glasses. The bartender tossed his back and Eric swigged a large gulp of his double.

“I see what they mean,” he said, grimacing. ” I’ll stick with my Chivas, pal!” and he was off.

For a moment, Eric was lost in a reverie of swishing, sniffing and tasting the scotch, dwelling on it’s finer points, then he remembered why he was alone.   Who am I kidding?  Who’s gonna want to be with me.  She sure didn’t. The last place he wanted to be was in an empty apartment.

“Hey, so what’s the deal with that stuff, huh?” came a woman’s voice to his left — surprisingly close.  She nodded at his drink.

“Did you witness that bit of foppery?  Hehe…ummm…yeah.  Sorry about that.  I should just order drinks like a normal guy.  That’s fuckin’ embarrassing.  I just like to pretend that I’m not going to end the evening drunk off my ass on cheap Irish whiskey crying and singing along with O Danny Boy.”

She laughed hard and grinned broadly at him, and he half-smiled back at the petite young lady with punky red hair, mischievous eyes, and soft features.

Her smile and laughter lifted him out of his brooding enough to say, “What are you drinking then, darlin?”

“Cheap Irish whiskey.  No kidding!  The cheapest they got!”

With that, Eric broke into laughter with her, their legs brushing up against each other, his rough edges softening.  He placed one hand on her bare shoulder and motioned to bartender. Still laughing, he held up two fingers and pointed to her glass.   Then he raised his glass of expensive single malt to her glass of sweet Jameson on the rocks and straightened his back for a solid toast.  She followed suit, and they locked eyes.

“To cheap Irish whiskey!  Without which it would cost me a goddamn fortune to get you drunk enough to sing along with me!”

Her smile warmed and her eyes grew soulful in his bold gaze as she clinked her glass to his.

Leaning in to his ear, she said, “I’m Kyra.”

“Eric,” he said, taking in her perfume.

She extended her hand and he took for a moment–so warm and soft, the first feminine warmth he’d felt in a long time. His ex had become so cold–at least to him–in the end.

“So, Kyra, are you here by yourself, too?”

She laughed, the alcohol taking effect, “Uhhhh…interesting story.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Not really.  I got stood up, but I liked the band, so I just decided to stay — ”

“And drown your sorrows in a few of these?” he said, smiling, and grabbing the freshly poured Jameson.

“Yep!” she said, raising her glass again to his.

“What a fucking asshole.”

“What?  Me?” she giggled.

“No! Ha ha!  The guy who stood you up.  I’m lookin’ at you and thinking, this guy either got run over by a truck or he’s fucking crazy.”

Her face turned crimson, she looked down, and asked, “Why is that?”

“Because now that I’ve seen you, I can’t take my eyes off you,  you’re so beautiful.”

Still looking down, she shook her head, “No I’m not.  Don’t say that.”

He couldn’t stand it–a beautiful woman like this who just wasn’t seeing it.  Gently, he touched her face and nudged her chin until she looked him in the eyes again.

“Kyra, listen to me, I don’t lie.  I wouldn’t bullshit you.”

She did not speak.  Shhe steadily returned his piercing gaze and the whole bar around them faded away, and for a moment, Eric found that piece of himself that was missing…in Kyra’s  green eyes.

The band returned and began a new set, a soulful ballad.  “Nothing unusual, nothing strange. Close to nothin at all…” the singer crooned.

Eric grinned and extended his hand to her.  She took it and let him take her in his arms for a dance.

His heart glowed both with the warmth of the whiskey and the warmth of her lovely smile, which never quit–even through the solemn occasion late in the evening when the entire bar joined together in singing “Danny Boy” before the two of them stumbled out onto the cold street together, her on his arm, cheap Irish whiskey on their breath.