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?”
“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.