The Legionnaire Salon, after midnight . . . everyone spilling out onto the street, smoking cigarettes and ignoring a lone dope merchant I always see working on my street. He somehow recognizes my face as I stagger through the crowd . . . a crowd where I look like everyone else: burned out and grease-slicked and uninteresting. He rolls through a few small clusters of dead-eyed white kids on a mountain bike I’ve never seen before—he’s never on the same bicycle twice—and me, twisted and insane and slushed all around, I stand there swaying gently and pretending to understand what he’s saying. He holds up a plastic bag filled with shake but I can’t make sense of why anything at all is happening to me . . . and wanting to be away from faces and voices I make an excuse and walk away.
“What would you offer me?” he says to my back. “For all this? The weed? The bike? Whichever. You can have one or the other—or both. Shit, I’d sell you both.”
“I’ve got nothing, man,” I say, turning around. I flatten my hands and hold them horizontally in front of me. “Nothing at all. And I know you don’t want nothing for that something.”
“You know me,” he says. “You see me all the time. You know I’m all right.”
“Yes, I know you. And actually I like you a lot. But I have twelve dollars in cash at home and that is all I have. Tomorrow I must buy eggs with that money. And do what with the rest I have no idea. Hide it, maybe.”
“Ask around, will ya? I know you know some of these kids.”
Standing there drooling on myself I think, for god’s sake, I know none of these fucking kids.
By the corner I see another man from my street sitting on a little stool with his back against the wall. He’s older. He has the biggest hands I’ve ever seen a person have. He looks upset. And despite that fact that he’s a pathological liar I figure maybe he’s genuinely upset tonight.
I wave, he motions me over with his gigantic hands. And getting close he says his car has been destroyed by “freaks”—and how will I get to work in the morning? he says, what with the windows being smashed out, and the engine fucked beyond repair.
He points to a drawing of a woman he has propped up beside him. Yes! In the dimness of my brain I remember that he draws. John and I saw him and some of his students at a restaurant a few months before when we were roaring drunk on hot sake . . . he was half insane that night but funny as hell.
Standing there beside him I think, well, insane pathological liar or not, this creep knows what to do with a piece of charcoal. That much is true. What’s my excuse?
“Can I draw you? For whatever you’ve got in your pocket?”
I search my denim jacket for something and find a two-dollar bill I didn’t know I had. I hand it to him. He puts it in his pocket and rests his head in his hands.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do tomorrow. Or ever.”
“Do you have anything else?”
“I don’t. You’ve got it in your pocket now.”
I see John across the way and walk over to him. “John,” I say. “Our friend is here.”
“What?” he says. He looks like he wants to punch my face off.
“Just follow me.” John follows me.
“Oh hey, neighbor,” says the artist as we approach.
“Do you have any money on you?” I say to John. John doesn’t check his pockets.
“Are you sure?”
The three of us stare at the ground. No one has any money.
John says he’s leaving and quickly darts away from me. I watch him and a few others walk down Telegraph and turn left on Grand Ave. I follow for a bit, mostly because I’m not sure what else I should be doing. At the corner of Grand I fall to my knees on the sidewalk. I look around. Across the street is the gas station where I always fill up the Doomsmobile and buy smokes. I feel nice for a moment, thinking about that god damn gas station.
Further down Telegraph, near the Fox Theater, I see dozens of police SUVs—the ones the city purchased recently to scare everyone. I hear sirens and see flashing lights. Over there, someone is hurt maybe.
I stand up and make a terrible noise with my throat. My blood feels awful. I try walking and collapse once more.
John, far away now, spins around and recognizes my shape rotting on the sidewalk like a bag of garbage.
“Is that—” he says.
He walks to the end of the block and turns left. That is the dark street where we left the car next to a dead meter and an empty parking lot—and where, in seconds, I will wait quietly until voices which know the way tell me where to go.