I got a disease, Marvin. I don’t know what kind it is, but I know I got one. It’s a bad one too. I can’t tell you any symptoms, but I’m all tore up inside and out. It’s from my hard living, I’m sure. I’d go to a doctor but he’d just tell me I was dying. I don’t want to hear that. That’s why I don’t go. Sooner or later the disease will win. They always do. I’ll just sit here in this doorway with you for a minute and wait.
Times are bad since the recession. People don’t give hand-outs like they used to. I ask, Lord knows I ask – I just don’t get shit in return. I try to ignore that churning in my belly. I pick up cast-off butts and smoke them. Sometimes you’d be amazed at what people just toss aside on their way here and there. You have to get out more. You spend your life hiding down in the subways screaming at people and you’ll never get the good shit. I found almost an entire bag of cream filled donuts the other day in Herald Square. I can’t believe anyone would have thrown away a bag full of perfectly good donuts. Who doesn’t have room left in their lives for donuts? I feel sorry for that person, you know?
Always in their nice shoes, shuffling off for a destination at top speed – I watch them all until they turn into not people, but random bits of flotsam drifting in a river that never stops moving moving moving. Up and down both sides of the street, swooshing across when the lights change. I don’t know who said it first, but they really do start to look like ants. Always scurrying busy busy here and there. No time to stop. No time to spare a cigarette.
I just sit here watching. I remember when that was me out there. Those were the days. I thought I had it all figured out. If I just did like my neighbor and followed the rules, all would turn out for me just fine. I’d have the pretty blonde wife in the suburbs. I’d have a little boy and a little girl and a fluffy-ass dog to play with. I tried, Lord knows I did – but something just didn’t work out for me the same as it did for other folks. Maybe I wasn’t as prepared for financial ruin as they were. Maybe I just couldn’t hack it and compete with that vicious throat-clawing intensity it took to maintain your life in that place. Maybe I just wasn’t as smart as I thought I was and had a good thing for as long as I could keep it until it finally caught up with me. I don’t know. These are all just speculations. I know I tried. I tried hard not to lose it, but bit by bit it just all went crumbling the fuck away.
I remember when I had that sweet ass apartment. I miss that place. Man, it was awesome as hell. Everyone came over from work to visit me when I lived there. I was so popular all of a sudden I was everyone’s friend. My social status at the office went sky-high. It fucking rocked ass, Marvin – I was high off of it. People came over and watched TV, brought food and weed and all kinds of shit. I felt like somebody then. Now I’m just a sidewalk ornament. Sitting here year after year now, trying to remember what it felt like to brush my teeth.
Those were the days. Everything was cherry for me up until Colleen asked me to come in and “talk to her for a minute,” that one day. Bitch fired me on the spot. I didn’t even see it coming. I might have had time to save up a little more so that I could have at least kept the crib, but no. Blindsided me like that after all those years. Bitch.
I stayed in the apartment as long as I could but after four months and the cops, I had to go. I took what I could carry in a big ass rolling suitcase I’d had for years and walked off down 33rd Street and I’ll have you know, I never went back again. I refuse. I might have lost pretty much everything, but I still have my pride. That’s also why I don’t pester people like some of those useless bums do. I have standards. I sit here with pride and let them donate to my cause. The cause of me.
Those signs never work. People don’t stop long enough to read them because they’re scared if they do you’ll start shouting at them again. That tactic just won’t cut it anymore. It might have worked in the 70’s but not now. People will just dial 311 and report your ass. Sitting this cup out front and asking the right person is all anyone needs to do. You don’t have to make a scene. You don’t have to badger them to death, that just scares them and then you damn-sure ain’t getting any dollars. You might get kicked in the face though – that’s up to you.
Man I wish you could have known me when I had my place, Marvin. It had these four big ass windows that looked out over the river. Well, not over-over it – but you could see it between the roofs of these other buildings. It was nice. Sometimes in the summer the super would accidentally keep the roof door propped open for ventilation and I’d sneak up there. You could see the whole city. It was like something out of a fairy tale – that view. If you’d known me then you’d know that this isn’t what I was supposed to do. My life had purpose, I just couldn’t figure it out fast enough. Once I get back on my feet, you’ll see.
I’ll find another sweet ass place with a river view and sign a ten year lease. They do that, right? Ten year leases? I don’t know either but I’m gonna nail that sucker down so tight no housing authority can yank me out again.
What? What? Did you say something Marvin?
Let me tell you this: my job was fucking awesome. When I worked there I had money falling out my ass. I could wipe with it. I was a copy editor which meant that I basically got paid to sit and read all day long. I could do it at my own pace just so long as I had it done by a certain time of the month. I’d always been a fast reader ever since I was a kid and I know books aren’t for most people – but you know it paid me almost eighty thousand a year? I read my black ass off.
Because I was so good at it or whatever, they kept giving me more and more responsibilities in the firm until I made eighty kay. It was nice. I’d take two hour lunches with some of my coworkers, we’d stroll through the park and laugh at the tourists and smoke a little weed. Then head back to the air conditioning and sit there thinking about bullshit for another four hours. My bosses were always so cool with me I never had to deal with much flack. I heard the place folded though. I was downtown last week and walked by the building. I couldn’t tell for sure if the offices were still there, but I stood on the opposite side of the street. You know there on Stillwell. I stood there for hours and just stared up at my old windows and wondered if those people I knew and spent so much of my life with were still on the other side of the glass, buzzing with life and energy. I stood there until the security guard finally crossed the street and yelled me off. That fucker used to open doors for me and he didn’t even recognize me. I should have spit in his face, but I just left. No need for trouble, you know? Rise above it and all that.
The first time I saw you I thought you were completely and totally bat-shit crazy. I guess that’s what you kind of go after. The psycho. That’s you – if it works, I guess you should run with it. Whatever angle pays. I just remember how you looked standing there out front of the Best Buy on 5th throwing balled up bits of MetroToday at those people. That one girl and her boyfriend screamed and ran off. He came back and talked some shit to you, but you just stood there like a statue. Blinking and smiling at him, he thought you were out of your mind. He never even noticed you slide his wallet out of his front pocket. Tourists always think that shit’s safe there, right?
I need more money. This location doesn’t pay out as much as some of the spots downtown. All those are controlled though. God, I hate this city.
I wish I could move back home. Everyone there is dead now, so I’d be even more screwed there than I am here. I don’t guess I could ever save up enough money to even get there and keep myself fed, so I just don’t bother. I’m sick. I’ll need every dime these Madison Avenue shit-heads drop to pay for my surgery. I’m sure I’ll need it. People with diseases always do. You can probably look at me and tell I’m dying.
I’m dying hard and fast. I can feel it inside me at night. Weird little jabs of pain all over. As soon as I go to grab one and say, “Ouch,” it lets go and moves off somewhere else; always gnawing gnawing gnawing.
Sometimes I feel it in my brain too. I don’t like it when it goes there. I can’t control the pain if it goes in there so I pray it stays in my lungs and guts and leaves my noodle box alone.
What? That lady? Forget her, I need a cigarette. I wish a smoker would walk by soon. It’s getting so that no one in town smokes anymore. Bunch of pussies. Smoking is good for you – everyone knows that. And even if it isn’t, I’m dying. I wish a smoker would come by.
It’ll be too hot to breathe soon. You can feel the humidity creeping in through the subway vents in the sidewalk. Last year I spent my nights in the park, but you know anything can happen to you out there. So many homeless folks die or get beaten the fuck up, it’s a lose-lose situation. But it’s cooler than sleeping in a concrete doorway and a hell of a lot cooler than down in the subway stations on the platforms. That’s about our only options anymore since that fucker Guiliani screwed up the city.
You sure did used to go off on Giuliani. I never understood why you hated him so much. Do you remember when you stood there screaming at his limousine at the United Nations? I wonder how many times that’s ever happened? You were classic. For weeks you’d try to tear up all the newspapers you walked by with his picture on it. Snatching that shit out of people’s hands on the subway and ripping it up – knocking over stacks of them at the newsstands or throwing it in the gutters. That shit was epic. You’d scare them off with that terrifying voice you had. Roaring at them like a mad man, no one would ever push you. They’d just stay out of the way and let you tear all their shit up. That would crack me up. I wish you’d never bitten off your tongue.
That simply has to be the worst decision of 2009 for you, man. But no one will ever forget it. Everything about you was historic. You were the king of the crazy bums. You set the standard all other crazy fucks modeled themselves after. I was proud to call you my friend. We were a bad ass team, Lord knows we were. Living on the street gets so lonely, you know. When you and I teamed up and started pooling our resources to stay alive – things got much better. Don’t you think? What?
I wish things could go back like they were. I get sick of sitting in this doorway. It’s not you, it’s me. You’ve always been great company, I’m just tired man. This life is killing me and this disease feels like its eating me away from the inside out. Like I’m a piece of swiss cheese in there if you were to cut me open. All riddled with little black, pus-filled sores and holes that just ache and ache and it never stops. No one cares. I can’t go into a hospital, you know? It’s not like I can make it past the desk. No. They always jump up and stop you. “Sir, excuse me!” Or, “I’m sorry but…” is all you’ll ever get in those places.
I have to go to the special hospital for street shit like us. Do you think they give a damn there? No. They actually give you stuff to make you die off faster. No one wants us littering the sidewalk anymore. A dead bum is a good bum. That’s why I don’t even bother. I know it’s no use. It’s just a matter of time.
When I had my job I had insurance. I could go to any hospital and just get fixed right up. Then I’d take a cab home to my apartment and lounge around watching porn in my air conditioning. It was the life. I can’t even get it back now. I’m doomed and don’t think I don’t realize it. You might not feel the same, but I sure do. I know it’s impossible for guys like us anymore. After the street has settled down into your pores so that you can’t wash it out even with the hottest of showers, what job are you going to get? You have to put an address on those forms they make you sign – what are you going to put? They need things from you, expect things from you – like phone numbers, references, hygiene. Those things are all part of the past now. I mean sure, a month after they start giving you some pay checks, you could fix it all up and after a while almost look like a regular worker-bee again. But that takes a long time for guys like us. I don’t have a thing besides what’s in my cart and you just have your bag. Do they even think what we’re supposed to do with our stuff while we work? It’s not like we have a place to store it. It’s impossible to even keep a job anymore. That limits us to doing day labor, and those younger guys always win out. It’s a Catch-22 and we’re in it. Lord knows there’s nothing to do now but wait and hope for the best.
The rain tonight is keeping everyone in. It’s dreary and no one wants to be out here but you and me. We don’t care about stuff like that do we? I don’t even notice it anymore. If anything, it rinses the piss-smell out of my pants. So let the rain fall!
That cop over there is bugging me. He keeps walking off and reappearing. He thinks I don’t see him but I do. I know he’s eyeballing us from over there. I hate when they do that. Where do they think we’re going to go? If they shove us off, we’ll just go to another doorway or bench nearby. I’m too tired to go far anymore and you won’t get up or move at all – so I really wish he’d stop casing us like that.
Cops are shit. They treat all of us like shit. You know it and I know it. Pompous little Mama’s boys who signed up for their month-training, get a uniform and suddenly start to think their shit don’t stink and they’re above the law. It’s sick.
Back when I had my job I never even saw them. I mean yeah, I’d see the blue-and-whites go by in the street, but cops like him – never. They never came out and talked to me one on one. They were always off in the periphery of my life. Now they’re center stage – badgering my ass on a regular basis. I don’t know how you’ve put up with it as long as you have, Marvin. Honestly.
He’s looking closer and I think he’s trying to ease his way over here. I’m glad I don’t have any shit on me tonight. We gotta get more of that, anyway. He’ll just fuss and threaten and then walk off like they all do. It’s dark. He won’t notice anything funny about you so don’t worry. He’ll just leave us alone until morning and then we can figure out what to do.
I wish you hadn’t bit off your tongue like that. I could use a friendly word of advice. That asshole is creeping closer and closer trying to look all nonchalant and shit. I wonder if he knows I can see him. I mean it’s kind of dark in this little doorway, but is it really that dark? He should just have the balls to march up to us like all the others and point and demand to know what we’re doing loitering like this.
It’s too dark though. He’ll just come over and warn us and leave. I doubt he’ll shine his flashlight if we don’t argue. You can’t really, and I’ll keep my mouth shut and let’s hope he doesn’t shine his light. If he doesn’t, we’ll be good until tomorrow. If he does, we’re so totally and completely screwed. That bib of blood across your shirt is kind of alarming you know Marvin? I wish you’d at least move or wink or do something. All night you’ve been sitting there like that. You’re not even breathing, I mean honestly. I’ve talked and talked trying to keep you entertained and you just sit there like a stump. Now here comes this fucking kid cop to talk shit to us and you just keep sitting there like you have been. Some friend you turned out to be, huh?
See, now – here he comes and you’re not even trying to help. He’s gonna see how sickly I am and feel sorry for me and leave us alone, you’ll see. He’s a young one. They never push and press. He’ll see I’m already being ripped apart by this disease and he’ll feel sorry for me. I don’t mind a little pity. It doesn’t bother me if it keeps us out of jail again. You just sit like you’ve been doing for the past four hours and I’ll do all the talking.
Let’s just hope to God he keeps his light off and we should be fine until morning. Now hush Marvin, I’ll handle this.
Ward Webb is the 39 year old father of a 13 year old Basset hound. He makes his home in both North Carolina and New York City. When Ward is not reading, watching foreign films, or people watching – he likes making things up and writing them down.