“You got any smokes?”
“No, I don’t smoke.”
“Got a lighter?”
“Do I look like a fucking convenience store Parker?”
I was glad to see Parker for the first time in four weeks for about five minutes. That was three hours ago. Two hours and fifty-five minutes of his non-stop chattering and a smaller than usual take from my clients have made me wish he’d crawl back under whatever rock he’d been hiding under. Which reminds me…
“Where the hell you been anyway?”
“They saying I OD’d again?”
“Man, you over do it a couple times and people expect nothin’ else from you.”
“It ain’t personal, it’s what they say about everybody.”
Parker actually stops talking for a minute to think that over. A little girl drops my first five of the day into my hat and I decide to try to keep him thinking for as much of the day as possible.
“I guess that’s true,” he says, “it just hits a little too close to home for me.”
“You ain’t got no home to hit, man.”
“It’s just an expression J - loosen up a bit, it’ll do you some good.”
I let out a few long breaths until the urge to punch him right between the eyes moves on. That kind of behavior is bad for business – mine and the shops around me. I always do my best to make sure I’m welcome back at my Beg Five; maybe my best move for today would be to go elsewhere for the afternoon.
“So if you didn’t OD, where you been?”
“My sister found me down on Grant Street,” he says, closing his eyes and resting the back of his head against the wall. “I dunno how long she’d been looking but it sounded like a long time. I guess she got it in her head to ‘save me’ or some shit.”
Was there anyone out there looking to save me? Dad’s long gone, who knows if Mom’s still kicking, Karl is probably the closest thing to family I’ve got left. And that just ain’t the same…
“She wouldn’t let me out of her sight until I checked into rehab, so I did. She dropped by to check up on me every day for the first two weeks, then every couple days, then once a week. I think it hurt her too much to see me not making any progress.”
“Change don’t happen that fast, bro.”
“You and I know that J, but people that have never got the shakes, the cravings, they don’t know nothing about it.”
I nod my head and keep quiet. In my weaker moments I like to think I’m not addicted, that I can stay clean if I really wanted to. But then I remember why I need Karl to take care of my money, why I can’t trust myself with it, and the truth of my urges come strolling back into my mind.
“So I checked out to save us both the pain.”
“And now here you are again.”
“And now here I am, same as I ever was.”
We fall into silence for a long time, watching people walk past. People who think they’ve got “real” problems to deal with. Sometimes I wonder what it would take for them to realize that being unable to afford that vacation in Hawaii ain’t a real problem. That staying in motels instead of five star resorts ain’t a real problem. That having an idiot for a boss ain’t a real problem. But mostly I wonder how long any of them would last in my shoes.
“These people have no idea J. No clue what it’s like to be me or you. Put ‘em on the street, they couldn’t make ends meet. The hunger would go straight to their head; before the week’s over they’d end up dead.”
“Four weeks in rehab and he comes out thinking he’s a poet.”
“Hey, I had way too much time on my hands, I had to do something to keep busy. Besides, maybe I can bring in a few more dollars if people like what I come up with.”
“Yeah, then you can do up some shirts that say ‘I heard the Rhyming Bum and all I got was this t-shirt.’ Then before you know it you’ll be on the late night shows and -”
“Why you gotta shoot me down like that? You want me stuck here till I die? Let a man dream J.”
“Sorry Parker, I got carried away.”
He’s probably right though. I want to be the one to lead the way from the streets to the penthouse. To show my brothers and sisters that it can be done, that it’s possible to escape this hell if you’ve got the will. I don’t want to follow in anyone else’s footsteps.
But if I want to lead, I better start walking.
“It’s good to see you again Parker,” I say as I gather up my hat and stand up. “Let me know how the poems work out.”
“Will do my man, will do. Take care of yourself.”
“I do my best,” I say over my shoulder as I start to walk away. “I do my very best.”
“You got any smokes?”