by Carvell Wallace
I had just come from fucking in one of those clean white artist bedrooms. The room was clean and white. So was the artist. It must have been some kind of weird day, because right after I came I felt ashamed and fat. I was sweating, which didn't help. But then again, I always felt ashamed and fat right after I came. It has something to do with my childhood. I don't know what. But that's a lie. I know exactly what.
The weather was beautiful. Like a pop song in a bank commercial about a beautiful day. Birds chirping and children playing. Except I was in that part of the city where there's human feces on the ground and people sometimes crawl on their hands and knees picking white specks out of the cracks in the sidewalk with a bobby pin. And the tourists pretend not to see them. And everyone looks sweaty and crusty and matted together like a dishtowel with dried snot on it. With hands and feet that have gotten so hard and rotten from living on the street that they are like black baseball mitts. Like paws. The temperature was perfect, though, and summer was new, and everybody was just kind of glad to be outside.
There's a time in your life when you feel like nothing can get to you. You know that time? Like you are exactly the right distance from reality. Not so far away that the everything is difficult to make out with any real distinction. But not so close that everything feels gigantic and overwhelming, like you're a cockroach trying to climb three measly steps to the front door of an apartment building. Everything is just the right size. I don't know what makes that happen. Maybe not being drunk or high all the time helps. I think it helped me. When I was drunk I was either an astronaut or a cockroach. But I was rarely a human.
Anyway, for whatever reason, I felt good. They say you'll lose interest in yourself and gain interest in other people. I think this means that you can actually be one of those people that's inspired by stuff. "Oh, the stories," you might say, "the stories of humanity!" Maybe you'll find that children improve you mood. Or that the smile of a kindly old woman warms you heart. It should. That's what happens in the movies.
That's what happens to other people. Or so other people say. But me, I feel like shit. I can see a cute kid, have a sweet interaction, smile, laugh, and be touched by the beauty of the world. All at the same time. And still, once it's over, I feel like shit.
That's why I think there might be something wrong with me.
Anyway. I was walking through this neighborhood. Among the feces and crackheads. And I was feeling good. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and bouncing off the sidewalk. It made my chin feel warm. Like it was wrapped in one of those hot towels in the barber shop. The crackheads didn't even bother me. They were interesting. Scurrying to and fro. Doing crackhead business. Crackheads are always up to some kind of urgent business. Running across the street to talk with other crackheads. Managing some complex crackhead scenario. Calming some crackhead down about something, and of course, looking for more crack. It's like a high school quad in a perpetual lunch period.
This dude walking down the street in front of me copped a rock from a woman. She pulled it out of her bra and he handed her the money. The way she looked, I wouldn't put anything from her bra near my mouth. He was a nerdy looking kid with glasses and a canvas backpack. He had sewn a lot of patches with the names of bands on his clothes. I guess he wanted people to know he was into bands. He was wearing that nineties look with the cargo shorts and combat boots. He put the drugs in his pocket and kept walking. He didn't make it five steps without pulling the package out to look at it. Like he wanted to make sure it hadn't disappeared on him. I thought he was going to start smoking right then and there, but he didn't. He put it back and walked on. He looked ashamed. I couldn't see his face. But the way his shoulders were, he looked ashamed. I wanted to apologize to him. I felt bad for seeing him.
There was also some amazon white chick was walking in front of me. She was wearing a low-cut, long flowing flowery dress. She had a ridiculous ass that bounced aggressively when she walked. Like two hams trying to break out of a polyester sack. It's must be a little awkward to be a healthy looking white woman among crackheads. Every one she passed stopped and watched her. A few guys followed for half a block or so. Talking for a long time about how theyʼd fuck the shit our of her, but low enough that she wouldn't hear. That didn't make sense. If you're not going to say it to her, why say it at all? But then it was easy for me to talk. I just got finished fucking a clean, white artist in a clean, white room. And like I said it, was a beautiful day.
But then, like all beautiful days, it got fucked up.
The sidewalk went under one of those wooden construction things. You know, where they're building something and they make a little plank for everyone to walk? It reminded me of a sex club I went to once. Where there was this dark narrow hallway and everyone had to squeeze by, and get groped by strangers. I remember a tall, beefy black man and small, simple white woman touched hands and looked at each other while everyone slid naked around them. It was like they fell in love and I felt happy for them. I still feel happy for them. And then I touched the ass of this other woman, and her skin was so much looser and softer than my girlfriendʼs. And I wondered what all in the world I was missing. It was like that, this construction sidewalk plank. Like a narrow hallway in a crowded sex club. Except it was the broad, hot daylight. And why would anyone be building something in a place where everyone was dying?
Anyway, we all had to make our way by on this little temporary wooden thingy. And it seemed like everyone stopped for a minute and took a reluctant breath before stepping on. Like getting ready to go into a scary funhouse. But it was too late to cross the street. You were committed to this block. And no one wants to be close to each other.
There was this construction guy. I thought he was a construction guy. He looked like the kind of guy who had spent his entire life pounding twelve packs of canned beer and smoking generic cigarettes and hurting the people who loved him, and now he was finally clean and sober, but still a fuck up. And he got some job doing construction because it's the only job you can still be a fuck up at. And he was making enough money to go home at night to his single room occupancy hotel and listen to the people in the hallway fight over money. He had droopy cheeks and big round gray eyes and a big fat belly. On spindly legs. And long hair like a 1970's pop star. He was leaning in a wooden door frame. Looking mean.
And there was a Mexican woman with three kids. Three toddlers of all different races. She was holding their hands tightly. Like she had just found them on the street and was trying to guide them safely through a warzone to the orphanage.
I remember when I was a little kid.
The construction guy looked mad. And there was another guy standing in front of him. He had no face that I remember. Just a black baseball cap, and a black t-shirt and black jeans with a bunch of crusty-looking white stains on them that looked like they could be either cum or food. And the construction guy grabbed the Guy In Black. grabbed him hard by the shirt and slammed him against the wooden wall.
And a black woman who was trying to squeeze by said "There's kids here!"
And the Mexican woman with the kids froze and tried to figure out if she could take them past or not.
And nobody else did anything.
And the Construction guy didn't speak. He just stared at the other guy while he had him by the shirt. For a quick minute I think he was deciding whether or not to kill him. And I know that the guy who was getting grabbed, when he goes to sleep tonight, he's going to see the construction guy's eyes. Right up against his own. And he's going to remember this little intimate moment the two of them shared. It will be burned into the darkness above his bed every night for months. Like when it happened to me.
The Mexican woman with the kids turned around and started walking the other way. But the kids twisted and turned and stared behind them as they got pulled away. The way that kids stare at scary things. Honest. I wish I could stare at things that way.
The Construction guy smacked the other guy across the face. Once. Then again. Like a father losing control. And I could taste spit like metal forming in my mouth.
"Ya'll trippin!" The black woman said. And pushed past them. To show all of us that we didn't need to be afraid.
And the Construction guy threw the other guy to the ground. And the other guy fell. Just fell. With the loud, fightless thud of someone who gave up a long time ago on trying not to hurt.
And I looked down at the man on the ground because he was right near my shoes. And I saw, for the first time that he had one of those white, red-tipped canes that blind people use.
And suddenly there was another guy standing over him. A teenager with a bald head and a distorted face that looked like someone had pressed a hand into it when he was a soft baby, and that the print had stayed there forever.
"That's what the fuck you get!" said the teenager. "You keep talking shit and we'll fuck you up!" And he kicked the man once. And everyone said "oooh" quickly but wished they hadn't have said anything.
And then I kept on walking. Then we all kept on walking. And the sun kept on shining.
I made it to the other side of the plank and back on the concrete. But it didnʼt feel safe. And I felt bad for not doing anything, so I turned around and looked behind me.
And the Construction Guy was following me. I tried to walk faster without looking like I was walking faster.
There was an American Flag standing atop a building. The sky was so clean and blue. The clouds looked like soft wishes hanging from a string. I want to be a cloud. Up where you could hang from a string.
The wind picked up and scattered trash by my feet. I kicked it as I walked. And I was on the next block, a shady hill with some trees and old apartment buildings. I was walking down it. And I thought about the girl I had just fucked. How she laid her head on my chest when we were finished and I loved her for not being afraid of my sweat in her left ear. Her small hand was on my fat stomach, riding the wave of my breathing. And how we almost fell asleep in the afternoon.
The Construction Guy was still behind me, but when I looked at him he seemed lost in thought. Like he, too, was remembering a girl who had once been nice enough to rest her hand on his fat stomach.
I got to where the street ended. Into a plaza with a big fountain that sprayed water all over the red crisscrossed bricks that someone once thought would make the city look pretty. And I stopped. A chubby hipster girl walked past me and started up the hill with a cigarette puffing between her fingers. Another mother walked by pushing a stroller with a crying kid. And she ignored him because if she said anything it would probably be mean and hateful.
I was at a construction fence by the fountain, and for some reason I kicked it to see if it would break. But it didnʼt
The Construction Guy passed me and turned left. He walked off into the city with his hair in is face and nothing in his hands.
I took this picture of him.
A few minutes later, I asked someone for a cigarette, and when he wouldnʼt give me one, I told him I would pay him a dollar. He took it. I had quit smoking three weeks earlier, but I felt like now that was a stupid idea.
The pigeons were fighting over the french fries from a fast food bag, and I wished I could go back to the girl. But she was probably at work now, trying to look like she hadnʼt just fucked someone on her lunch break.
So there really was nowhere to go.The cigarette tasted good. Like giving up sometimes does.
I get scared when I think about how long I have to keep living. But other times, I get scared because it's going so fast. And it's going to be over so soon.