Money shenanigans from “friends” started the day. Small loans over the course of the month earn me bus passes from the indigent. When it came time for “the envelope please,” they are nowhere to be found. While scrambling to set up and pay for new bus passes, I get a call from Rain. “Can I borrow $20 until midnight?”
“Sure.” We do this all the time. I loan her my meager available checking account balance, and when her check clears at 10 PM I am standing there with her at the ATM to get it back. “Are you at home?”
“No, I’m in the Pearl, staying with a Frenn… Just call me when you get to 10th & Johnson, and I’ll meet you at the park.”
Frustrated with the day, I looked forward to seeing her. We haven’t been spending much physical time together, but we talk constantly on the phone, and I usually feel better after seeing her. But she’s been alternating between being super vague and then referencing “her Frenn…” I figured something was up.
When I got to the park, she wasn’t there. I called. “I’ll be right down,” she said. I watched the doors to the buildings, soon I heard her calling my name, “Outie!”
I walked toward her. Got a hug, slipped her some cash. “Can I also get back the $30 you borrowed earlier this month?” After some reminding, she agreed to do so. “Cool, I will call you about 9:30, and we can meet up?”
“Sure,” she said. “I guess you’ve figured out by now I’m in a relationship?”
“Yeah, I kinda figured,” I said.
“He’s an old friend. We laugh and laugh…”
“What’s his name?”
“Herbert, but everyone calls him Bubba. Like my dad. Funny, huh?” She paused, “Don’t be mad, Charlie.”
I wasn’t. “I understand. I hope you are happy.” Fortunately the train came pulling up about the same time the tears did.
She kissed me on the lips. “We will always have each other, Charlie. That won’t change. You will always be my special friend.”
I bid her so long. She still had my $50…
When I returned by 9:20, she was “getting dressed, be right down.” That can take anywhere from two minutes to two days. I sat on the bench, looking for her other special friend who was meeting us. He knows her money habits as well.
I waited until ten, and then called. Got lots of screaming and yelling about stupidity. “I’LL BE RIGHT OUT!”
About fifteen minutes later she came out, with her overnight bag. She put down her stuff, wheezing, her COPD in full force. (I guess she’ll be dropping dead on someone else’s dime now.) She was cussing people, cussing me, then saying, “I’m up there in this man’s house, yelling and screaming at IDIOTS! I’m not mad at you, Charlie.” Soon a cab was pulling up, and we were on our way to the ATM. She will pull money out, hand it to me, and I will be down the road. Last trolley in a couple minutes.
“Hey, I can use the ATM at Safeway!” She left us in the cab and ran into the store. Shit. This might take a while.
After sitting with the cabbie for ten minutes, I went in, finding her testing scented sprays in the home department. “Babe, the cab is waiting.”
“I’ll be right there. Everyone always trying to hurry me.”
“Is there a bathroom here?” I got the code and left her at the register.
When I returned, she’d rung up $127 in purchases, “after Club Card $88! I saved $39!” Yes dear, but did you really need four pine-scented bathroom cones?
I wheeled her cart out to the cab and loaded its trunk while she talked on the phone. She palmed me $50. “Is that all I owe you?”
“Yes, babe, we are all even. Thank you. Now I have to get walking, because I have missed the last trolley.”
“Well I was gonna offer you a ride–”
But I’d turned and left, and when I stopped to look back, the cab was pulling off in the direction of downtown. “Well shit, if you were gonna offer!” I shouted silently in my brain.
I pulled out my phone and called Transit Tracker. Sixteen minutes to catch the Green Line in Old Town. The walk would do me good, and I will make it if I don’t get mugged.
I texted Rain one more time. “I made the train with four minutes and 3% phone power. I’m going to miss saying this, but Goodnight, Rain.” I used her given name so she would know I’m serious. It was a code of ours. Innie and Outie have become a retired memory.
I cut down alleys, cruised through the North Park blocks. I texted Angel first, giving her the news. She’s single too? Slow down, big fella, it’s only been a couple hours. I texted Dizzy, who offered feline hugs as well as human, but I was in no mood to be around people. I went home, ate a simple green salad and went to bed.
Yes, I will miss the shared intimacy of my friend Rain’s presence. I will miss telling her I love her, and will really miss calling or texting, telling her good night and good morning, like I do most days. It’s no longer my department, and an insult to her new man.
Six years ago, I was the new guy. When I finally met the old boyfriend, we recognized each other and got along well. The women in my life have had pretty good taste in men, which is both reassuring and flattering. I’m not running with a bad crowd.
I will miss being a boyfriend. I loved spending four hours riding trains across town to bring her candy, or a pack of cigarettes. I will miss her angular beauty in the night, and the smoothness of her cocoa thighs, but that part of our relationship died last year. I figured I would be the one to eventually get horny.
So it’s not the end of the world this time, but I do feel a bit gut-shot. I will stop feeling guilty when her friends flirt with me; in fact, I may just flirt back. But I’m not jumping into her end of the pool for awhile. The dust needs to settle.
Meanwhile, I need to work on finding some new female readers…
I’m surprised I’m not seeing little piles of gluteus maximus all over downtown. I almost froze my ass off last night.
I texted Dr T; “If Giggles is still there, tell him I’m gonna punch him in the head if he’s late tonight. We had to sit almost two hours to catch the last and only bus. That ain’t happenin’ again.”
I was pissed.
I had a feeling the day would be atypical when I saw the Heavy Duty fire truck driving the wrong way up the Avenue. I was coming out of the office with my cash drawer, ready to start a swing-shift at the Nightclub Store.
I followed my early routine, getting my shift’s accoutrements together. People kept asking me what was going on next door. “I dunno! I just got here. Probably a fire drill. They have them all the time. Or somebody is cooking bacon in their room. That’s the biggest “emergency” most of the time.”
Except… The street doesn’t usually fill with fire trucks, and fire marshals in red Jeeps don’t usually come in such numbers. Time to stick my head out and see what was happening.
How was work? Oh, just another night in the funhouse.
This was life around the Nightclub Store. The evening started quietly, but halfway through lunch I heard the helicopters, and then the jeers. Yup, we’re doing it again.
I had my store key on a lanyard, and when the throng would pass I’d lock the door, picking and choosing who I’d let in. Flash grenades didn’t bother Festus, but he wisely chose to come in when the tear gas crept near. A couple regulars made coffee, and I released them when no one was near the door.
Sister came to the store to hang out, and rode home with me. Our commute was calm, and halfway home Bro-In-Law joined us. I had dinner and watched the above recap of my day.
I hope this isn’t happening every fucking night for the next four years.
It’s been a long, miserable year. I’m sick of politics. I’ve seen far too many favorite people die. Laws have changed, some for the better, some not so much. It’s like the deck has been shuffled. I have the same amount of a stake, but the game has been changed.
Drugs in general have gotten harder to come by, and I’m trying to stay away from anything stronger than ibuprofen. I have my days, but I’ve been mostly good. But I *do* depend on my little green friend to get me through the day, and I don’t know what I would do without my medical card.
But there’s a chance I’m gonna find out…
A celebration of life was held in our backyard this morning. It was attended by Sister and I, as well as animal representatives Luna and Django. Luna, the ADHD-addled teenager, was all over the place, not understanding what was going on but having a great time helping. “We’re digging holes in the back yard?” Luna loves the dirt, and she loves rootballs that resemble human hearts. With her all-black coloring and demon-eyes, watching her rip and tear makes me proud, and a bit nervous.
I would use a three-pronged prospector’s pick to loosen the clay, until Luna would get nosy. Then I’d shovel some dirt out, toss an empty plastic bottle across the yard and shovel some more, before Luna would come dashing back to the top of the dirt-pile, knocking a bunch of dirt back into the hole. At one point I would pick with my left hand while she attacked the shovel in my right. Some days this might make me cranky and impatient, but today I was enjoying her insolent distractions.
The time had come to bury Sandy.
Chuckles and I worked at a store before Master P’s, and over time I brought along him and Uncle Cliffy. While Chuckles was mostly immobile, he was as honest as the overnight is long. His inability to move was his downfall; Chuckles weighed over 600 pounds the last time I saw him, and he was walking then. Sorta.
The first time I saw Chuckles was a mindbender. I was in a roadside convenience store, being interviewed by Guy and Gayle, the names of my sister and brother-in-law. A huge redheaded guy named Chuck walked in, and by huge I mean jaw-dropping huge. I could tell by the look on his face that my shock had registered. Being fat at the time myself, about 450, it at once made me feel better and horrified about myself. I’d already lived through one hospital life-saving, where I weighed in at 528. Chuckles was walking around with about 150 more pounds than that. The fact that he could walk at all amazed people.
Chuckles loved guns and Jesus, hated drugs and hookers. I was cool with all of the above. (That was how people told us giant redheads apart. My hair was buzzcut to a quarter-inch, he was bald.) We both had a thing for black girls, but his took him for his life savings, so he hated black people too. This caused minor problems in conversation, because his racist commentaries would conflict dearly with what I had learned in life. I wouldn’t allow him to bag on people for being different. He was blessed to be born white, but cursed with the affliction that is mocked universally. He was fat.
I had some good times working with Chuckles. Whether pranking him, or pranking him, I always had him on alert. He needed it working the overnight shift at the Mothership. Eventually Master P had to let him go, and because of which, Master P even changed his store hours. Because he’d “eliminated the position” Chuckles could collect unemployment for upwards of a year while looking for a job closer to his home in the mountains. It’s the only time I know of Master P helping someone get unemployment. He also helped with Chuckles Social Security. Most bosses wouldn’t go out of their way like that.
And now, Chuckles has gone off to that great graveyard shift in the sky. Him and Jesus, hanging out, talking guns and eating pork ribs. Aim your guns at the south, Chuckles. RIP.
I hate it when things don’t work out. You think you see what is a good fit, and maybe it was for a while. But things change, things get old, we grow. As we get older, we discover what’s important to us. I have discovered, for instance, that a job and a home and a sorta-well-taken-care-of family is my goal, and what I have attained. It’s not perfect, but it works pretty well for me.
Therefore, I must do what I have to to protect it.
“Neptune’s not doing so good.” Sister met me at the door. I went down the hallway and saw an all-too-familiar sight in the bathroom. One of our animals, curled up on the floor under a blanket.
“What happened?” Nobody seemed to know. He was old, at least ten. He’d been getting skinny, to the point where Sis would buy him canned cat food, but mostly he mooched human food. The last few months he wanted a taste of everything. He’d be underfoot to the point of irritation, but so lovable about it I couldn’t just boot him out of the way.
We shared many moments in the hallway, or late at night in the kitchen, when he’d be on-point, waiting for a flicker of movement, then a pounce! He’d come out with a ball of fur and a tail, and after a couple hard bites, if the mouse was small enough, it would disappear. If it was too big? It ended up on Sister’s pillow as a token of affection.
I’m going to miss my buddy. When I saw him on the floor, I knew I couldn’t just hang out and watch. “I’ll see you around, buddy.” I stroked behind his ears the way he liked. He raised his head a little, gave me a mew, and laid back down. I walked under the overpass as nightfall approached, and the lights dimmed briefly. At that point I knew. When I got back home, Sister again met me at the door. “Neptune has moved on to greener pastures.” I didn’t need to hear more.
I got up at dawn. My niece was crying quietly. My sister was in the backyard, adding another stone to the Pet Sematary. I am grateful she took care of this one. I would have taken care of it, but I’m glad I didn’t have to.
It’s just gonna be weird not seeing him outside my door every night.
I could tell by the look on her face that things weren’t right. My usually happy-go-lucky sister had been blue. If I could get her talking, I could figure out what was wrong.
There have been lots of major life obstacles and changes the past couple years. My sister, who is stoic in the worst of times, was beginning to wear down. If it’s showing, it must be bad. She and my Bro-in-law took a mini-vacation to the beach, but at the last minute the kids decided they didn’t want to go. When Bro-in-law drives, it comes with a stream-of-consciousness dialogue that sounds like stating things aloud to see if they make sense. I avoid car rides with my Bro-in-law for just such reasons. A four-hour car ride? That’s a lot of vitriol. Without the kids to soften the dialogue, I imagine it was a lot of intense psychotherapy for my sister to have to absorb.
And absorb she does. She is the one who takes all the hits for the family. She’s the last one to eat. She’s the one who gets up out of a sound sleep to fetch my niece a glass of water, because that’s just who she is. So when I asked “What’s up?” in a certain way as we stood in the hallway of our home for the past fifteen years, she started to crack.
“Remember when I almost drowned? I was about nine or so, and got taken out to sea? I was out a couple hundred yards, and thought I was a goner, then a bright light came from above. It was like God cast his eye upon me, looked down and said, ‘Hey Jackass, stop that. Your mother needs you.’ I didn’t know if it was god or Mom, but I took it as a sign, and at that moment the tide pushed me back in.”
“Mom would be proud you confused her for God, but would probably have slapped you for blasphemy.”
That got a laugh. She took a deep breath. “I haven’t drank for about six months now. I don’t want to, hate the thought, but STILL it calls to me. The last night I worked, someone left an almost-full half-gallon jug of vodka in a room. If we’d gone back to the beach that night, I’d have drank that bottle and gone for a long swim in the ocean. I just got to where I…don’t… give…a…fuck.”
By now tears were streaming down her face. “I love my life, I love my kids, I love you, I love it all, but lately I’ve been so goddamned depressed! And as I am thinking about jumping in the ocean for that final swim, the sky out the window to the backyard lit up, like the eye in the sky. God or Mom was looking down, then a hummingbird popped up in my face. It was just so random and beautiful, and just when I needed it most. It was like getting a hug from Mom.”
Mom gave spectacular hugs, and I knew better than to compare, but if anyone needed a hug at that moment, it was us. We held each other like the two scared kids we once were. The world is coming to an end, but not the way we’d been told. This wasn’t Armageddon. This was nature’s way. People and things are born, and then they die. We can only hope our time here is pleasant. I flashed back to times in hospital waiting rooms when we waited for word on mom or dad. Of course, we didn’t hug or show emotion. I was a tough Irish kid, and Sister followed my example. It’s not pussyish to cry, unless you’re in public. We sat there stone-faced and waited. We still do, in a way.
After a moment of reassurances, and about a five-minute mopdown period, we were back to normal. I think just getting it out of her system helped a lot. The look of frustration she’d been carrying is gone, and the smiles are genuine again. Bro-in-law has been in a better mood. He’s about done with vacation, and while we love him, he needs to be out of the house more. We do best when we are ships that pass in the night, but we are still there for each other, because that’s who WE are. WE are family.
And we still have Mom watching over us. Thanks for the hug, Mom. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Update: After I wrote this piece, and was walking to work, the sky parted for a minute and the sun shone down on me. It may have been a meteorological coincidence, but it felt like a hug to me. Thanks, Mom.