It’s Monday night and I’m on my way to work. I’ve been off for the weekend, so I am of course thrilled--indeed, nearly salivating!--at the prospect of returning to the workplace. The easy freedom
of two days off is just too much. Laying about, reading books, watching movies, smoking leisurely cigars, sleeping, it’s been just terrible. I long for activity, duty, responsibility, and…oh
please, every flavor of horseshit. This isn’t even passable sarcasm.
Let’s get to it. I step off the bus at my usual strip-mall stop, light my last cigarette of freedom for the next eight hours, and start walking. I pass the Little Caesar’s pizza place that just opened last week, taking notice of the two bored, dark-haired young men leaning against the countertop and staring past me into a dead infinity. I walk past the Tropical Sun tanning salon, glancing wistfully at the plump little asses of the young coeds wandering around within. I pass the newly opened Bloom Zum Dance Studio and, being a sane human being, I find myself pondering the question: What in hell is a Bloom Zum?
And then I see him, directly ahead. Cowboy Black. Cowboy Black is a middle-aged homeless black guy who hangs around the bus station a lot. (If you prefer to tongue-wrestle with more syllables, call him a middle-aged homeless African-American guy. Don’t get me started on how sillyass it is to obsess over politically correct niche-labeling.) To my knowledge, no one else actually calls the guy “Cowboy Black.” I’ve just come to think of him this way, because he wears a denim coat, denim pants, and brown cowboy boots. And because he has a tendency to call other men “cowboy.” His story, as best I can tell? He seems to enjoy punishing unsuspecting souls with stories of how he used to own a ranch in Texas, how he used to break and train Arabian stallions, herd thousands of cattle, and live the Large American Dream. And maybe he did, I dunno. But whatever he used to be, he’s now in the little hamlet of Bloomington, Indiana, panhandling for spare change and cigarettes. He’s loud, obnoxious, overbearing, phony, and I don’t believe a word he says. He’s not getting anything silver or green out of me. I works for my monies, and you gots to be trippin’ if’n you think I be gettin’ off any o’ this here. Feel me?
As I walk toward him, Cowboy Black is harassing some poor Chinese girl who’s standing outside of, ayuh, a Chinese restaurant. I think this might be my opening. If I move fast, walk along the edge of the sidewalk, maybe I can sprint past him before the Chinese girl finally has enough and tells him to fuck off? Is that too much to hope for?
Of course it is. As I get maybe twenty feet away, the Chinese girl ducks back into the restaurant, and Cowboy Black, disgruntled and emptyhanded, readjusts his backpack and starts walking toward me.
Seeing me, he slaps on a bullshit smile. “How ya doin’, cowboy?”
A fool I may be, but not for this guy. I don’t say anything, just give him a smirk and a quick nod. And I walk right past him without missing a step. I don’t want to hear a word from this guy.
But I hear some anyway. From behind me, his enraged voice rises up: “Fine! Don’t talk to a muthafucka, muthafucka! Yeah, just ignore the old nigga! He ain’t nothin’! Just a no-good homeless goddamn--”
He keeps going on, but I can’t make out much of it. I’m definitely accused of being a bitch at least once. But I’m not interested. I only pay attention to the sound of his voice to make sure it’s getting farther away behind me. And his voice is still carrying into the night, senselessly, pointlessly, when I turn the corner at the end of the strip mall and disappear from his sight.
I don’t have a lot of luck getting along with homeless black men. Last summer I was sitting on a bench at the downtown bus station, reading a book, not bothering a soul on this entire misbegotten planet. I was into the book, concentrating with all of the very limited IQ at my disposal, when a loud voice suddenly broke into my world: “How ya doin’ this evenin’, sir?”
Standing to my right was a middle-aged black man with a large travel bag slung over his shoulder. He was of average height, mostly bald, moustached. His face was lean and sharp, with deep creases around the mouth and eyes. Clearly, he’d endured some hard miles.
“I’m all right, I guess.” I said this in the most uninterested tone I’m capable of. Which is pretty damned uninterested.
He nodded mechanically at my answer. “Yeah? That’s good, that’s real good.” He sighed and scratched his cheek. “Y’know, I sure could use somethin’ to eat. Don’t suppose you’ve got a dollar or two you could spare, huh?”
Remember the good old days when bums just asked for spare change from your pocket? Now they expect you to dip into your wallet.
I shook my head, trying to look regretful. “Sorry, man. I’m not exactly prosperous myself. I just kinda scrape by, you know?”
His eyes turned hard and he scoffed at me. “Oh, yeah, yeah, I hear ya.” He wrinkled his mouth into a contemptuous shape and jabbed his finger, pointing at me. “Y’know somethin’? You muthafuckas made this world the way it is. You muthafuckas is responsible for everythin’ that’s wrong!”
I frowned curiously at the guy. Muthafuckas like me? Hmm. I guess he was talking about third-shift convenience store clerks who read Samuel Beckett while waiting for the bus?
Saying nothing, I met the man’s stare and waited to see what came next. He worked his lips some more and then spit this out: “I did two years,” he informed me, holding up two fingers to make sure I understood the concept of 2. “Two muthafuckin’ years, and it wasn’t nothin’ but bullshit! Shit, I didn’t do it! They didn’t have no proof! Bullshit! I wasn’t nothin’ but a fall guy, y’unnerstand? Now I’m out and they ain’t nothin’ for me out here. Shit, I’m owed somethin’ for that!”
I felt like telling him that that was a lot of shits and bullshits in one short statement. But all I said was, “I don’t owe you anything, man.”
The son of a bitch glared at me, obviously wanting to kill me, as my bus pulled up to the curb. I closed my book and stood up from the bench, still holding his eyes. These situations make me sick to my stomach. All I’ve ever wanted was to be left in peace, ignored and unmolested. But I will make a stand if I have to.
“Anything else?” I asked him.
He wrinkled his face one more time, and I’ve rarely seen a more vivid picture of hatred. “It’s your fault, muthafucka,” he said with calm rage.
I wasn’t going to respond to such crap. White people have made a lot of bad management decisions throughout history, I’ll admit that. But I can’t remember the last time the U.S. president phoned and asked for my input. If I missed a couple of paychecks, I’d be out on the street myself. So for this old black asshole to assume I’m a member of the White Ruling Class? Irritating. And stupid, besides. Big Shot white boys don’t sit around waiting for the fucking city bus.
We stared each other down for another few seconds, and then he broke it off and started walking away. I let out a weary breath and stepped over to my bus, probably mumbling something to myself about how much I hate people. I can’t recall for certain, but it’s a solid bet.
But before I could climb aboard, Old Black Asshole spun around and hit me with this one: “And you know what else!” he shouted. “Fuck IU!”
Umm, I thought, okay. IU, for those who don’t know, is Indiana University. It’s located here in Bloomington, where I currently live. And I think I’ve actually set foot on its campus twice in my thirty-six years.
“That’s right!” he yelled. “Fuck IU! All you muthafuckas!”
Just like that, my anger was gone, and I let out a good laugh. “Buddy,” I said, “you can fuck IU as much as you want to. I’m not married to it.”
Not the most clever of comebacks, I know. Cut me some slack. Every off-the-cuff retort can’t be a gem.
He whirled back around and stomped away. I could practically see heat waves of hatred rising off his body as he disappeared into the crowd.
I sighed, feeling both amused and annoyed as I climbed onto the bus. I fed a wrinkled dollar into the machine, plopped down onto one of the hard seats, and stared out the window. The rent was due that week. I needed to buy cigarettes. And there wasn’t much to eat in the fridge.
© Copyright 2016 Mister Termineus. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Memoir
Short Story / Memoir
Short Story / Memoir
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