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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Funambulism

There she is again.  That girl.  She wanders around the neighborhood near my job. There's lots of them actually.  They come and go with no routine or pattern.  They pop up between cars, emerging from the stairwell of the parking garage.  They are mostly interested in the men with whom they can make eye contact, the coach buses and tractor trailers that linger at the light on 10th Avenue.

This one has been around for a while.  A few months, at least.



I work for a sports and media production firm on the West Side.  I have a loose grasp of what that means.  I answer the phones and do clerical things.  The folks in my department are fun.  Beyond that, I'm not really interested and I don't feel as though it's important.

I live in Queens.  Every morning, I drag myself up the subway stairs and walk across Times Square to the office.  I am always hung over and sometimes, still drunk.  I am awake most of the night.  I drink and snort whatever I can find and afford.  Over the last few years, these occasional hobbies have steadily become my thing.

My life is an illusion of pretense and secrecy.  I wobble along on a tightrope between two worlds.  Each performance lifts my high wire act further and further from the ground.  Whenever I look down, it throws off my balance.  So I stare straight ahead into the glare of my own self-destruction.

*******

I see her as I get closer to the building.  She has not slept either, I'm guessing.  She pretty much keeps to a four or five block radius.  Always wearing the same pair of acid washed jeans and a denim vest.  I've watched her change her shirt right here on the sidewalk.   Take the old top off, stuff it into a garbage can and put the new one on.  She seems to live in a disposable world.

Today, she has a big stain on her pants.  I wonder if maybe she sat on a wet bench or in the grass.  But based on the location of the dark patch between her legs, I realize it's probably pee.  Or spooge.  And now, it is drying.

She pulls the comb out from her back pocket and stops in the sideview mirror of a van parked at the curb.  She pushes her cheek against the window so she can check her makeup.  She is pleased with what she sees.

"You look good,"she says to herself.  "Real good."

If you saw her, you'd know something is wrong.  From a distance, she appears to be intact.  Just a girl walking down the street.  It's only when you get closer that you realize everything is fucked up.  There are cuts all over her face, her outfits are torn and filthy.  She might be hobbling along on a single flip-flop.

At lunchtime, she is at the deli.  The girls aren't allowed in the store, generally speaking, but the men behind the counter at Smiler's let them use the bathroom if they buy something.  Ice water is free, but the cup is a nickel.  Her cup is pretty beat up.  I never see her eating anything.

My co-workers and I stand in line behind her.  She can be erratic, so we keep a little distance between us.  I can't help but stare.  She is like a toothless jack-o-lantern hollowed out on the inside, with only the dimmest flicker of light behind the triangles where her eyes used to be.  I wonder what her life was like when she had one.  I buy my juice and chips, and we leave.

"I feel so sorry for her," my friend, Agnes says as we head back toward the building.

"I don't," adds Catherine.  "I've seen how mean she can be.  She punched a guy in the ear outside the hardware store."

"Where do you think she lives?" I ask.

"Nowhere, I guess."

*******

I followed this girl for a little bit one day, just to see where she scores her rock. There's a dude in Kew Gardens that I go to and another closer to the house, but it's good to have resources just in case somebody's not around.  One dealer is very friendly.  He is married, and his wife is nice.  But he isn't always there when I ring the bell.  So I really have to get with other people.

Her guy is young and Spanish, with a sweet face and a sinister hairstyle that turns his look evil.  It is pointy in the front and slicked back on the sides.  He hangs out in one of two doorways near the park.

"What you need?" he wants to know.  Zero small talk.

"Topo," I tell him.  It's what they call the crack.  So that's how I ask for what I want.

"How many?"

Four costs twenty dollars.  It is a quick swap and while I walk away, I start thinking of excuses to leave work early.  I try to count them, separating each vial with my fingers without taking my hand out of my pocket.  I never go back to complain if there's less.  Only to get more.  Once he gave me five by accident.  I do not check to see exactly what I have until I'm in the bathroom at work.  Then I can admire my accomplishment.

*******

I sit in my boss's office, completing a project on her computer.  She is in a meeting at the end of the hall.  When I'm certain that no one is looking, I reach below her desk and remove ten dollars from her billfold.  I drop the wallet back into her purse and tuck what I've stolen inside my shoe.  I rifle through her top drawer and palm some quarters.

I make a nice salary, but there's never any money left over.  I have no savings, and I am always broke.  I know in my heart what I'm doing is theft, but I try to convince myself it is merely an opportunity to improve my unfortunate situation.

My boss is a lovely woman.  She is bright and successful.  She'd never suspect me of ripping her off.  It almost makes me feel protective of her.  She can be so naive. One time when we were in the elevator together and it was very crowded, I pulled on the arm of her jacket.

"You need to zip your bag," I whispered.  "Someone could reach right in there."

*******

They are installing a security system in our building.  Right now, we have a buzzer and after hours, a doorman, but he is unreliable.  Plus, he lets the girls come inside when the weather is cold or he needs a blow job.

This evening, she is laid out on the tile in the lobby, the one I told you about.  It is upsetting to see her like this.  She doesn't appear to be hurt, simply unconscious. She is wearing just a bra and sweatpants.  No shoes, and the bottoms of her feet are black.

As our group spills into the hallway from the stairs, we step over her to get out the front door.  We stand on the sidewalk for a minute, trying to figure out what, if anything, can be done.  I personally have no idea, and besides, I am afraid of her.

"Maybe she's dead," one of my co-workers says.

"Somebody really needs to put her out of her misery."

How weird.  It sounds like we're talking about a dog, an animal that is no longer viable.  I peer back into the foyer at her motionless body.  People really do get sick of seeing this shit.

I could try to help if it was a dog, I think to myself.

Two more people exit the building.  They work in the office on the first floor.  One of them goes back inside to call the cops.  With help on the way, the excitement is over.  A few of us begin to walk toward  the avenue.

"Hang out with us," Catherine suggests as we stand in front of the bar on the corner.

"I better not," I tell her.  "I got a lot of stuff I need to do."

I create some fake important tasks and events that require my attention this weekend.  I don't plan on doing any of these things.  Instead, I will be fucked up both days.  Beginning right now.

"All right, then.  Just one drink."

We order a round and sit at a table near the window.

Someone makes a toast.  "Here's to one less crackhead on the block!" and we all raise our glasses.

I look out the window.  It's starting to rain.  I see the boy with the devil's haircut. He is walking with a girl.  They cross the street together, headed toward the park.

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