Let me tell you about this character I bumped into again last night while I was looking for a safe place to sleep.
…it was another terminally dead night in this part of the city, where I try to survive out here in the streets of Denver. It had been snowing and raining, back and forth all afternoon. There seemed to be no one around, only a few dim lights shined from any of the windows on this street. Three- and four-story brick warehouse buildings line each side of the long, wet empty avenue. I’m not surprised that the street-lights no longer work in this sector of the old part of the city. The heart of the city’s commercial district had moved East and South of here, maybe three decades ago by six or seven blocks into newer, faceless buildings.
Pollution holds the coldness near to the ground and a thin rain turns to snow. A lone covered truck rattles its way home, probably late for supper. It grumbles its way toward the next intersection farther down down the misty avenue as it seems to make more noise than head-way. No other signs of life. As the trucks’ gears whined their disapproval, the truck rattles away far down the avenue into the fog untill I couldn’t hear it any more.
It is snowing quietly again. I think I’m alone. It’s early evening and getting dark rapidly although the temperature seems to be holding steady. A skinny dog shivers past me, slinking down the boulevard, sniffing from doorway to doorway scared and hungry. I didn’t need to see that dog to know that I was scared and hungry, too. I can hear this crisp, cold silence. Although I’m cold from standing still, I like the peaceful, gentle quiet. I pull my jacket around me tightly and adjust my Denver Bears baseball cap. I wished I had a smoke.
From out of nowhere he was next to me, spitting in my ear, “ahh but lookit them empty streets”, putting his arm around my shoulder. “Isn’t that proof enough?” he added, whispering in a hoarse, pirate-like voice close to my ear. “Not a soul out here…” He was leaning on me and weaving and laughing his bad breath onto my shoulder. I tried to speak up, “Well maybe they’re all asleep and”, he cut me off with a wave of his free arm. His fingers on his left hand were stained a brownish- yellow from his smoking non-filtered cigarettes all the way down. I could smell the tobacco. “hmm…this early in the morning, hmm…and I’m Mad Again, har hah ha.” I’m sure that I had a quizzical look on my face as I tried to back away from this character. I wanted to tell him that it was 7:00 at night, not morning. I wanted him to let go of me. I could smell his heavy breath, his rotting gums, his sweaty face and couldn’t get any words out. More than just annoying he said loudly, “They say I’m Mad still hah ha ha. But it’s MY LIFE Baby! Hah”. He held my arms tightly and looked at me hard, up close, face to face. I could smell his whiskers. I felt his bad breath on my chin like it was bar-b-que sauce. I swallowed hard and starred right back at him. His bloodshot eyes cut like a knife through the sounds of his own pained, uneven deep breathing. I said nothing. I tried to but couldn’t. I wished I had a smoke. As he crowded in against me I did what I had to do. As he leaned against me we were a chorus-line of two, “but I’m Not MAD, hungh ahh. I’m not wanted and I’m not sad. Hmm…I’m glad not to be sad about being mad, hmm…” The street poet wouldn’t let go of me. This character was as loud as he was pungent.
We recognized each other from the soup-line the other way down the street. We had starred at each other over lentil soup and biscuits at the Denver Rescue Mission. Now, outside in the cold he was like a figure from a Dickens story. Just a dim face in the dark. Just this man’s thin eyes glistening like the rain-hardened streets. Just the malingering smell of tobacco, olives and garlic, rum and gunpowder. It had gotten colder with the setting of the sun and now it is snowing pretty good. I was soaked and tired and running outta strength; I knew it would be easy to catch a serious chill on this March night.
In the loudest part of his chorus, “I’m MAD…” this character lets loose of me in a twirl, then breaks away further in a sudden stumble and wanders off mumbling to himself in a pirate-like mystic fit, laughing and talking about himself. This character did his slow ballet into the dizzy, foggy night looking for some one else to annoy… gone away to look for more Sterno, I supposed. Quietly I sang a song with no melody to myself, in praise of what’s left of this earth. If I had stayed outside much longer, I certainly would have frozen my wet ass off.
I made for the traffic light at Park Avenue and Broadway. There at a red light I checked to see how many cigarettes were in the little package I had lifted from that character. Three Chesterfields. Good enough. Even small victories mean a lot to me. You can hear the crisp sound of the snow-flakes hitting the cotton-like blanket already on the ground. As I lit up a Chesterfield I thought to myself, sometimes life is good.
© Mr. Mark Charles