My body isn’t rushing anywhere, but my mind is. I have a column due today with no ideas in sight. Feeling stuck, I’m badly in need of a stimulus package.
Out on the stoop, I’m smoking a cigarette, which is a big mistake. Kris has noticed me. He lives in a building up the street and he’s a pain in the ass. As he approaches, I already know what he wants.
“Got an extra cigarette? Please?” he asked.
Kris is young and skinny and not very bright. He’s not wearing a shirt this morning. Come to think of it, he’s never wearing a shirt.
“I didn’t bring them out with me,” I say.
“Go back inside and get me one,” Kris says, scratching under his left arm, basically showing me the hair underneath it.
“It’s not my mission in life to provide you cigarettes,” I say thinking I’m starting to smell his hairy armpits. “Go buy some yourself.”
“Oh, come on!”
“Jesus Christ,” I say. “Can’t you at least let me sit here for a minute and finish the one I’m smoking?”
We both see Gus coming up the sidewalk to our right. He’s a short man with white hair and black rim glasses. He’s also a smoker. Kris sees his opportunity.
“Got a cigarette, Gus?” Kris asks. Gus takes one out of his shirt pocket and passes it over.
“Good morning, Gus,” I say smiling. He nods his head at me and keeps on walking.
I’ve lived on the same street with Gus for almost a year now and he’s never said a word to me. I’ve seen him talk to other people he passes on the sidewalk, but me he ignores. At first I thought he didn’t like my long hair, but after I got it cut he still gives me the cold shoulder. I feel a little paranoid about this.
Kris joins me on the stoop smoking his cigarette. I can indeed smell his armpits and find myself wishing I could sit by myself and enjoy my morning in peace.
We both look to our left. Here comes Frank carrying a boombox in his right hand and a plastic bag full of CDs in his left. His father lives in the apartment building next to me, or so Frank tells me. I’ve never seen his father.
“Dad’s been hankering to hear some Country Music,” Frank says.
His shirt is unbuttoned and I notice his beer gut. “We’re gonna have a few beers and listen to some classic George Jones.”
“Sounds like a good time,” I say.
“Come on up and join us!” Frank replies. I tell him I can’t. It’s a little too early for me to cry in my beer and listen to George Jones music. Besides, I’ve got to come up with an idea for a column. Frank turns to Kris and invites him over.
“I gotta keep Larry company,” Kris says. Frank nods his head and enters his dad’s building. As I put out my cigarette, I think to myself what a lucky man I am to have my shirtless, smelly, freeloading friend around to look out for me.
Darlene and Patty live in the same apartment building as Frank’s dad. They come out of the building with their little girl who I’m guessing is about 2. I think Darlene and Patty are a gay couple, but that’s a guess.
Their automobile is parked on the street in front of the building and, like always, they open the passenger side of both the front and back doors and sit in the car. They’ll do this several times throughout the day.
Patty is in the front seat, Darlene in the back. The little girl is on the sidewalk holding and eating a hotdog — no bun, just the dog — and it doesn’t look like it’s cooked.
“Morning girls,” Kris says as he throws his cigarette out into the street. “One of you have an extra cigarette you can give me?”
Patty does and as Kris walks over to get it, I think I should be more like my shirtless friend. Why buy cigarettes when you can just bum them from everybody you know in the neighborhood?
Darlene is drinking from a can of Diet Coke. When she finishes it, she tosses it out to the sidewalk.
I’ve seen Darlene or Patty or even their child do this type of thing a hundred times. The front of their apartment building looks like a garbage dump. It’s littered with fast food wrappers, pop cans and Kroger plastic bags. They never think of picking their trash up and tossing it in a garbage can.
I’m amazed and appalled at this, but say nothing. They’re as nice as they can be to me, always say hello with smiles on their faces and, unlike the earth around them, treat me with respect.
Somewhere up above my head, I hear a window open. Music comes gushing out into the morning air. It’s George Jones singing “The Race is On.” I hear voices singing along —must be Frank and his dad. I wonder what kind of beer they’re drinking.
Darlene and Patty are in their car with the passenger doors open. Their little girl is walking up and down in front of their apartment building holding and sometimes eating her hotdog. Kris is leaning up against the car smoking. I look over to my right and see Gus walking towards us. He must have run an errand, now he’s heading home.
The little girl with the hotdog comes up to me and waves her left hand hello. Realizing she doesn’t want a thing from me except a greeting, I wave back. When I do, the hotdog falls out of her right hand and onto the sidewalk.
Gus passes by Darlene and Patty in the car, then turns back around to say hi to them. Paranoia sweeps over me knowing he won’t say a word to me. The man hates me for no reason.
After saying hello to my lesbian neighbors, Gus picks up his pace. As he walks by me without speaking, he slips on the hotdog lying on the sidewalk that the little girl has dropped. He falls flat and hard on his back. His black rim glasses fall off his face. I get up from the stoop to help him up.
“Get away from me!” he yells, putting his glasses back on.
“I’m just trying to help you up!” I yell back, offering him my right hand. “Are you OK?”
“You and the goddamn garbage you let pile up around here,” Gus says while getting up and dusting himself off. “Don’t you know how to pick up after yourself?”
“What the hell! I didn’t do anything,” I say, still mostly yelling. “I don’t throw trash around here and the little girl dropped. . .”
“I should call your landlord and tell him what an asshole tenant you are,” Gus says.
As he walks away, I sit back down on the stoop, perplexed. As I do, from that upstairs window, I can hear George Jones singing “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The little girl runs back to Darlene and Patty who are giving me dirty looks from inside the car — guess they think I was trying to get their kid in trouble. Kris runs after Gus yelling, “Hey man, you got an extra cigarette?”
I haven’t done a damn thing wrong, but Gus hates me now more than ever. Darlene, Patty and their little girl aren’t too fond of me either. Kris gets his cigarette from Gus and walks by me without saying a word like I’m some sort of evil jerk. Feeling frustrated and even more paranoid, I figure it’s time to go back inside my apartment and stay there until I’m dead.
As I get up from the stoop, I consider joining Frank and his dad for some beer and George Jones music. I think better of it as I’ve still got to come up with an idea for a column.