I watched an old man do the junkie shuffle out of an apartment this afternoon. Graffiti dripped slowly off the walls nearby, smothered in methylbenzene gel. I glanced over at my co-worker, said nothing, and leaned my head back on the seat-rest.
“Stupid muthafuckas,” he said. “They gonna get ’em for ‘Endangerin’ the Welfare’, plus dealin’ in a school zone, plus whateva else . . . “
I looked across the cab of the truck, to the Elementary School across the street. Parents were double parking along the block. Snow was melting rapidly in the afternoon sun.
“That bitch got kids. Ya heard me? Plus being where they is, they gonna have a list of charges that long . . . “
I knew the Puerto Rican lady he was talking about. The day before I watched one of her boys shoveling the sidewalk. He was little, only four or five.
At first I thought he was clearing up a walkway for the Bus Stop. I noticed him putting the snow into a plastic trash can. A few hours later he and his friends were battling over the snow fort they had constructed in the front yard.
Around the block, an unmarked Dodge Sprinter has been parking in the Employee lot adjacent to the housing project. The needle van. Clean pokers for junkies. A little plastic step-stool sits outside to help geezed up wasters in and out of the back.
Enablers, I thought.
When it first appeared I watched it for a while to see if I recognized anyone around it. After a few days, I hadn’t seen a soul. There are at least two heroin dealers within a block of its location, and an abandoned building that I see junkies slipping in and out of.
– – –
A crackhead asked me for a cigarette the other day. His lips were burned blue, melted and splitting in the cold. He looked at me with wide-open eyes and asked very slowly if I could spare some change instead.
I don’t carry cash.
He told me that he hoped he hadn’t said anything to offend me. Then he moved off down the block in slow motion.
I headed across the street to what used to be a gas station. The tanks have long since been torn out, leaving only the store and the empty gravel lot. The Pakistani owner-operator haggled with a drunk over the price of a lighter. The drunk threw a few coins on the counter. The Pakistani man scowled, said nothing, and dropped them into the register.
I paid for my diet soda.
A short black homeless man lit up in the middle of the store. He had a terrific mane of greasy hair hanging out from under his trucker hat. Misplaced teeth held on to his cigarette. He held the door for me.
I thanked him with a casual nod and a thumbs up. He made small-talk about the weather. His English was so broken by years of hard living that I couldn’t decipher most of it. I caught a few words and shrugged.
“Shit’s gotta break sometime,” I said. “Right?”
I crossed the parking lot and walked past the Mission. Hanging from the corner of the building, in the shape of the Cross, was a neon sign that read: