Chapter 17

One Bad Motor Scooter Rides a Naked Black Man with a Pink Umbrella 

I rolled out of sidewalk a couple mornings ago earlier than usual.  I had not shown up for work for two days and was actually looking forward to going back.  Plus, I was broke.     

I had enough booze left for two shots, but no money to get cigarettes or lunch.  I clearly have budgetary problems when I can get shit-faced drunk for three nights and two days yet not retain a mere two dollars.  Smokes and lunch money would have to be mooched.      

As I changed my socks, I discovered a humdinger of a mystery.  One of the things about being a drunk is that you often wake up finding yourself the protagonist in a detective novel.  (By the same token, you’re probably an antagonist in someone else’s biography.)  How did I get here?  Whose phone number is this?  What happened to (fill in the blank)?  Often these questions can be answered by your friends or other material witnesses, but some mysteries go unsolved.  Some are quite eerie.     

My feet had been hurting lately, beyond what I’ve come to expect from mere blisters.  It seemed like my shoes were too tight.  I took the time to give them a close inspection.  They looked like mine, were very similar, yet the color was different.  It was like they shared 95% of the same DNA with my shoes.      

I am cerebral in the conceptual and verbal departments.  I am not at all a visual person.  I might not remember what someone was wearing or even what color their hair is.  Yet I generally remember details from what they tell me, often for a long time afterwards.  Where someone went to school, when their birthday is, their phone number.  These data are not as useful as recognizing someone approaching me on the street, but that’s how my mind works.     

On top of my inattentiveness to visual detail, I need glasses badly.  I am so nearsighted that I once didn’t recognize my own sister from across the bar (and I was sober).  I also have worsening hearing problems.  You or The Who could say that I’m going deaf and blind, but I still cannot play pinball, mean or otherwise.     

Still, I was sure that these were not my shoes.  Then I noticed that they were size 10, two sizes too small.  I had worn my shoes—the real pair, not these imposters—for several weeks now and was sure that they were a size 12.  That these were size 10 explained the tightness but opened up a whole new can of worms.     

As I walked to the temp firm I eliminated the logical possibilities.  At the agency we have to change into their steel-tipped boots for work if we don’t have our own pair, but I knew that I couldn’t have switched my shoes with another’s.  It’s not like a bowling alley where they keep your shoes as collateral.     

My thoughts went back to two days before, a mental exercise akin to slogging through mud.  I had foolishly put myself in a potentially dangerous situation.  That I returned “home” to my sidewalk stretch unscathed helps confirm an AA adage that God looks out for drunks.      

Having decided to blow off work that day, I found myself at one of the bars that opens at 7:00 AM.  If God looks out for drunks, so do bar owners.  I ended up hanging out with two Mexicans who seemed pretty cool.  When I say they were “Mexican,” I should mention that I lump anyone from south of the Rio Grande who doesn’t speak English into that category.   I realize this doesn’t apply to many South Americans and penguins, but I really just can’t tell the difference

We decided to leave the bar and get some weed from someone they knew.  Why not, I was rich for a day?  As we walked toward the more dangerous part of town, I was beginning to falter under the obligation of my bags, the heat, and the fact that I hadn’t eaten.  Oh yeah, I was pretty lit too.  We decided to have them go on ahead without me, with my 20 bucks, while I rested.  They would meet me later at the spot where we split up.     

Now even if your only exposure to the drug scene is owning more than two Beatles albums, you can see that this is manifestly a bad idea.  I have been ripped off no more than five times in my extensive dealings in this domain, even though I have trusted strangers before.  Yet it’s still like allowing a hungry dog to watch your meal.     

I held on for a while before succumbing to the siren call of sleep.  I was awakened by a cop, who shook me awake and told me I had to move along or else I’d be arrested.  My amigos could have been going to cop a kilo, but I was getting the hell out of there.  My three public drunkennesses had surely led to the issuance of warrants by now.     

Still needing sleep, I “decided” to wander into a real seedy part of town to take a nap.  You can tell how dangerous an area is by the extent and quality of beer cans that are littered about.  The people that hung out around this area weren’t drinkers of Corona and Coor’s Light.  They were more into the malt liquor like myself, the kind that’s cheaper than water.       

I’ve noticed that there’s a tendency of syringes to be found on the ground in certain parts of the city as opposed to others.  This was one of those areas.  Could there possibly be an environmental link to this geographic cluster of diabetics?  Regardless, it’s pretty rude to leave such litter strewn about.  I guess they karmically deserve their afflictions.     

I awoke in a dirt lot in an alley, fortunately still in possession of my bags.  I headed back to a more familiar environment.  (Later, I would find out that someone had been shot in the vicinity around the time of my powerless nap.)  I could understand if someone were to rob me of my shoes while I slept, yet surely such a shoe robber would not replace them with another pair, which just so happened to be nearly identical.  Had someone perhaps dumped water on my feet, shrinking their size as well as smearing the ink that indicated the size?     

Having eliminated all logical explanations, the reader will forgive me for being slow to realize what is by now obvious.  I had obviously stepped through some kind of portal into an alternative dimension and had reemerged with these shoes.     

Dear God!  What if I’m still in that realm, right now as I write this?!  Okay, now I’m being ridiculous.     

The mystery perplexed and angered me.  During my drunken urban camping, I had already lost my wallet and two bags.  Now, here I was wearing uncomfortable mystery shoes.  As I ruminated on these things, I saw someone with a pink umbrella approaching me.  Perhaps this person has a cig, I thought.  Keeping in mind that it was dark and that I have poor eyesight, it wasn’t until we crossed paths that I realized that it was a naked black guy.  He was using the umbrella to shield himself.     

“Those motherfuckers on the hill robbed me!  They even took my shoes!”     

If this guy was able to produce a cigarette, I didn’t want it.  I simply said, “Oh shit” and had to stifle my laughter until I was out of earshot.     

Yes, Virginia, things could always be worse.     

This incident aroused other mysteries for my dick.  (Remember, I’m still in a detective novel.)  I could understand clothing robbery and had recently wondered if I was the victim of shoe larceny.  But the underwear?  Everything?  Was the perpetrator obsessive compulsively thorough?  If naked, how do you acquire a pink umbrella?  How do you approach someone and request such an accessory?  And, of course, had he stepped into the same portal as I had?     

*      *      *

A couple days later, on a Sunday morning, I was in a similar bind to the one I was in that day.  Broke, jonesing for smokes and some beer, I rued pissing away all my money.  Fortunately, my shoes dilemma had been solved the night before by one of the church groups that frequent hobo alley.  They announced that they had one pair of shoes, size 12, which looked nicer than my current pair.  When I mentioned my tight shoes, they said someone at the last site they visited needed size 10s.  As we made the trade, I felt less like a charity case and more like a shrewd businessman who had traded up.     

That morning, I ran into a guy that I had seen around before but never really talked with in-depth.  It seemed like we had a soul connection that went beyond exchanging mere perfunctory greetings.  He was a street musician who played guitar, but I had also seen him at the bar on occasion.  I had talked more with his girlfriend, whom I had related to because of her Dead tattoo.     

Dale would become my first hobro.  By that, I mean a homeless or mission resident who, if they have one dollar left, will share it with you.  They are paragons of the helpful homeless, at least to their friends.  Like the charitable widow in the New Testament, they share what little they have.     

I asked him for a cigarette and he shared his last one with me.  As it was a Sunday morning, there were few passersby.  He nonetheless strummed his guitar and panhandled what little foot traffic there was.  “Don’t worry partner,” he told me, “we’re getting some beer, some smokes, and maybe some tokes if we’re lucky.”  Meanwhile, I took note of his techniques of asking strangers for money.     

“Excuse me there, sir, would you be able to spare some pennies for some traveling guys?”  “Hey there, gorgeous, I’ve written a song that’s almost as pretty as you.  Wanna’ hear it?”  You get the point.  Dale would’ve been a natural on the carnival circuit, especially with is eurythmic speech.     

With persistence, it didn’t take too long to accomplish our goal.  I even started to sing some of the numbers he was playing, but since he wouldn’t let me take the lead I mainly just observed.  He was lonely for company because his girlfriend had gotten seriously ill from a spider bite.  Unable to live on the streets any longer, he insisted that she rejoin her ex-boyfriend, who had just gotten out of jail, at his digs.     

Linguists and English teachers bemoan the effect that technology like email and texting have upon our ability to communicate.  They are especially concerned with our ability to write properly, but that is bound to bleed over into how we talk and even think.  Yet to hang out with Dale, it would behoove one to appropriate the Twitter model.  Say what you have to say real fast, briefly and concisely, before he interrupts you.  He had the outsized ego needed to do what he did, and it was reflected in his need to dominate the conversation.      

“We” had one long ongoing conversation the whole day that you could encapsulate into the following:      

“Check this out, partner.  I am one bad motor scooter.  I’ve committed some serious crimes and did five years state time.  The FBI has a real thick file on me.       

“Man, check this out, I steal houses.  I find an abandominium and set myself up there.  You just gotta’ be confident and act like you own the place.  Until you get caught or leave, you do.  I’m a natural at it.  But if you get caught, you’re fucked.      

“It won’t be the same without my girl, my road dog.  She’s one bad motor scooter, too.  Oh, hey there brother, my buddy Greg here needs some cash for a bus ticket but he’s too shy to ask.  I’ll play a song if you name it.”     

I would normally loathe to be associated with this type of thing, let alone implicated, but he was just so interesting that I didn’t care.  Near the end of our man date, we ran into—wait for it—the formerly naked man, now well-attired and sans umbrella.  Spotting the full pack that was visible on the table we sat at, he tried to score a smoke off us.  Dale, who had earlier revealed himself to be a racist, flatly told him no.     

“Was that you on the bridge the other morning?  I thought for sure you’d get arrested.”     

“Yeah, dawg.  I was hanging out with these guys that I should’ve stayed away from.  They offered me a ride, then they robbed me at gunpoint.”     

“Man, you’re lucky they—”      

“No man, you’re just stupid,” Dale lambasted him.  “Bill here told me the story.  You better find some new friends.  Think things through, man.  Some motherfucker tries that shit with me, I’ll take their gun from them and blow their brains out!”  He slammed the table for emphasis.     

“I didn’t get a chance!  It all happened so fast.  How about a smoke man, please?”     

Without irony, Dale said, “Get a job, earn some money, then go buy a pack.”  His slow cadence was drenched with sarcasm.     

As the guy walked away, I said to Dale, “You rode him pretty hard.”     

Winking at me, he said, “I’m one bad ass motor scooter, baby.”     

*       *       *

Several days later, I would be working with the black guy, who actually wasn’t the nut job I had assumed he was.  A little over a week later, I would also see Dale again.  In each reunion, we were wearing identical uniforms.


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