From Flickr user mattlemmon
Kid walks up to me: eyes glazed over from either a lifetime of inhalant abuse or congenital stupidity; lips ringed with irritation and red sores; clothes which could be cleaner but could never be less ragged; stupid haircut as a bankrupt statement of individuality. He had been asking for a light that no one had, no one except me, and I begrudgingly beckoned him to where I stood in the gutter. As soon as his cigarette was lit he began, “Man, you know what sucks?” and detailed a list of woes regarding unemployment, needing three dollars, plans to sleep in the park. All of this came like we had been having a conversation and I knew all the gaps he skipped over. When he paused to ask a passerby for a quarter I slipped away, back into work.
He had been sitting out front the other day too, first pestering me for a cigarette in the afternoon. I leave them inside so that I have a reason as to why I am not giving people one, although most don’t bother listening to my excuse. He managed to fit “bro” into his plea several times before accepting my situation, then proceeded to address me as “sir” asking for a light. He had a cigarette but I was more irritated by the repeat “bro’s” and really pissed about the two “sirs”. He asked passerby for change, politely enough, always leaning against the store wall.
Later in the day I caught the middle of another on-going street saga. A skinny kid in a tie-dye shirt was backing down the sidewalk yelling back at a much larger, more traditionally garbed street kid who followed. Accusations followed Tie-Dye, who may or may not have been groping girls, which he refuted by counting off his sisters. This awkward parade passed the store and continued down the block, Tie-Dye obviously not willing to engage his pursuer but would continue to stop in order to continue yelling. Eventually they both ended up in the street blocking a bus which honked, and carried their quarrel out of sight. The consensus among the collection of employees who bore witness was that, well, if you are actually groping girls you do deserve to be chased off the street. I hadn’t noticed that Tie-Dye had a bloody face, just that he acted out his part clutching an over-sized soda from McDonald’s on the corner.
My last break that night I slipped outside and back into the clutches of my Bro. How long have I been working here? Oh, that’s cool. My shrug of the shoulders might have been a little flippant considering his current status as a street kid, and he replied that at least I had a job. This is true, but I didn’t really want to engage the conversation and had so far expended as little speech as possible without completely ignoring him. He continued talking about his past problems with employment, how stupid his bosses had been, how many times he had been laid off and how many times he’d quit. I didn’t pay attention, even tho he had cut the “bro’s” down considerably and it was obvious he was lonely and just wanted someone to talk to him. I was feeling too selfish to be company and escaped as he began to explain to a newcomer that he only asked guys for change because asking girls could be too easily misconstrued.
Up in rotation these past few days has been the Merle Haggard album “Hag” which concludes with “I’ve Done It All”.
I’ve even been to Frisco wearing regular clothes
with those modern hippie folks staring down their nose
…and it’s hard to imagine a time when the motley assortment of burnouts, lost kids and junkies could have ever been seen as elitist or arrogant. There’s no unified purpose in their coming, no cultural revolution taking place anymore. Not that I buy anyone’s claim that the Summer of Love was a great confluence of like-minded individuals creating their own community but I do believe that initially the mass migration west had been based on a reaction to the national climate and that, where it confronted the standards of America’s 50’s hangover, the smiling, tripping flower-children could be accused of thinking they were too good to participate in their country. When my mind wanders as I’m walking to work I sometimes drift into a debate with some gutterpunk, listening to their arguments that they’ve dropped out of the capitalist society and that their lifestyle of begging and stealing is in fact subversion. That’s not an argument I respect and I’ve worked out many issues to discuss with anyone willing to throw politics into the mix but every day I walk by the uniform packs and no one ever calls me a straight for going to my job or a pig for refusing them change. I wonder if it would make these exchanges any more worthwhile if someone had a reason, any sort of reason, for doing what they’re doing.