If I could take a minute of your time, sir. I’m not worth more, I know. You do too, of course, you with your briefcase, hi-tech watch, and gleaming teeth. You jog every morning and work up a healthy sweat. Then you’re in the shower, tanned but not too much, muscled, thinking about what you have to do that day. Your dog waits, drops of water on his fur. He licks your bare calf when you step out of the shower. Minutes later, you’re tossing down coconut milk.
What a splendid speciman you are. How lucky I am to see you in the street. How lucky the street is to have you.
Spare some change?
Please give me something. I’m hungry. My sneakers are filthy. There’s fungus between my toes. Grime in all the creases of my skin. My ear itches; I scratch and my finger comes out sticky with wax.
When you get home tonight, you’ll sink into a chair and turn on the TV, settle in your tidy house with the matching furniture, the sliding doors that move so smoothly on their tracks. You feel a pleasurable ache. You deserve this chair softly contoured to your shape and the football game and the glass of wine. But I am tired beyond anything you can imagine. My whole body feels bruised, like decaying fruit. I smell of rot. The food I eat tastes of rot. I would like to kill you for your health and money, the things you don’t know and can’t see, but it’s a small wanting to kill. I’m no longer capable of big passions.
Please. I need food.
Sure, I’ll buy booze. How else can I live with the stink of myself? What’s it to you whether I buy a cheese sandwich or a cheap bottle of wine? I want to be fuzzy and gentle and dopey. All the seven dwarves. I want to drop into the gutter clutching my beautiful bottle, the glass smooth against my cheek.
I’m not going away. I’m just here. I ask you to understand I’m here. I am not assaulting you. It’s just that your sleeve feels so nice between my fingers. Oh, you’re drawing back. You don’t like my breath. It’s nasty, I know. Your mouth smells of peppermint. Mine once smelled of peppermint, too.
Two quarters? Do you think two shitty quarters’ll get rid of me? If I vanish now, it will be only to come back later with my brothers and sisters, an army of the houseless and filthy. Push us away, zone us out, call the police to tear down our cardboard cities. I’m not going anywhere. We’ll be descending, hordes of us, filling the streets, limping, running, riding shopping carts. What will you do then, Mr. Sleek Muscles, Mr. Peppermint Teeth? retreat and lock your doors? Hold your family close? Hire a guard? Don’t you know he’s one of us?
At night he will open the gate.
Thank you, sir. God bless.