I’d see Dre out there in front of my apartment building hanging out in the sun with his homeboys and I’d say “Man, what ya doing out here?” and he be all cool like and slow and laugh real low and shrug his shoulders. For some reason Dre was always putting up a front and acting like he wasn’t really involved or wasn’t for sure getting high like all the rest of the cats hanging around him were. And even the time when Mikey and me were coming down in the elevator late one night and Dre got on drunk as hell breathing a brewery worth of fumes my way he still acted all aloof like it was somebody else in front of me that could barely stand up. Only it was just us three in the elevator at the time and in the end why’d he have to fake it? What the fuck did he care what I thought?
I knew he had some two bit security job at a drop in clinic over on Fell Street and though he’d been out at least a year, which for Dre was already some kinda record, he was showing all the signs that one does when they’re slowly slipping back into that old life. Late one afternoon sometime around the end of August when the summer sun begins to wane I ran into him down at the UN Plaza. He was just sitting in his rent-a-cop uniform amongst all the weathered derelicts while they drank forty ouncers and yelled their scattered conversations. He looked up at me with this expression of defeat plastered across his face as he slowly shook his head.
“Got a cigarette?”
“Don’t smoke no more.”
“Buy me a pack a smokes then!”
“Dream on holmes! You know where I come from. Same place as you!”
Today there were a few short paragraphs at the very bottom of the lefthand column on page three in the ‘B’ section of the newspaper that said:
Man choked on bag of drugs, police say
A San Francisco man who died in police custody
had swallowed and apparently choked on a bag
of crack cocaine and heroin as he struggled with
officers, police said.
The man was arrested after 6 p.m. Thursday
died about 15 minutes later on the way to the
Two Tenderloin beat officers suspected he was
selling drugs on Leavenworth Street near Turk
Street. As the officers approached, the man put
a baggie in his mouth, police said.
The man resisted and struggled as officers arrested
him. After he was handcuffed, he appeared to have
difficulty breathing. Paramedics removed a bag
that apparently obstructed his air passage, causing
asphyxiation, police said.
It went on to identify him by name and the address where he resided – one floor below me on the same side of the building above the parking lot. Of course it didn’t say that. I just happen to know that. Happen to know Dre. Happen to have seen him struggling with life. Happen to have been powerless to do a damn thing but witness his inevitable demise.
Today, the day after Thanksgiving, the nation’s out spending that hard earned dollar on all the consumer products that we as a populace are led to believe we need. Heralded as the biggest shopping day of the year it’s a consumer culture orgasmic climax to a long ago forgotten holiday concept. And yesterday, maybe even while Dre was being choked to death, I was sitting down to dinner across town at me mum’s house with a bunch a folks doing that hypocritical thankful thing. With an abundance of food in a warm atmosphere where nobody seemed too undernourished or worried or scared.
Afterwards I just happened to drive through the Tenderloin on my way home and saw a few people wandering around out in the cold doing what they normally do. Just another ordinary day hustling dope and keeping out a sight in the cuts. All pretty much strangers to me but here and there were some that I knew. Like Sasquatch with his duffle bag now almost the only person out there on Market Street as I crossed on Fifth and a bus’s headlights framed the wall that he was leaning against loitering in the cold with nowhere to go.
All the usual suspects were huddled on Stillman and Third underneath the glow of the liquor store’s sign as I parked my car and I wondered if they knew about Dre? Probably did. Not much goes down that ain’t known out on the streets a lot faster than it takes to get in the paper. Hell, most of the bullshit that goes on around here doesn’t even get reported in the news. Seems like it takes a death or two to make it worth mentioning. Seems like it only takes but a minute to forget about it too.