Coming out of Blondies’ Pizza with a smoldering cheese slice fresh outta the oven and there was Sasquatch next to a pay phone bent over double with his face almost touching the ground. Doing that universal junkie slow motion waltz as he tried to put his jacket on and keep his hat and his lit smoke in their respective places and in his mind at least still looking somewhat cool. I had that inevitable two seconds worth of dilemma – act like I didn’t see him, which in the long run I ‘m sure we’d both prefer, or acknowledge his dope-fiend presence with a nod and be on my way. Only the pizza made the decision for me as I bit into it and why oh why do I put something that I just saw coming straight out of a burning hot oven into my mouth?
Eyes watering as the napalm infused tomato sauce and cheese topping takes several layers off the roof of my mouth, I stumble in agony over to the disheveled newspaper racks putting down my slice on the grease soaked wax paper that it was served to me on. Jesus that hurts, and I look up and like an aberration there’s Sasquatch eyes slit half in a nod scratching his nose and talking away like it ain’t nothing and we always see each other out here on Powell Street.
“Hey man, how’s it going dude? I’m doin’ really really good man! Swear to god. Things are real-ee going my way. Can’t complain though…”
Of course I’m choking here on cauterized nerve endings. We’re talking three degree internal burns minus some gums and dental work and he’s busy slurring on about how good his life is while at his feet is a tattered old duffle bag that undoubtedly holds everything that he owns and of course a good many things that he doesn’t.
“Hole up um sec, mutha fucum ott piza!” I mumble back at him and wipe my mouth with a fraying miniature napkin in a futile attempt to alleviate the carnage that’s taking place inside my mouth.
But he just keeps it up unaware. Rambling on about how great his life is. No specifics mind you to back up these seemingly bold statements. But plenty of expletives and feigned attempts at enthusiasm with beaucoup hand gestures and that non-pulsed expression surrounding pinned eyes staring out to nowhere from under the brim of his hat.
How do you tell a junkie’s lying?
His lips are moving.
If I was to stop and wipe the tears from my eyes and take a really good look around I’d probably know half of the dissolute souls that are walking by us. Though this is not my neighborhood, it’s the edge of downtown and even though I never hung out west in the Tenderloin, I still know most of the dissidents that live there. For a major metropolis San Francisco is not that large. Take the addict population and divide it by the ones still alive by the ones still using and you end up sooner or later knowing every damn hype in this city. Of course this is the hope-to-die dope fiends were talking about here, not the weekend warriors or the future mainliners coming up in the ranks of the casual partiers. But in the end we’re just talking labels amongst the food chain of the drug world and of course there’s that moniker of “Functioning Addict” but does that really describe someone who collects aluminum cans so that he can smoke crack for a few hours at night? Besides, it certainly doesn’t apply to Sasquatch who wouldn’t be caught dead picking up rubbish and furthermore, what the hell is Sasquatch still doing out here on the streets alive? I know he’s like only twenty five but there’s not an un-ruptured vein left in his body and I can see that weird skin thing of his is finally creeping onto his hands and even though he’s six feet and climbing he’s skinny as a rail looking like death reheated in a radiation leaking microwave.
“Are you gonna eat that pizza or just sit there and stare at it?”
Actually I’m thinking of smacking Sasquatch upside the head with it. But he really isn’t worth wasting a two and a half dollar slice of pizza on. And besides I’m going to eat this slice if it’s the last thing I do! Of course now I can’t taste a thing and it might as well be sizzling cardboard and I really don’t like Blondies’ pizza that much in the first place. It’s just that almost anybody’s pizza is Ok straight out of the oven and I saw them pulling the pie out as I walked by and, well, we all know the rest of the story by now.
But it’s getting late and what am I achieving here anyway? I’m only out downtown walking around because I’ve been cooped up all day in my apartment writing and doing yet another couple a loads of laundry one at a time because all the other dryers except one were broken. And what shoulda took me an hour or two turned into an all afternoon ordeal because I was busy battling it out with my neighbors over the available appliances. You’d think that with your laundry in a machine that you’d sorta be in possession of said machine. But not in my building. Soon as the dryer stops turning, whether your clothes are dry or not, if you’re not standing there waiting, then the person who is takes your clothes out and puts them on top of the machine and loads theirs in.
Consequently many of my more timid neighbors sit in the laundry room all day as their clothes go round. Which if you were to see my building’s laundry room you’d know it takes a bit of resolve to do so. I myself hate going in there to do laundry let alone to try and spend any quality time amongst the humming machines in order to guard my clothes from dryer theft while also trying to catch up on my reading.
However; attempting to eat this flambéed pizza de fromage is proving improbable if not a bit senseless and without risking more bodily harm than necessary I hand the offending ensemble of crust and grease to Sasquatch and bid him good luck and a fond farewell. Besides it’s starting to look like rain is in the air and I’m not relishing the idea of being caught in a downpour so far from home. Especially if that possibility includes being stuck under a shop’s awning in the pouring rain while Sasquatch continues to expound on the quality of his wonderful life.
But my escape is not all easy going with the sidewalk an immobile gridlock as hoards of unsuspecting tourists are still crowded around the cable car turnabout and I have to weave my way through them in order to get over to Fifth Street. But for some reason the crowd isn’t thinning as I try and push my way across Market Street. And there are sirens coming from all directions as I see the pulsing lights of the police cars erupting in the middle of the intersection.
Laying face down in the crosswalk is the body of a young man stretched out and not moving while the rain starts up and the people just stand there staring. The cops are milling about and one of them writes in a black notebook while another pair by the car laughs and looks away self-consciously as a thick trail of blood slowly seeps out of the man’s side and runs down into the sewer drain. A small package or bag is on the ground next to him and another cop reaches down to pick it up and look inside. Everything seems to be running in slow motion even the raindrops and everyone is standing there and staring and waiting it seems. But for what I don’t know. Maybe for the man to get up wipe himself off and demand his package back from the cop who is now intently fumbling with its contents.
I look up and notice the dark silhouettes of people staring down from the windows in the buildings above. And I’m getting wet, but it doesn’t feel that important right now.