I couldn’t believe it as I walked by the newspaper stand and there were the headlines HUSSEIN HANGED blaring out at me in two inch bold black letters. What, I thought, were we living in the Wild West again? This is totally ridiculous. There I was standing on Market Street where Sixth Street cuts across from the South of Market into the Tenderloin. Crackheads, junkies, pimp-daddies, baby’s-mamas and tired old bag ladies standing knee deep ten to a street corner as the dope runners plied their trade and the cops at the taqueria ate fat chorizo burritos and looked the other way. A one-legged woman in a wheelchair ran into my foot while asking for spare change. Across the street some speed freak dressed in pants too tight for a sixteen year old girl let alone him screamed about government x-rays bombarding his brain. While passed out on the sidewalk, a wino curled up in the sun looking like a poster child for some bygone era.
“Hey, Rod Stewart! Ya got some money for me?” screeched the woman in the wheelchair. I looked down at her arms covered in open sores as she held out a can of Arizona Ice Tea. “Thirsty?” she asked?
Suddenly I felt someone tap my shoulder and I turned just in time to avoid getting slugged in the back of the head with a dirty fist that now was passing just in front of my nose.
“Leave my woman alone mutha-fucker!” yelled Billy, a former client of mine that had seen better days. Like less then a week ago he’d been in a treatment facility boasting about having a year clean off of crack cocaine. Billy’s eyes weren’t quite focusing. After all it was somewhat close to the holidays and obviously Billy was celebrating. Looking up I noticed the cops in the window of the taqueria looking at me. Casually one of them wiped the sour cream and salsa from the corner of his mouth, sipped his coke and went back to eating his burrito.
From somewhere down below and behind me, I could hear a muffled voice squeal, “I ain’t yo bitch, bitch!” And though I knew it was the one legged woman in the wheelchair I really didn’t feel like being all polite not showing her my back as she talked. It was just that I was still pretty sure that Billy didn’t have a clue as to who I was, or maybe he just didn’t care? And I really wasn’t into getting sucker punched over some misunderstanding he was having in his head.
“I gotta go,” I mumbled and then slipped out from between the two of them and headed for the newspaper stand. Dropping in two quarters I plucked out the second to the bottom paper from the rack. Never, and I do mean this, never take the top paper. God knows who’s been rummaging around inside of those newspaper racks and worse where their hands have been.
Holding the paper up at arms length I read the first paragraph:
“Baghdad – Clutching a Quran, Saddam Hussein went to the gallows before sunrise today, executed by vengeful countrymen after a quarter-century of remorseless brutality that killed countless thousands and led Iraq into disastrous wars against the United States and Iran.”
Hmmm, talk about rewriting history. I looked up from reading in disbelief. Was anybody really buying into this drivel that the Associated Press was ladling out? I wish I had my glasses so that I could actually read the rest of this crap. Edging over to the side of building I tried to hold the paper up into the sunlight so that I could see it better.
“Rod Stewart, ya gonna give me some money or what?”
Obviously the one-legged wheelchair-bound woman had found me again and if she was close so was Billy. “Did you hear about Hussein?” I asked her, gesturing towards the newspaper that I had in my right hand as I looked around searching the faces of the people walking by in preparation for Billy’s approach.
“He that A-rab dope dealer in the Rose Hotel? What, he get busted again?”
“Na, he was a leader of a country that America overthrew.”
“Well, he probably come here and buy a liquor store like all the rest a them deposed leaders do. How about fitty cents? You got fitty cents don’t ya?”
I didn’t feel like telling her the rest of the story. I didn’t feel like it would really mean a whole hell of a lot to her. Certainly not as much as the dollar I gave her meant to her. And as she started to push her wheelchair away from me she turned and said, “Billy ain’t really bad. He just loves me too much.”
Maybe we should all have someone like Billy that loves us too much? Saddam could a used a Billy or two. Or maybe he did have a couple a Billys and that’s why he got hung. What the hell do I know, I thought and then opening the door to my car I looked up and saw them, Billy and the one-legged woman in the wheelchair: Him pushing her chair along the sidewalk while she talked away a mile a minute. Thinking that they looked kinda almost happy, I got in my car and drove away.