Letter From Milo: Otis the Player

February 8th, 2016

I was out on my back porch, enjoying a cigarette with my morning whiskey, when I noticed Otis, the rotten bastard of an alley cat who’s made my life a living hell for the past 14 years, trotting through the back yard, carrying a dead mouse.A few hours later, while enjoying my afternoon whiskey, I saw him crawl under the backyard fence and head toward Virginia Street. This time he was toting a small package of what appeared to be catnip.

I didn’t give it much thought at the time. Otis does a lot of stupid shit, and I’ve got more important things to do than worry about what some dumbass cat is doing.

I should have been paying more attention. A couple of days later, I was accosted by the Widow Shimkus, who lives across the street. ”That disgusting cat of yours has been pestering my Fifi for weeks, and leaving dead mice and birds on my porch. Then, this morning, she ran off with that vile creature and was gone all day. She looked terrible when she dragged herself home.”

“I can’t be responsible for…”

“If you keep letting the cat run loose, I’m going to file a report with the Alderman.”

“Ah, shit.”

Over the next few days, I was confronted by several other women, all of them complaining about Otis.

Mrs. Popovich told me that she had seen Otis sneaking around with her cat, “Fluffy.”

Mrs. Houlihan angrily told me that her “Miss Juliet” was expecting kittens and she was positive Otis was to blame.

Crazy Connie, who lives with about 40 cats, sent me an e-mail, saying she had to chase Otis out of her back yard with a garden hose after she caught him trying to organize some sort of sex orgy.

Nobody knows Otis’ exact age. My wife took him to the vet shortly after he bamboozled his way into our household. The vet said Otis was about two or three. We’ve had him for 15 long years and that should make him about 18 years old, which is pretty old for a cat.

You’d think that after reaching a certain age, a person’s, or a cat’s, lusts would have been satisfied — if not satisfied, then tempered. I know that I have reached the age where getting laid is not at the top of my to-do list.

Although I still enjoy the old slap-and-tickle, I am no longer willing to crawl through two miles of molten lava and fight my way through a horde of rabid wolverines just on the off chance I might get some pussy.

Otis, apparently, feels differently.

I don’t mind Otis having his fun, but when his behavior begins to reflect poorly on me, that’s when I have a problem.

Besides, I hate when little old ladies give me a hard time. It brings back ugly memories of my misspent youth, when little old ladies were constantly bitching at me – my mother, the neighborhood biddies, schoolteachers, the rightfully concerned mothers of girls I was seeing, and the mothers of my friends, who correctly considered me a bad influence.

Enough was enough. I was sick and tired of getting grief for Otis’ wicked ways. I decided to straighten him out.

That afternoon, I found him in the back yard, lolling on the grass. He had just had his five o’clock catnip and was glassy-eyed, feeling no pain.

“Look here, dumbass,” I said to the cat. “I don’t know why an old bastard like you keeps trying to fuck all the fur balls in the neighborhood. If you haven’t gotten enough pussy by now, you’ll never catch up. But if you’re going to continue trying to screw every pussy cat in Ravenswood, then I wish you’d be more discreet.

“You’re a damned cat, for fuck’s sake. Sneakiness should come naturally to you. I don’t want any more old hags coming to my door, bitching at me because you knocked up their precious little Mitzy, Pookie or Buttercup.

“If this shit happens again, I’m taking your ass to the animal shelter. And I’m not talking about a no-kill shelter. Do we understand each other?”

Otis stared at me, blinking his eyes several times. Then he yawned, licked his nuts, rolled over, and went to sleep.

Leave a comment

Benny Jay: A Hard Day’s Night

February 2nd, 2016

Rough night at bowling–we got our butts whooped by the High Rollers.

As the name suggests, that team has a reputation for smoking lots of reefer.

I’ve always maintained that the marijuana gives them an unfair advantage over the other bowlers. It’s a theory, anyway.

In addition to the reefer advantage, they also beat us cause we only had four bowlers–a big disadvantage in a five-man league. Even if the opposing team’s wasted.

I could explain this, but it’s really complicated. So just trust me for once.

We would have had five bowlers, but Allen didn’t show up. Not sure why.

I asked his brother–who bowls on a different team. He said it had something to do with something in Skokie.

It’s probably less mysterious than it sounds.

A few years ago, I was on a team with another bowler–also, coincidentally, named Allen–who called about an hour before tip off to say…

“Benny, I won’t be able to make it tonight–my gerbil died.”

By the way, I’m not sure if the start of a bowling game is called a tip off.

“A gerbil?” I said. “Did you say your gerbil died?”

“Yeah…”

“Allen–it’s a fuckin’ rodent! I don’t even think gerbils mourn when gerbils die.”

“I know,” he said. “But we were close to it. I feel I should be with the family at this time.”

bengordonkirkhinrichThat’s Kirk on the left and Ben in the middle…

 

Anyway, back to our recent ass-whooping by the High Rollers.

The only good thing about the night is the Bulls game was on TV. That gave Norm and me another chance to revive one of our favorite debates: Who’s better–Ben Gordon or Kirk Hinrich?

We’ve been having this debate for the better part of the last ten years. And it shows no signs of subsiding. Even though Gordon has retired.

I’ve long preferred Gordon on the grounds that 1.) he’s short; 2.) he loves to shoot; and 3.) his name is Ben.

Thus, he’s just like me. Aside from the fact that he made it to the NBA and I didn’t.

Generally, Norm’s response has always been: “He’s too fuckin’ short, Benny.”

We had another round of this argument when Hinrich–now a backup guard in his waning years–made it into the game.

“Hinrich’s too old,” said Norm.

“I told you we shoulda kept Ben Gordon,” I said.

“Benny, how many times do I gotta tell you–he’s too fuckin’ short.”

I suspect Norm and I will be continuing this debate long after this week’s thumping has been forgotten.

Leave a comment

Letter From Milo: Time is Not on Your Side

February 1st, 2016

Don’t believe all the shit you hear from AARP, the pharmaceutical companies and the AMA about the Golden Years being a wonderful and exciting chapter of life. They have a vested, fiduciary interest in bamboozling old folks.

In reality, the Golden Years are nothing more than a short and sometimes painful period of time that occurs just before the onset of the Dead Years.

I never thought I’d get old. When I was in my twenties I figured I’d be young, handsome and healthy forever. I would always have a thick head of hair, a trim waist, and eyesight like a raptor. And I was certain that my dick would never fail me. I suppose most men felt the same way.

I’m pretty sure that most young women had similar expectations. They probably figured their tits would never sag, their asses would never droop, they’d never get wrinkles and their hair would never turn gray.

Ladies and gentlemen, it appears that we were wrong.

I remember the exact moment when things began going downhill for me. I was working as a creative director at an advertising agency in downtown Chicago. One of our clients, at the time, was a pharmaceutical company that had recently developed a new “miracle drug” and was hoping to make huge amounts of money by foisting it on an unsuspecting public.

I was checking out the proof of a glossy magazine ad we had prepared for the drug company when I realized I couldn’t quite make out the small print in the lengthy disclaimer at the bottom of the page. At first I thought it was the light in my office, but when I held the page directly under the lamp on my desk the type still appeared fuzzy.

This was a problem. The disclaimer had a list of side effects that people needed to know about. If I remember correctly, some of the side effects included hellacious rashes, raging fevers, incontinence, impotence, blindness, liver failure, brain tumors, insanity and sudden painful death. It would have been a shame if some poor chump suffered from any of those horrible afflictions just because he couldn’t read the fine print at the bottom of the ad.

I confronted the art director who had designed the ad and asked him to increase the size of the type in the disclaimer.

“Can’t do it,” he said. “Those are the specs the account supervisor gave me.”

“This shit’s unreadable. It needs to be fixed. Who’s the account supervisor?”

“Maureen.”

“Ah, fuck.”

I didn’t get along with Maureen and she didn’t care for me. She was a hardened advertising lifer, a tough, no-nonsense gal who was wise in the ways of the ad world. She understood that there was an unbridgeable gap between the business end and the creative end of our industry. Her job, as she saw it, was to protect her clients from the idiocy of writers and art directors who were ignorant of the most basic marketing principles.

Plus, I think she was still pissed at me because of a crude pass I had made at her a couple of years earlier at a company Christmas party.

The first thing she said when I walked into her office was, “What the fuck do you want?”

I showed her the ad. “We’ve got to redo this thing. The disclaimer is difficult to read.”

She looked at the ad for a moment. “The type a bit small, but I don’t have any problem reading it. Besides, it’s not in my client’s interest to have people reading the disclaimer. It’s bad for business.”

“There’s some serious shit in that disclaimer. If I can barely read it how do you expect others to make sense of it?”

“Milo, I’ve got two words for you.”

“What?”

“Reading glasses. It appears you need them.”

That evening I sat on my back porch, enjoying a few whiskeys and brooding on the horrible fate that awaits all God’s children. Why did something as wonderful as life begin with so much promise and then just sort of fizzle out at the end? I could accept the fact that all of the other assholes in the world had to get old, but why me? Getting old seemed like a rotten deal for everyone concerned. I could see no upside to it.

The lovely Mrs. Milo came out to the porch, saw me staring glumly into the distance and asked if I was okay.

“I’m fine, honey. I’ve just got a lot of things on my mind.”

“You look kind of sad. What’s the matter?”

“Nothing important, sweetie. But I have to ask you something.”

“Sure.”

“Does it look like I’m losing my hair?”

Leave a comment

Letter From Milo: Red Wine and Reefer

January 25th, 2016

I was out on my back porch, enjoying a cigarette with my morning whiskey, when I heard the phone ring. The caller was a dear friend of mine, a guy I’ve known since 1969, who I’ll call “Bruce Diksas” to spare him any undue embarrassment.

“Hey, man, what’s going on?”

“Nothing,” I said, “just hanging around.”

“You want to get together for a drink later on?”

“Excellent idea. Come over to my place. I’ve got a few bottles of wine lying around.”

“Okay, I’ll bring a couple of bottles, too.”

The lovely Mrs. Milo went to see a movie with a girlfriend and my daughter was out on the town, so Bruce and I were alone in the house, sitting at the kitchen table, drinking and talking. We had just gotten into the second bottle of wine when Bruce reached into his pocket and pulled out a joint.

“Well, well,” I said, happily. “What have we got here?”

“This, my friend, is some of Nickel Bag Bernie’s top-of-the-line shit,” Bruce explained, as he lit the joint. “Bernie personally assured me that this is some of the finest reefer he’s had since he got that load of chemically-tainted weed that was growing by the steel mills in Gary, Indiana, back in ’78.”

It was, indeed, fine weed. I knew it was good because within minutes of smoking the joint, my IQ dropped by 60 points. Another sign of its potency was that my mind immediately turned to thoughts of fried chicken, oysters on the half shell, baby back ribs slathered in BBQ sauce, bloody t-bones, onion rings and Kit Kat bars.

So, there we were, a couple of old farts getting fucked up. No excuses, no apologies, no reason or meaning to it. We were getting drunk and stoned just because we could, strictly for the joy and pleasure of it.

I suppose it’s a generational thing. A lot of people who came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s drifted into adulthood on a cloud of marijuana smoke. In certain circles weed was everywhere. The party didn’t get started until someone started passing a joint. The party wasn’t a success until everyone was grinning, giggling and laughing hysterically at things that weren’t at all funny.

Fortunately, for most people the high life was just a phase, something to experience and then move on. There were jobs to do, families to raise and 401Ks to build. Moderation replaced excess. The occasional joint and five o’clock cocktail are as wild as most people get these days.

Moderation, however, is not a word I’m familiar with. I’m sure Bruce has trouble spelling it, too. Dumbasses like us, and a lot of our dearest friends, still enjoy the old Rip ‘n Roar. Why have one drink when you can have five? Why settle for a mild buzz when you can court oblivion? Why go halfway when the finish line is just a little further down the road?

As we opened the third bottle of red wine, I said to Bruce, “I think I’m developing a drinking problem.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, that’s what my wife told me. She says I drink too much.”

“When did she say that?”

“Yesterday. We had an argument about it.”

“Who won the argument?”

“I can’t remember. I was drunk.”

Lighting up the roach, Bruce said, “Sometimes women are more trouble than they’re worth. Speaking strictly in terms of companionship, you’d be better off with a dog. I never had an argument with a dog.”

“Excellent point.”

At some point in the evening, the lovely Mrs. Milo came home from her evening at the movies. She walked into the kitchen, heard Hendrix blaring from the speakers, smelled the marijuana smoke lingering in the air, saw all of the empty wine bottles, and shook her head in amusement.

“Are you bad boys ever going to grow up?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Your guess is as good as mine. Personally, I doubt it.”

Bruce answered by saying, “If I was a betting man, which I am, I’d take the over rather than the under on that particular proposition.”

Intellectually, I understand that smoking, drinking, eating too much red meat, or excessive behavior of any kind is unhealthy. Those types of habits will kill you, sooner than later. Still, I enjoy the high life too much to think about giving it up. The old Rip ‘n Roar is a comfort to me.

That said, I understand that the days of red wine and reefer can’t last forever. Eventually, what little good sense I have left will prevail. One of these days I’m going to have to give up my low-life pleasures.

But not just yet.

Leave a comment

Letter From Milo: The Sword Cane

January 18th, 2016

My right leg has been bothering me for the past couple of years. I’ve got a condition called Intermittent Claudication, which causes pain and cramping in my leg when I walk.

 The reason it’s called “intermittent” is that the pain comes and goes. Sometimes I can walk a mile or two and not experience any pain. Other times, my right leg begins to cramp and ache after walking just a few blocks.

 The condition is caused by hardened arteries, which restrict blood flow to my leg. It’s a life-style caused affliction. In other words, I have only myself to blame. Years of smoking, drinking, and eating red meat have come back to bite me in the ass. The waiter at the Karma Café has presented the check.

 In early December, my daughters asked what I’d like for a Christmas present. After giving it some thought, I said, “I’d like a cane.”

 When they asked why, I explained my leg problem and told them that, sooner or later, I would probably need a cane to help me hobble around.

 “But I don’t want just any old cane,” I added. “I would like a sword cane.”

 “Jeez, Dad, why would you want something like that?”

 “Well, if I ever have to chop some rotten fucker up, a sword cane will come in real handy.”

 The girls looked at each other and rolled their eyes. I figured there was no way in hell that I was getting a sword cane for Christmas.

 To my surprise, Santa came through. There was a sword cane under the tree on Christmas morning.

 It was a thing of beauty – polished wood, industrial grade plastic, and gleaming stainless steel. Best of all, when I pushed a button near the handle, it released the sword blade, 16 cruel inches of lethal, razor-sharp steel. It was, without a doubt, the finest Christmas gift I had ever gotten.

 When I was alone in the house, I’d practice drawing the sword and wave it around, lunging, stabbing and slashing. In a cheesy French accent, I’d sneer at my imagined enemies. “Imbeciles! You have run afoul of the finest swordsman in all of France.”

 Of course, I knew I was being foolish. Realistically, I figured there was zero chance that I’d ever get to chop someone up with the sword cane.

 But then, some things began happening in the neighborhood that made me think I still had a shot. There was a mini crime wave in Lincoln Square. A gang of thugs had been strong-arming people, beating and robbing them on the street. All of the victims, men and women, were elderly. One poor soul was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized.

 Opportunity knocked and I answered the door. I began taking walks at night, just me and my cane. I wandered all over Ravenswood, walking down dark streets and alleys. I walked in and out of sleazy bars. I stood on lonely corners, hoping to be noticed.

 Maybe the gang of thugs would spot me, an older man walking with the aid of a cane. Maybe they’ll think I’m an easy mark. Maybe they’ll try to take advantage of me. Maybe they’ll try to rob me.

 One can only hope.

2 comments

Letter From Milo: Wassermann Gardens, Chapter 10

January 11th, 2016

Here’s a sample of my ebook, Wassermann Gardens, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and 29 other sites.

 

 

THE FOOD SITUATION had become critical. There was enough left, at one meal per day, to feed the islanders for three more days. Marlowe made a half-hearted attempt to convince some of the men that it was necessary to reduce the ration to a half meal per day, but nobody would agree and he gave it up. Even Kline thought it was a meaningless gesture.

“You really think it’ll make a difference,” he said, morosely. He had been drinking heavily in the days after Vukovic’s death, joining Druliner in putting a serious dent in the supply of Island Lemonade. “Another couple of days won’t mean shit to anybody,” he added. “If the helicopter doesn’t show up real soon, we’re all fucked.”

“Well, we’ve got to do something,’ Marlowe said, stubbornly.

“We’ve got to do something,” Druliner mimicked, in a sarcastic, singsong tone. He was drunk, hungry and surly. “You’re becoming a real pain in the ass, you know that?”

“OK, you two dumb asses just sit here and feel sorry for yourselves and I’ll…”

“You’ll do what,” Kline interrupted, angrily, the Lemonade making him belligerent, too. “What are you going to do, save everybody’s ass? Have you got some sort of grand plan? Are you going to pull off a miracle and feed everybody with fish we can’t catch and a loaf of bread we don’t have?”

Marlowe couldn’t think of anything to say, a rejoinder that would make them come around to his way of thinking. He knew that something had to be done, but he had no idea of what that would be. They couldn’t just sit and wait for the helicopter to come and make everything better. Yet, that’s exactly what they were doing.

When Marlowe left Druliner’s hootch, he felt defeated and helpless. When he looked up at the landing zone and saw the crowd of men doggedly waiting for the helicopter, he felt even worse. He walked slowly and dejectedly toward the cliffs, drawn by the sound of the ocean. He found a boulder, sat on it and stared out to sea for a long time.

He hadn’t felt this miserable and filled with despair since he first arrived on the island, almost six years earlier. He remembered his first days as a new arrival, when he wandered in a daze, drugged, frightened and confused. His mind refused to accept the fact that instead of going home, after his tour of duty in Vietnam, he had been declared Missing in Action and quarantined on an island in the middle of nowhere for the rest of his natural life. Almost as difficult to accept was the fact that his body was carrying a sexually transmitted disease that was incurable, virulent and so contagious that his very existence was deemed an unacceptable danger to all of mankind.

He remembered the terrible dreams he had during his first weeks on the island. They were horrible visions of his body infested with malignant worms, eating their way into his bloodstream, working their way into his brain, leaving a toxic slime in their path, driving him crazy, stealing his eyesight, killing him in stages.

Marlowe didn’t know how he had survived those first terrible days. Many men didn’t. The suicide rate of new arrivals was very high, especially in their first few weeks on the island. Marlowe had come close to killing himself several times. He remembered spending hours at the edge of Easy Street, trying to work up the nerve to take the leap. He had actually gone so far as to scrounge up some rope and make a hangman’s noose. The noose lay around his hootch for weeks, a grim reminder that despite the absolute horror of his situation, there was still a way out.

Marlowe also remembered the moment everything had changed. He was sitting on his cot early one morning, after a sleepless, anguished night, wallowing in a mire of self-pity, when Lester Cooper, a tall, thin black man with a huge Afro and a bushy beard, walked into his hootch.

“Hey, man,” Lester said, cheerfully. “You doing anything right now?”

Marlowe didn’t answer. He hadn’t spoken more than 10 words in the weeks he had been on the island. The older islanders tended to avoid newcomers until they showed they would survive the initial shock of arrival. Nobody wanted to invest time or emotion into befriending someone that might be dead in a week.

“I’m talking to you, brother,” Lester said.

“What?” Marlowe replied, without looking up.

“I asked if you was doing anything,” Lester repeated.

“It look like I’m doing anything?”

“No. Looks like you got some time on your hands. That’s good, because I need some help.”

“Help with what?”

“Digging shit holes.”

While Marlowe was sitting on the boulder, listening to the crashing surf and thinking about the past, he saw a familiar figure in the distance. It was Walking Bob, on his endless circuit of the island. Marlowe couldn’t help but smile at the sight of the gaunt, insane man who spent his days and nights just walking. He wondered if Bob was aware of the food situation, or of anything else that happened on the island. The man was so single-minded, so focused on his walking that Marlowe doubted if anything penetrated his diseased brain, other than his next footfall.

As Walking Bob drew nearer, Marlowe saw that he had developed a noticeable limp. It didn’t seem to impede Bob’s progress, but Marlowe felt a pang of concern. The only thing Bob did was walk. If something happened and he couldn’t walk, then what else was there for him?

When Walking Bob came within earshot, Marlowe called out to him, saying what everyone said.

“Hey, Bob, nice day for a walk.”

Walking Bob replied the same way he always did. “Moving target, baby,” he said, without missing a step.

When Bob limped by, Marlowe returned to his memories. He recalled following Lester out to the latrine area, located on a hill just above the cluster of hootches where most of the islanders lived. The latrine was simply a trench, about four feet deep and 20 feet long. Several planks spanned the trench and the planks had holes cut into them so the men could sit in some comfort while taking care of their business. A sagging, weather-beaten canvas awning had been rigged up above the planks to provide some protection from the monsoon rains.

“What we’ve got to do,” Lester explained, “is dig another trench behind this one. We can fill in the old one with the dirt we dig out from the new one.”

Lester waited for Marlowe to say something. When he didn’t respond, Lester continued. “You don’t want to do it, I can understand. It ain’t what you call ‘glamorous’ work. But somebody’s got to dig a new one. This here old one is just overflowing and nasty. It smells so bad that it takes all the pleasure out of a good shit. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a good shit in the morning.”

Without further conversation, Lester grabbed a shovel and began digging. He dug at a leisurely but efficient rate for about 10 minutes, before stopping to remove his tee-shirt, which was already showing sweat stains from the early morning heat. Then he took a smoke break, sitting on the grassy slope and basking in the sunshine while enjoying his smoke. When he finished, he flicked away the butt, then, looked at Marlowe, who seemingly hadn’t moved a muscle.

“Well, my man,” Lester said, taking a grip on the shovel handle. “What are you going to do?”

Much later, Marlowe realized what Lester had actually asked him. The question was asked in such an offhand manner that its importance didn’t register in his mind for several years. What Lester really asked was, “Do you want to live or do you want to die?”

Leave a comment

Letter From Milo: The Dust of Life

January 4th, 2016

The high school I attended, Horace Mann, in Gary, Indiana, provided a renewable labor pool for the local steel mills. Unless you were in one of the rare accelerated academic programs, you were taught to read, write and do basic math, and that was enough to get a good job in a factory.

Of course, not everyone from my high school ended up in the steel mills. The school produced its share of doctors, lawyers, businessmen, entertainers and professional athletes.

One kid who did well in life was a math whiz named Joey Stiglitz, who graduated a few years ahead of me. Like most Gary kids who are good with numbers, Joey probably aspired to be a bookie. For some reason, he decided to study Economics instead, eventually winning the Nobel Prize, which, I’ve heard, comes with a handsome check.

Sadly, there were some Horace Mann students who ended up on the road to nowhere.

One of these poor souls, who I’ll call Jim, was the older brother of a classmate of mine. Jim had always been a mean, scrappy and quarrelsome kid. His greatest joy in life was street fighting. He wasn’t big or physically imposing, yet he would fight anybody, at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all.

Jim was fearless to the point of stupidity and he lost as many fights as he won. Even when Jim won a fight, he took a lot of punishment. When he lost, he sometimes suffered savage beatings. The Marquis of Queensbury’s rules were generally ignored in Gary street fights. Putting the boot to a downed opponent was considered good form. I don’t remember the details, but I do recall that Jim had been hospitalized several times, once for a fractured skull.

By his early 20s, Jim was punch drunk, a damaged human being. His speech was slurred, he was unsteady on his feet, and was prone to hallucinations. Still, Jim remained true to his nature. Despite his pitiful physical and mental condition, he continued picking fights with people.

Jim’s family tried to help. They had him institutionalized for a couple of months in the mental hospital in Westville, Indiana, but couldn’t afford the upkeep. When Jim left the Westville, he lived on the streets of Gary.

I lost track of Jim in the late 60s. I had my own problems. In the summer of my 19th year I got drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Vietnam. After 14 months and seven days of doing my best to keep the Southeast Asian dominoes upright, I was honorably discharged. I considered myself fortunate to come home in one piece and somewhat sane.

With nothing better to do and extremely averse to taking an honest job in a steel mill, I enrolled in college. I spent a couple of months in Gary, killing time, waiting for the next semester to start at Indiana State University, where I planned to drink a lot of beer, smoke a lot of reefer, chase chicks and perhaps do a little studying, all courtesy of the G.I. Bill.

One day I was wandering around the Tavern District, which was my favorite part of town. It was where Gary’s finest saloons, pool rooms, whorehouses and gambling joints were located. I was about to duck into a pool room, known as The Club, when I saw Jim standing on the corner of Broadway and 5th Avenue.

I was about a quarter of a block away, but I could see that Jim was panhandling. He was accosting people on the street, saying a few words to them and holding out his hand. Most people waved him off or walked around him. A few people took a moment to listen to his pitch before walking away. I didn’t see anyone give him money.

When I approached him I saw that Jim looked even worse than I remembered. The brutal, violent life he had lived was written in scar tissue on his battered face. And he was raggedly dressed, in layers of torn and soiled clothing, and wearing a shabby overcoat in the middle of summer. He looked like a bum, which is what he had become.

He didn’t recognize me. He treated me like any possible benefactor.

“Hey, buddy, can you spare a buck? My baby girl just died.”

I gave him a couple of dollars and walked away. As I was leaving he quickly approached another passerby. “Hey, buddy, can you spare a buck? My baby girl just died.”

That was the last time I saw Jim. A few years later I heard that he had frozen to death in an abandoned building near the Tavern District.

The Vietnamese have a phrase that describes people like Jim. They call them “Bui Doi,” which loosely translates to “The dust of life.”

Bui Doi are the hopeless ones, poor souls who are at the mercy of events and demons which they don’t understand. They are victims of capricious fate, their place in life always uncertain and precarious. The dust of life is at the mercy of the slightest breeze. The will of heaven cannot be disputed or denied.

Bui Doi are destined to be born, suffer and die, leaving no sign of their passing.

Leave a comment
« Click here for Older Entries |
    • Archives