I was walking home from the Park yesterday afternoon when J. spotted me. J. is one of those cats who is always hanging around the neighborhood. He loves to talk because most of the time he has nothing else to do. He yelled my name and ran across the street to shake my hand and walk with me. J. looks very young despite his graying hair and beard. He wears NBA tank tops and jean shorts, and is well-muscled like most guys who make their money scraping and fixing and painting. J is in his late fifties and lives in some local basement. When I first met him I took J. for 30. Now that I know his real age I can see it in his eyes. They have dark circles around them, and the flesh droops there, particularly under those sleepy yellowing orbs.
J. is always looking for a new basement to move into because he pays his rent by doing odd jobs around the houses he lives in. Once those odd jobs dry up J. knows he has got to git soon, or come up with some cash. Often he is pestering neighbors about the trim around their windows, or refinishing their doors. “I can fix that there mess right up fer ya,” he says. “Just call.” He has a scratchy deep voice, very expressive. He also carves chess sets out of wood bits he gathers walking around the Park, and he participates in the Sunday drum circle held near one of its pagodas.
We hung out on my stoop for a while, talking shit. E., my neighbor, came out with his bulldog Bodhi. Bodhi looks like W.C. Fields. E. tried to feed Bodhi a spoonful of ice cream, but it dripped down onto Bodhi’s flat sloped forehead, too high up for him to lick it. His long tongue kept lapping halfway up his face trying to reach the ice cream, but could not make it, poor puppy Tantalus. E. and J. and I laughed at Bodhi, who finally rubbed his forehead on a sheet of cardboard somebody left on the sidewalk. This he licked the now fuzzy ice cream off happily.
Somehow or another J. said something about smoke during our conversation, and I said something in return, and he jumped up off the stoop and hugged me. “A real person!” he said, and actually called me his “nigga.” We talked about smoke for a while. I told J. about Snydely Whiplashed and the Dorito bubble-language. J. told me about Senor Squeaky and the slow-motion Rice Crispy bounce. J. said he was a devotee of the drum circle because “them cats fires up a primo load” to warm up ahead of time under the “tree of life.” “And they shares it too.”
J. was obviously trying to feel me out about a package he has coming in, but I maintained my retirement from such activities was durable and suggested to J. that such behavior for me was long past, with only the most occasional disciplinary lapses.
“Well next time you got yourself a disciplinary lapse,” he intoned, drawling out the words and somehow chuckling deep inside his chest at once, “you call J. And when the fuck you gonna let me scrape and paint that fire escape for you? Shit, man, I will fix that mess right up.”