Empty Man is standing alone.
A filthy pillar of perspiration smacking lips around slimy teeth. He knows each of our backgrounds. He has nothing. We have everything. A conclusion to justify verbal urination frequently spat upon stingy pedestrians.
“Gimme a quarter, you cheap SOB,” he breathes between phlegm- filled coughs. Some folks race on by, experts in avoiding grim realities. A half-dozen or so, hand over a dollar bill while rolling their eyes back. The brave lecture him on the protestant work ethic. He manages malicious words and gestures at them. Unclear instructions to a very hot place. Human traffic proceeds as usual. His mission is complete.
I watch Empty Man pair dollars on a cracked plastic beer crate. Each pair equals a bottle of fortified wine. Loose change is wrapped in what used to be a sock. A handy weapon to warn nearby rivals until nicotine beckons another drag. Down the street the liquor store knows his name. Or at least what he names himself. A special section on the back shelf makes ready for easy access. An assembly line of organized self-destruction. Marketed for men tired of living but purchasing death on lay-away plan. There’s little irony here.
The bottler’s are making a killing. And that’s ok because ultimately this is what true freedom is all about: the freedom to pickle your liver and pulverize your identity. Who needs Fascism?
He orders two pints of confidence. The cashier rushes back with poetic precision. A task physiologically memorized; complete with expressionless face only questioning if payment is forthcoming. And it certainly is. Served on an unwashed hand demanding the four-cent balance. Four pennies for four fantasies of four fortified bottles of liquid paradise.
He smiles nearly in relief. The first time today. I half-heartedly expected him to register something when that lady gave him a two-dollar bill. But he didn’t. His existence is now all rote void of rhythm or any normal sense of stimuli. A perverted program that runs like this: take the money–reserve energy–pray for the moment of replenishment. The sum of his meager meaning. He’s a sorry fisherman hooked by his own deadly bait. Flapping furiously on shore until waves pump another dose of subsistence. This is too easily defined as torture. This is too easily described as tragedy. What I am witnessing is a man’s life swimming in a vortex of vice. A message in a transmutable bottle we all take a good swig from now and again. But rather not admit. We use NyQuil they use Nightrain.
Empty Man finished one pint in a ten-minute sitting. Parallel street lamps begin their flickering dance. Deep Night is arriving on schedule. The second pint is sure to chase Midnight from consciousness. I’d like to believe he still has a fragment left. He knows my background. That I am watching him like a college laboratory experiment. His vacant eyes imprint murderous visions. A path my soul claims belongs to low-class street people. Is it wine or my conscience causing this strange phenomena?
He wants more money, my spacious condo and my girlfriend’s generous assets. He wants my youth, education; standing in the community. He wants it all–right now. He wants revenge and I think he wants my manhood. If only I had those things to offer him. I wouldn’t be out here searching for a life. And four dollars to get back home.
I’ll wait for him to fall asleep.