Let me see you make’em smile

I come up Fifth under the freeway and past the donut shops and furniture stores. At Market, I see a man prostrate on the ground, next to the Nordstrom’s valet. He’s spread-eagle on the grimy concrete, eyes closed and teeth clenched. He’s still but obviously not dead. The business people step around him, the tourists give him a furrowed brow or a worried glance and stay clear.

There are always at least a few crackheads down here, usually on the steps of the shuttered Mint. They sleep or panhandle there on the convenient stone steps. This guy looks in worse shape than most.

As I approach him, he lurches up, making a retching sound like some dying beast. I stop, cautious. He rolls over a couple of times, parting and disrupting the lunch pedestrians, and ends up on his back again in the crosswalk. Two cops leer from their squadcar parked on the far sidewalk.

He takes a can out of his filthy jacket, paint or glue or some kind of aerosol solvent, and, retching, presses the button and takes a big huff in his cupped, shaking hands. He gasps and coughs for a second, then takes another deep huff. He tips backwards, flat on the street once again. His back arches, and hisses out breath through yellow teeth.

I stand still, and the tourists scurry. The cops watch from behind empty blue sunglasses, but make no move. The guy lays flat in the street, riding high on the violent death of his own braincells.

A taxi rolls to within a couple feet of him, horn blaring. His eyes are still shut. He doesn’t move.

I turn into my office and climb the stairs.

————-

I go to a poker game. It’s mostly IT people, a couple of developers. Computer People.

I’m a shitty player, and expect to lose. I lack patience, control. I’m too aggressive with the strong, too cautious with the weak. I pay to see too many flops. I don’t cut my losses. When I do win, credit’s due to the cards and not the player.

The guy across from me talks to his neighbor about a Ruby on Rails project he worked on.

We play No Limit Hold’em exclusively, a shallow, predictable variant. ESPN, it occurs to me, has ruined poker. ESPN and the Internet. What little gunfighter barroom mystique the game once held has vanished, and the traditional Western poker has been replaced in full by this cheap, cowardly imitation. Hold’em punishes the bold and rewards the conservative, almost by design, and ESPN’s vile Nascarish ‘Pro Poker’ shows have made the game a haven for nerds, idiots, and self-styled aficionados.

The Indian guy next to me, Harran, spills his bowl of cheetohs into my chip tray. He apologizes profusely, picking the red and orange puffs off the green felt. The light-blue sleeves of his collared shirt are stained with the orange powder.

I drink my beer and don’t say anything.

A couple hours later Quint’s taken all their money, which makes me feel a little better.

————-

A guy on BART hands me a brochure. May 21st 2011 the World will End. The Rapture is Upon Us, the brochure proclaims.

That’s this Saturday. Tomorrow.

Judgment Has Been Foretold.

There are billboards scattered along the freeway reiterating the message. The Faithful will be Saved, the rest of us…

I ask the brochure guy what he’s going to do if by some chance the Rapture doesn’t occur.

“It’s coming. It’s on May 21st.”, he says. “It’s in the brochure.”

“I know it’s in the brochure. But what happens if it’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?”

“The brochure.”

He looks at me, shoving the little pamphlets at other passengers who push past.

“Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?” he asks.

“It’s impolite to answer a question with a question. That’s in the Bible, somewhere. Deuteronomy I think.” His blank look has become a sneer. He’s a squat, wan-skinned man in his mid-forties. He needs a haircut. He looks like a medieval peasant dressed in Walmart dress slacks. I look down at him, standing up straight for once. “You people are so full of shit.” I tell him. “See you on Monday.”

He turns away from me and I get off at the next stop. Fucking morons.

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