“And you motherfuckers can cop to whatever you fucking want to!” he said, then turned to his right and exploded into the hall. He tried to slam the glass door but it bounced back six inches. I calmly took another pull on my cigar, turned the page of my book, and wondered if he would come back with a knife, or a gun.
The conversation had started well. He came into the smoke room while I was on the phone. I hung up, told him I wanted to meet him, introduced myself. He just stared at me with an odd look. I explained that he had talked to my friend J., told J. there were two kinds of people in the world – those with longhaired values and those with short ones. I applied that to an analysis essay on Easy Rider, “yes the flick,” and got a B, so thank you. He stared.
“I said that?”
Well, that is what my friend said. My prof wrote “very clever” next to it.
He looked down at his shoes and furrowed his brow. “I don’t remember ever saying anything like that. I mean, I don’t really think that man.”
“I’m sorry, it must have been somebody else than.”
“I mean, I don’t really think of the world like that man,” and this is where I lost all control of the conversation. He went on to explain that prices had gone up. I never figured out which exactly he was referring to, but I doubt he knew either. He just kept saying that he didn’t know who made prices go up so fast and he would like to ask them why they did that, before –
“Have you seen a kid around here, ‘bout six feet, got a, physical defect?”
“Yes, one leg longer than the other? Walks with a limp?
“Yeah, that’s the one. Real nice guy.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen him.” I pulled hard on my cigar and blew smoke rings. Before he responded to anything there was always this silence, this pause. I would try to break it but he would stop me with a syllable, then resume his silence. After I said I knew who he was talking about, he starred at me with utter delight in his eyes, his brows raised in surprise, his lips wide.
“I’ve been looking for him.”
“I haven’t seen him tonight. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, okay,” he said, settling back into his green stuffed chair, his face resuming its odd pose.
I pulled on my cigar. I had apparently gained some control back and decided to test my luck. “So what are you up to tonight?”
“I just came in here to see if you’d seen him.”
I had been alone in the smoke room before he came in – we were still alone. He looked at me oddly. Then I remembered J. saying this man was one of the oddest encounters ever, near impossible to talk to, so I had to try.
“So what do you do around here?”
His face went neutral. “I just came in here to see if you’d seen the cat with the deformity. He helped me, you see.”
He gave me something this time – a why I hadn’t asked for. I went again, this time without the question mark, which hadn’t been working for me, “Yeah, he seems like a really nice man.” Oh shit.
He leaned forward in his chair. This is when I realized how strong he was, how broad his hands were three feet away from me, getting closer, gesturing out of time with his comments.
“I’m no kid man. You got to understand. I ain’t no kid man. You understand me?”
“I don’t need you to tell me that. You think I don’t know that already? Fuck man.”
Mayday. I finally realized that the odd look he sported was the unsure hostility of an alcoholic.
“I came here a long time ago – I came decades ago – to calm down man. Then I run into these psycho types – they’re everywhere, you know? I ain’t no kid man. I don’t know why these psycho cases are everywhere. I ain’t no fucking kid. There’s no way I could be one of these kids man, no way. You’ve got to understand me. He’s the – he is the youngest man – youngest person who has helped me, cared about me. He looked me straight up man, told me straight up what they were doing to me was wrong and I should talk to them, explain the situation, get the bill dismissed. Well because of him I went to them, sat down, and got the bill cut in half man. You’ve got to understand me. He is the youngest person who has cared about me and helped me out. But I ain’t no kid man. I can’t go back to being one of these kids man. You know?”
“Yeah, no I understand. You aren’t a kid.” I was getting bored listening to him repeat his I ain’t no kid man mantra.
“I don’t need you to talk to me like that! I ain’t no kid man. You have to understand me. You think I don’t know that already man? I knew that probably before you ever existed. My mom and dad made me a kid man. I know what went down.”
I ashed my cigar early, a nervous habit I had developed since he sat down.
“I know man. My momma's pussy made me a kid,” he emphasized the word pussy almost to a shout, groped his crotch while he said it. “I know what went down.”
Silence. I was curious. I wanted him to keep going. I wanted to help him like the cat with the deformity had. My father always says that when his grades were going down, he would stop thinking and start repeating his professor’s words, then he would pass the class. My own attempt on this theme failed. “Yeah, your parents made you a kid.”
His face twisted into a mass of hurt and hate. “I don’t need to hear that man. You think I don’t know what went down? I know what went down.”
I tried submission, “I’m sorry – I – I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“I don’t need to hear you say that man. I fucking knew that before you were around man, before you even existed.”
I took a vow of silence, wondered if I could hold him off if he jumped me, just long enough for a rescue or a getaway. I decided my cigar would make a good weapon if it had to.
“I been here long before you man. You think I don’t know that already? What’s making you talk like that? What’s making you say that? You smoking more than just tobacco?”
“Good man, don’t get started,” he seemed to calm. “I ain’t gonna tell you what I went through.” I wanted him too, but remained silent. “I ain’t no kid man.” Pause. “What’s make you talk like that? Listen, I don’t have to tell you what I been through. I came here long before you did.”
He got up. There was still a coffee table between us.
“I ain’t one of these people just here to get their degree man. I ain’t here for school. That’s why you came here, right, to get your degree?”
He had already taken everything – I had nothing to lose by being truthful. I took another pull of my Dominican puro before saying, “I don’t know.” It was honest.
“Well you can just fucking get your degree then leave. You came here for a degree, right?”
“I don’t know,” I had become accustomed to his repetitions.
“Well I ain’t no kid man. I don’t know what’s making you talk like that but I know where I came from. You think I don’t know what went down? Man, don’t tell me what my momma did – I know. I ain’t got to cop to nothing, and you motherfuckers can cop to whatever you fucking want to!”
He turned to his right and exploded into the hall. I looked after him as the door bounced back six inches. I took another pull of my cigar, my hand shaking, my face taunt with calm. I turned the unfinished page of my book. I wondered if he would come back with a knife, or a gun. I got up and left just in case, checked my mirrors all the way home, bolted my door shut.