27 June 2008

STREETCORNER MAN

As some sort of age related dementia developed, Jackie began a conversation with himself that has yet to end. You see him talking constantly, occasionally cackling over one of his own wry remarks. He keeps mostly to West 12th Street, because he gets lost easily. Recently he began wearing a caution-orange jacket, even in this lethal heat and humidity we've been enduring. A social worker gave it to him, because the bright orange reduces the chances of Jackie being hit by a car. His level of awareness at pedestrian crosswalks does not inspire confidence. Jackie cannot recall who gave him the jacket, or why he wears it. He likes to look sporty, of course, so he procured a pair of cheap shades, although he is indifferent about removing the price tag, which is attached to the nose bridge. The price tag dances in front of his face like a piece of space shuttle debris. Jackie talks not only to himself, but to many, many inanimate objects. He talks to mailboxes, fire hydrants, closed doors, trash cans, and utility poles. He especially favors ancient, derelict streetcar catenary poles with his attentions. There are only a handful of the old catenary poles left, but Jackie chats them up about what's going on on the street, what money there is to be made off which particular marks, what horses are expected to be held back by their jockeys, or which pimp is running which hooker. In his prime, Jackie was a procurement specialist, an entertainment consultant --- what used to be called a streetcorner man. If you needed some substance, if you wanted to get into a crap game, find a hooker or bet on a horse, a dog, a football game, then Jackie could connect you. For a modest fee, of course. Sometimes he functioned as the middle man, but sometimes he was directly involved in the goods and services end. He made occasional, brief appearances in court, and served a few short stays in jail. During his more lucid moments, Jackie might tell you about providing women and liquor for parties whose guests included judges and politicians. He will reminisce about vast sums made and lost on impulsive wagers. He becomes misty-eyed when recalling his '52 Hudson Hornet with a pair of dice --- real dice, mind you, not the fuzzy novelty items --- swaying beneath the rear view mirror as he cruised the streets, making deliveries to his regulars. Today Jackie picks at an old streetcar pole, trying to remove scabs of rust. He talks to the pole about a woman who tried to shoot him with an old snub nosed .38. She missed him, barely, and the bullet passed through the sharkskin suit he favored in those days, proceeded across the bar, then entered the left upper arm of the bartender. Jackie swears that gal is still in prison, although that seems unlikely, given that he seems to be talking about events from the late 1950's. He won't be in this neighborhood long. Eventually Jackie's case manager will get motivated and find him some sort of managed care facility for seniors. His memory, his ability to process information, will continue to deteriorate. He will keep his eyes open for a wicked filly in a purple dress with a revolver in her purse. When his time comes, his last sensory experience might be the smell of the new upholstery, the pristine interior of a Hudson Hornet, but he will be oblivious to the 21st century, and the care facility that will contain what is left of him.

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All original text (C) 2007, 2008 David J. Carney. All rights reserved.

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