What Purpose Is Life Anyway?
[Led Zeppelin – “Friends” ]
Surprise, I’ve a new shopping cart. Compliments of that crazy old Irishman, Dooley. He really did us good the other day. With the California King, Mammie, in years, hadn’t slept a good enough sleep as she did the last two nights. And her cooking– a new hibachi– another present from Dooley who also laid upon us Tuesday night a huge cooler of steaks, chops, burgers, dogs — a real feast, and it was my job to gather the troops for the celebration.
Dooley confided in me, he a betting man, that he’d won five thousand dollars on the Bears game Sunday night. He wanted to pass his good fortune to those of the wilderness– the real folk and in this mix, he felt strongly about our clan. And on a few occasions, Dooley confided in me that I reminded him of his eldest son– a son he hadn’t seen in eight years.
And more of a reason perhaps to draw him to our encampment was Mammie — he, of course, confided in me a great affection for her– and I can still see it clearly, the two of them dancing under the moonlight. She, deserving of a good man, Dooley– a good woman. Time may break her away from her propensities to the street, and at the same time, break Dooley from his nomadic ventures into the red-lighted district–a wonder of mine why he is often so cantankerous.
I think because of his age, the five-minute release is no longer good enough, or his mood no longer altered to the upswing by a swift lick of the stick by a cheap hooker. I think his need demands some stability, he appears such a man now, and the way he was carrying on with Mammie the other night, oh I swear, he was amidst a transformation so liberating.
Dooley engaged Mammie in the Irish jig many a wonderful moment throughout the history of Tuesday’s night. I’ve a feeling now that Dooley will definitely be coming over more often with a few good hauls . . .
[Eric Clapton – “Wonderful Tonight” ]
Today, the el train is the best way to go, I’m tired, the wind brisk, my legs not as trustworthy as I’d prefer them to be. Wouldn’t want to take any chances with the long walk–it is my estimation of five miles to Lucinda’s. I had taken her invitation.
She asked me ever so coyly yesterday if I’d come over this evening to her brownstone to help her move some boxes down to her storage shed. About six o’clock would be a prudent hour she insisted as she had other things to do beforehand. She also mentioned that, if I wouldn’t mind a quick stir of Chinese, she’d love to draw a few candles and have me enjoy with her the Mongolian Beef–something I hadn’t had since leaving yester-year.
To tell you the truth, I am a bit nervous and as I had mentioned on previous occasion I hadn’t had the warmth or comfort of a woman in five years if that, and I feel it is, Lucinda’s truest of intentions. I may have been out of the game for a while but I contend my intuition of such overtures still exerts in me a hormonal charge.
I took the long bath this morning, trimmed my beard nice and neat. Mammie helped me dress as a proper suitor, pulling from the space a spiffy cardigan, brownish with the black Docker pants. And my beloved waffle stompers. “Do you know who you look like?” she said.
Well, I had heard that before on special occasion, especially when I had the beard trimmed as I do on this day. I realized that today was the first time Mammie saw me with the beard trimmed and my hair combed back. Perhaps a Renaissance.
Tonight, too, Mammie is going out with Dooley and although I suggested a return of favor by pulling from the space a nice pants outfit for her, sexy and silky, she shooed me off. “Oh no, no. . . I am not joining the Pussy Cat Dolls,” a reminder to one of the tabloids I got off the street the other night and she, before using it as an igniter of the flame, skimmed through the pages, mentioning, “those are some hot chicks.”
I thought it funny coming from Mammie, usually her pitch is a bit more reserved, but the last few days, I believe because of Dooley’s doting on her, she has opened up her wings a bit. Makes me smile, my teeth cleaned fresh with baking soda and the Listerine, another gift from the St. Vincent De Paul’s. As was my and Mammie’s new wardrobe of course.
I think, come tomorrow, me and Mammie will be sitting side by side next to the fire, comparing notes.
Oh yes, Amor vincit omnia!
The coldness has set upon the pane a thick sheet of ice and Mammie, by ways of experience and survival had doubled up on the whiskey– a claim she insists, to warm better the bones.
We had fortified our encampment, bolstered the outer perimeters with sheets of plasterboard –remnants of an abandoned construction site. Added to this installation was some tarp that Johnny Littlefeather had found one day while traipsing behind the Home Depot — good enough cover to serve our purposes but possibly not good enough for the Depot’s customer base. A few small rips, a few raggedy ends–a write-off. Ad valorem!
The other night Dooley bless his Irish soul, had imposed on Mammie a gesture of the heart–an electrical generator and a small space heater. She reluctantly accepted, thinking at first, that Dooley’s gift was more an incentive for her to shed the undergarment, a fear she still holds as a result of her fifty-one year history including the pillaging of her body by an assortment of ignorant men, one an uncle who she had confided in me, molested her when she was eleven years of age. . .
Mammie, her softness, sometimes rescinded in lieu of a harder shell, is slowly coming to terms with her truer self, and for this, I am most grateful. She deserves so much more than she had been dealt.
From our very first encounter, I realized that it’d be better if we conduct ourselves more as friends, even brother and sister than become romantically entangled. And, believe me, I could’ve easily fallen for her in such a way. Mammie, who still denies her image, is a classical beauty– a cross between Sophia Loren and I shit you not, Angelina Jolie at a slightly elevated age. . .
My heart immediately fell upon Mammie’s soul that very first night, the night I fortuitously made the right turn on Halsted Avenue versus the left. Sitting isolated in a desolate part of town during a desperate hour she seemed, at first appearance — so helpless, so addled, so frightened.
“Hello,” I say. She lowers her head. “How are you tonight?” I add. She lowers her head again, now between her knees. I notice she’s clenching her fists. “Are you OK?” She starts to tremble.
“Leave me alone,” she hollers. Not one to force my will upon such fragile a citizen, I slowly return to my shopping cart, intent on resuming the cleaning of the streets. Along the curbs lay ubiquitous the pop cans, the beer cans, the refuse of a thousand different hands. Not less than twenty yards into the renewal of my journey I hear: “Wait! I’m sorry.” I turn around.
The woman, now standing, swaying, waves me back. “Come have a drink with me,” she says. Not much on the drink, but as a way to better align my soul to hers, I accept. She’s holding a cask, a rather large cask. “Come on, I’ve some warm whiskey.”
I go over to her, and although she’s still trembling, extends her cask to me. “A drink among friends. But you promise you won’t hurt me.” I take a drink, and though not too keen on the whiskey, it is rather smooth, inviting. I hand her the cask.
“I would never hurt you,” I say. And knowing she had probably heard this before, by those whose actions were exempt from words, I extend my hand. She takes it in hers and holds it for what seems like an eternity, a good enough time her for to feel safe with my company. “I am Roman, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Hello Roman, you can call me Mammie.”
FEATURE: "IMAGINE" BY JOHN LENNON
As I wrote to you the other day from the Library computer, “Lucinda the Librarian, who had taken an interest in my “literal propensity configured with a provocative sense of self,” well, that is how she elucidated my humanity had invited me to her brownstone this past Saturday night to help her bring a few boxes down to her storage shed.”
Of course, I honored the invitation, not one to deny such an innocent appeal. I would never turn down another’s citizenship; this is a simple philosophy that those in my encampment had also taken to heart. Regoliamo l’esempio visualizzando il nostro citizenry.
I felt Lucinda’s interest in me, might contain within it, more than my ” literal propensity configured with a provocative sense of self,” in essence, her eye for me saw perhaps a romantic interlude. Subconsciously perhaps, this was my wish; after all, it had been five years since I had felt the comfort and warmth of a woman in this way. Gaudeamus igitur!
When I arrived at Lucinda’s, her brownstone, quaint and inviting, nestled within the confines of Wrigleyville, brought back memories–memories I had thought were long ago vanquished by time, by obstinacy, by suppression. But I was wrong.
Not so long ago, after all, it was somewhere near here — where clusters of brownstone similar to this aligned both sides of the boulevard. Unlike this night though, the mercury was higher in the tube– an early summer evening I believe.
It was an evening of laughing children and hand-holding couples and beatific meanderers– and the fans in celebratory mood and motion– the Cubs had just won a game. Wrigley Field, for nearly a century — the epicenter of this very neighborhood.
And then, suddenly, without presumption or warning, the unimaginable happened. Light became dark, the laughing stopped, the dancing in the street came to an abrupt halt.
A woman, out of nowhere, ran past, screaming. Behind her, a man in desperate pursuit. And then, a loud bang. The woman fell. People all around, dispersed in every direction; fear spread quickly, widely. I looked, blood spewing outwardly from where the woman lay, the man above her pointing his gun to her head. “You won’t ever stiff me again, bitch.” Another blast. The man turned, fled.
It happened too fast, nothing I could do, not then. Within minutes, Wrigleyville had turned into a crime scene; squad cars everywhere, and the drone of helicopters above filling the night.
The woman, I had learned, only nineteen years old was a prostitute; the man who killed her was her pimp. That night, and a lot of nights that followed, I looked more closely to the street and it was one of those nights I met Little Sis— she, too, a prostitute. Desperate, convinced that nothing mattered to anyone but her body, her self-esteem taken down further with every trick, with every shove out the door by her pimp, what purpose is life anyway?
I wiped the tears from my eyes and rang up Lucinda. She buzzed me in, and with thoughts still of stories left untold, I ambled the stairs to Lucinda’s apartment. Perhaps, if ever the case, a romantic interlude with Lucinda would need to wait . . . my body, my mind, my soul no longer prepared for such an overture.
Lucinda, though more attractive than I previously ascertained, invited me in, and I knew it best if we stuck to the business at hand.
“Where are the boxes you want to put in the storage?”