Hey man, do you have a cigarette?” A man asked me out of nowhere. I didn’t see him creeping up to me, usually I am aware of my surroundings but he was soundless in his approach.
“Naw, sorry, I bummed this from someone.” Which was true, I did bum the smoke from my friend still in the diner. “Do you want a drag?”
“Nah, just save me some alright.”
“You know what,” my new friend started again. “Two days ago was my birthday.”
“Happy birthday,” I said wondering what his story would be.
“And I was sitting on 42nd between 41st and 42nd, drinking a beer. And, uh, uh, a van pulled up, uh, uh a police van and they asked if I had I.D. and I said, very well spoken, ‘Yes, officer. It’s right here.’ And then the cop told me to get up and put my hands behind my back.”
“What?” I asked.
“Yeah, he, uh, uh, started putting the cuffs on and I said, ‘Hey man, it’s my birthday.’ And he said, uh, uh, ‘We don’t care about that sir.’ And they arrested me for drinking in public.”
He was drinking now out of a brown paper bag and looked a little drunk for ten in the morning.
“So I spent my birthday in jail.”
“I’m sorry,” I said feeling the need to acknowledge his plight. I handed him my half-smoked cigarette and he took a drag before continuing.
“You know,” he took another quick drag before handing it back to me a little pinched on the filter, “I’m always well dressed, I was well dressed then.”
Today he wore an orange sweatshirt and matching orange sweat pants, white crew socks and expensive black leather loafers with buckles. A gold watch around his left wrist and a small and shiny gold chain hanging from his neck rounded out his ensemble.
I gave him the last of my smoke, maybe two more drags left in the cigarette before the filter. He took it from me with a flash in his eye.
“And I got, I got, I got a girl and she wants to have a kid; a girl. And I want to have a girl so…” he trailed off.
“So it works out,” I said filling in his sentence.
“Yeah, it, uh, uh, works out. But now she wants me to get an apartment. I live in a hotel, but I’m trying man.”
“New York’s expensive.”
“Uh-huh,” he smiled a yellow smile. “It sure is.”
He crept closer and closer until his face was inches away from mine; his faded eyes set above a yellow smile stared into my tired eyes. “I, uh, uh, uh, what’s your name?”
He shook my hand firmly and nodded.
“And now my girl,” he continued, “she’s giving me a hard time with my drinking, but I’m only drinking until my next paycheck, this Friday. I pay my bills, you know, and I pay for her cable and stuff.”
“Everyone’s got problems.”
He stood up straight, looking at me from the corner of his eyes
“She’s got problems,” I said, pointing at a woman crossing the street with a shopping cart. “So does he,” I said motioning at a longhaired old man riding a bicycle. “They just don’t talk about them.”
“Some people can uh, uh, cope.” He observed.
“Yeah, some people can cope.” I parroted back, feeling suddenly alone.
“Alright man, you take it easy.”
“Leaving?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’m gonna take off.”
“Nice to meet you James.”
“You too Bill.”
He turned to walk down the street in the direction he appeared from, but he stopped and turned back to me.
“Hey, uh, uh, Bill; when’s your birthday?”
“August 16th,” I answered.
His faded eyes flashed. “You’re a Leo too, ah shit, there you go. You take I easy,” he said, slapping my hand, “and God Bless. Have a great birthday.”
I wanted to say that I would have one for him, but I didn’t want to remind him of his night in jail.
“God bless,” he repeated. He looked at me poised to leave, waiting for a response. I knew what he wanted me to say. I swallowed and said, “God bless you too James.”
His yellow smile returned before turning away from me. I watched his orange sweat suit fade silently into the crowd.