Acid Heroes

September 18, 2010

The Tribe of Lost Children

Filed under: Backwords from Ace,Random Archives — Ace Backwords @ 11:23 pm
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(Originally published December 20, 2002)

Saturday morning, and I push my shopping cart full of books to the corner of Telegraph and Haste to set up my fabulous 25-cent book vending table. Okie Joe — that little hillbilly hippie from Oklahoma — shows up, drunk or stoned or coming down from two days of jaggley speed. He’s crying and raving at me, herking and jerking; that horrible, discordant speed “high.” All that useless (I was going to say “energy” but its more just) movement and gear-grinding. So many of these street people are like children. Demented, pointless children. Okie Joe is raving at me and Jaguar: “You’re mah FAMILY! You’re mah BROTHERS! Mah real flesh-and-blood brother put a knife to mah throat and fucked me in mah ass!” Gee, sorry, bro’. Okie Joe is crying. Raving.

I’m trying to set up my book table this morning — its like constructing your own mini-book store amidst the swirling madness of the congested weekend crowds. Plus, the “endless socializing” with all the other street people who have nothing better to do, apparently, than to “hang out.” Crazy Seymour Lowman sits down at my table while I’m dealing with a hundred different things. He keeps asking me inane questions in that slow, grating, toothless drawl of the burned-out, brain-scrambled, former speed freak. “Hey.. Ace!.. do.. you ..know.. where ..I ..can ..get ..a ..cigarette?” “Hey ..Ace! ..Whatchoo’ ..got ..there?” “Hey ..Ace! ..Do ..you ..know ..how ..much ..the ..drinks ..cost ..at ..the ..donut ..shop? ..I ..sure ..wants ..me ..a ..drink!” “Hey ..Ace! ..Are ..you ..sure ..you ..don’t ..got ..a ..cigarette?”

Then Blossom shows up — sour, middle-aged, do-nothing Blossom — she sits at the table alongside Crazy Seymour. I’m lifting heavy boxes of books out of my shopping cart and crawling around on my hands and knees on the sidewalk trying to sort the books into piles and sections. Crazy Seymour and Blossom sit there at my table, and in between their inane interruptions, they sit there looking down at me, watching me, like they’re at the opera in their balcony seats, or like they’re at the zoo and I’m a monkey in a cage performing for their amusement. As I’m sweating away, I imagine the conversation they’re having: “Gee, wouldja’ lookit’ that? What’s Ace doing?” “Gee, I dunno, I think it’s something called ‘work’.” “‘Work’? What’s that?” “I think that’s when you move around a lot and do a bunch of stuff and then they give you money.” “O-o-oh!”

They are like demented children. I often have a thought in my head at moments like this: “Now I see why people invented stores and moved into them.”

Later that afternoon, Flugle shows up on the corner. He’s another crazy little tweaker. Last week there was an item about him in the police blotter section of the local paper. Apparently, some guy got out of his car to urinate and Flugle jumped into his car while he wasn’t looking. Tooled around town on a joyride for awhile until he was finally caught and charged with grand theft. Just another day in the life. Now, he’s on the corner with his bicycle and his sleeping bag, making a big production, doing a big pantomime, of setting up all his shit all over the corner while he raves and rants his nonstop wingnut babble. Junkie Jake shows up at our table for awhile, in between recycling enough cans and bottles for his next fix. “I’m going to steal Flugle’s bicycle,” says Jake to Duncan. And, sure enough, the second Flugle’s back is turned, Jake steals his bike, takes off down the street on it. Flugle is now in a rage, confronts Duncan. “You let Jake use your table as a cover to steal my bike!” Duncan says, “I had nothing to do with that.” I’ve learned to keep out of the junkie shit. Jake was probably stealing the bike to make up for the bike that Flugle had earlier stolen  from him, which they had both stolen from a third party, to pay for the junk they had been stolen from a fourth party (quite possibly the owner of the bike who had stolen it from Jake in the first place). It all just goes around in circles. But sometimes, it’s like there’s a big wave of bad drugs that hits the streets, and every other street person is winging out. At other times I think it’s just that we’re going through a complete breakdown of the social order. But then I think: Breakdown from WHAT? I never remember it being very ordered in the first place.

Speaking of disorder, Mick Amok shows up later that night, drunk or wired on pills; either too drunk or not drunk enough. Slurring his words. Making his soppy pronouncements. “It’s all over for me, Ace! I’m not gonna make it! I’m falling apart!” He’s been rehearsing his death scene for the last 8 years at least. His “pity” act. His “you-should-feel-sorry-for-me-and-the-least-you-can-do-is-give-me-money-to-buy-another-beer-on-my-deathbed” act. He’s been drinking and drugging non-stop for the last 30 years, and now he’s falling apart. Who would have guessed? Gee, why weren’t we WARNED about something like this?!

Earlier, Mick Amok had told Duncan that when he was away from the vending table, he — Mick Amok — had saved the table, protected it with his very body, from these four ruffians — “FOUR I tell you, and that’s the honest to God’s truth!” — who were going to smash it up. The appropriate response, of course, is: “Why, Mick! How can we ever repay you for this selfless act of heroism? Why, the least we can do is give you several cigarettes and buy you a nice, big beer. And then, maybe tuck you into your sleeping bag with warm milk and cookies!” And yet, somehow that response is not yet forthcoming from either me or Duncan, much to Mick Amok’s obvious chagrin and annoyance.

He’s so transparent that it’s painful to watch. And there’s a part of him that knows that I know. And at that point he gets even more maudlin and sad and sloppy beyond belief. It’s an act. Yet it’s all too real.

Mick Amok goes across the street and bums $5 off of Theodore; this nice, hard-working, dreadlocked black guy who makes knit hats at his table and who has a big smile for everyone (I have no idea how he does it). Mick comes back to our table gushing at the wonderfulness of it all! Gets himself a to-go burrito at La Fiesta which he licks down to the last drop of gravy. Literally.

Then he goes into Cody’s Books to use the restroom, only Duncan is waiting in line ahead of him. “Duncan, its an emergency! Let me go in front of you!” But its ALWAYS an emergency with Mick Amok, and he ALWAYS wants something from you, and his baby act gets less and less appealing coming from this 53-year-old man. And his boy-who-cried-wolf act has been played out a thousand times too many already.

So he comes out of Cody’s, stands in front of me, pulls up his jacket dramatically.
“Wouldja’ look at this!” he announces. He’s pissed all down his pant leg. All he needs is to be out here wearing diapers and the whole baby act would be complete. These street people, they are completely regressing back to being pathetic, bratty, deranged children. It is a hideous act to watch. After a lifetime of welfare checks and charity free food joints, their baby act has festered in their psyches to the point where there is no adult left in them. They are self-indulgent children that demand you indulge them.

“Would you LOOK at that!” Mick Amok announces again. The point is (as always): “Look how helpless and needy I am! Why, surely, YOU’LL help me! By giving me this, that, and the other thing, hopefully starting with a buck-twenty-five for another Steel Reserve Malt Liquor.”

And its an “act”, yes, but its become so engrained in his psyche, this baby act, that its become real. For he really and truly IS falling apart and dying in front of you. But I’M not gonna wipe his ass for him (literally or figuratively). Because it just means he’ll be back tomorrow demanding you do it again. And again and again. For there is no end to his baby act.

Duncan later tells me: “I don’t care. I’ve gotten cold and heartless. I just wasn’t going to let Mick Amok go in ahead of me after I had waited to use the restroom.”

And that’s Mick Amok’s act in a nut-shell. This emotional blackmail: “Endlessly help me, or else you’ll feel guilty when I die (or piss myself).”

But he’s cried wolf so many times in so many mind-numbing variations, that we simply DON’T care anymore. We can’t AFFORD to care. He’s simply not worth caring about. This guy who doesn’t lift a finger to help himself, but somehow wants YOU to help him.

Mick Amok crawls down onto the sidewalk, curls up on his side in the fetal position that he craves.

“C’mon, pardner,” I call down to him. “Get up here and sit in my chair. I’m going off to scrounge.” Come sit up here with the big people, the grown-ups. I’ll get you a nice high-chair, Mick, and a bib, and maybe a toy, a rattle, for you to play with.

B.N.Duncan and Ace Backwords, photo by Dan McMullan

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