Death is so weird. No matter how many times I go through it I never get used to it. One minute the person is standing right next to you. The next minute they’re . . . just not THERE! I always think: “Where the heck did they go?” And my mind comes up blank. I guess that’s just how death works.
I was walking up Dwight Way when Kevin sidled up to me. “Ace, Ace! Can I talk to you for a second?” he said in a real anxious voice.
“Did you hear Soup died the other night?”
“No! You’re kidding??!!” I said. “How do you know?”
“He was sleeping over at my place on Sunday night and in the morning we tried to revive him but we couldn’t. He had a heart attack in his sleep.”
“Holy shit!” I said.
“Would you tell Hate Man and the guys in the Park,” said Kevin. “I just can’t deal with it.”
“Sure,” I said.
I broke the news to the guys that were hanging out at Soup’s hangout spot in People’s Park The usual stunned silence when that kind of news is dropped like a bombshell.
“No!! I just saw Soup just the other day!” said Comatoes, looking like he was on the verge of tears. Not because of Soup (who he was never close to) but just from confronting the sudden shock of unexpected death.
“Soup had just been fronted a big bunch of dope the other night,” said Hate Man. “He was going around giving people free samples. He probably took too much and overdosed in his sleep.”
“In a weird way, that’s probably how Soup would’ve wanted to go out,” I said. “On top of his game and wheeling and dealing. Playing at being the Man right to the end. Soup wasn’t one of those guys you could picture growing old.”
In truth, Soup always reminded me of a 50 year-old 17-year-old stoner. He was one of those guys who never developed past a certain point. There are a lot of guys like that on the street scene. I should know, I’m one of them.
Soup was a cocky little Italian guy from the Bronx. And he kept his exaggerated Bronx accent to the end, with the “dese” and “doze” and “Toidy Toid Street.” He had long hippy hair parted in the middle, and a boy-ish face, and he had a clean clothes fetish — no matter how fucked up or degenerate his personal situation might be, he always insisted on neat and clean and new-looking clothes. Soup walked and talked with an exaggerated swagger. He was like a walking cartoon character. And he rubbed 90% of the people in the Park the wrong way. He could be incredibly insulting (“You pinhead!” was one of his most common phrases) (“I could givva’ fuck,” was his second) . He surely set the record for being run out of the Park the most times by the most different people. Usually once a week someone would get in Soup’s face and beat his ass or run him off. Yet no matter how many times I saw Soup get beaten or defeated, he was never defeated by life. He always dusted himself off and came back for more.
I was never bothered by Soup’s cocky, arrogant, know-it-all act. Precisely because I could tell it was an act. It was his defense more than an offense. A little guy surviving on the mean streets of “da’ Bronx.” “You gotta’ let people know right up front you’re gonna’ hold your ground,” Soup used to say. I felt a certain sympathy towards Soup’s “Cowardly Lion” act and even found it strangely amusing. Plus, for whatever reason, I was one of the few people on the scene Soup actually kind of respected. “Yo, Ace, you’re one of the few people out here that I can actually sort of stomach.” That was Soup’s idea of high praise.
“Its weird,” I said to Hate Man. “The last time I saw Soup was just the other day when he sat down right there between you and Planet.” I stared long and hard at the vacant spot where Soup’s ass had last sat. “I remember he kicked up a lot of dust when he sat down and then proceeded to interupt your conversation with Planet.”
“Yeah, I wanted to kill Soup for that,” said Hate Man.
But that was so Soup. Kicking up dust where ever he went.
I ran into Kevin later and we were trying to figure out how old Soup was. “I remember I got him a birthday cake for his 50th birthday about a year ago,” I said. “So he must have been around 51.”
“Yeah!” Kevin said happily. “Soup was always going on and on about how you guys had got him a cake for his 50th birthday!”
I found that comment strangely touching. Because Soup had never once directly expressed appreciation to me about the cake. At the time we were both deeply into our malt liquor and the last thing we wanted was to even LOOK at a chocolate cake, so we just let everyone else eat it. But I could tell he had been touched by the gesture. But you know how guys are. We always got our armor up. Last thing we want is to come across as mushy, sentimental or weak. Even though we all are.
And now, Soup’s another one. That just gets swallowed up by the streets and is almost instantly forgotten. In some ways it was like he was never even here in the first place. Death is like that.