“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.”
– Robert W. Service, The Men That Don’t Fit In
“Welcome to America! But hey, don’t talk to him, he served in Iraq!”
Buddy ranted up and down in front of the Lake Street Bar for the first time today. Only the regulars knew that he would give shows again at 8 and 11, before rubbing one off and going to bed. Buddy had two stances: attack and jubilation. The former made him into a pit bull ready to lacerate, the latter—Angelina Ballerina full of herself and her potential. In truth I’ve never seen a drunk pirouette so well.
“Heyyyyy, that’s a nice suit. You got the job! Man, I’d hire you for dividends and a place on World Street … you know what I’m sayin’? World … Wall Street, with DIVIDENDS!” He had me by the lapels, his lips inches from mine. I was trapped and I hadn’t even gotten in the door.
His face reflected a second lifetime of experiences. You can see it doubled up in the eyes, sometimes, like misprinted type. As a younger man, I would have sidestepped him in a hurry, but now, well I can’t dismiss them anymore, those who’ve lived that much. He was in my way, but tonight, he was also a statue in the park whose plaque I needed to read and appreciate. Three feet from now this guy could end up saving my life.
His face was a milestone inside both of us, a spotlight on a big crack that shouldn’t be dismissed. Something not so much in the past, as put on the backburner and left to simmer. The life you intend to leave, the one you did leave when things began to shrivel up and, by automosis, turn on themselves to find their own death rattle. His lips shook as he rambled on, and in them I saw the verge of death. My stomach turned, in part contemplating his future, in part remembering where I’d seen it before.
I was nine years old when I came across the dog. A life ending in the middle of the road. A car that never looked back. Who knew man’s best friend could produce a sound so unearthly? As though the dead dog of the future had ripped through and squeezed the last imaginable sound from the gut of his gasping counterpart. With others it’s a crackle, like with bugs, lost in the exoskeleton parting juicy at the seams. With some, the ones who can’t stay still, it is no sound at all, but a bitter phlegm parked on the back of the tongue. With broken dogs at age nine, it’s a call note between now and things that make no sense.
Out this night Buddy was the first signpost on my way to the horizon, a broken Weird sister punishing me for my cushy life. He was sweating lager, and eventually wandered down the sidewalk to bend the ear of a broken chair. I got my beer, sat down outside, away from Buddy’s furniture monologue in progress. I couldn’t get comfortable, and watching Buddy—teary eyed and nearly en pointe—I wondered what it would be like for him, when the war was over.