I had the next day off.

I didn’t want to be in my apartment so I went for a walk and ended up in my old neighborhood. 

Saw this guy sleeping sitting up on a bus stop bench. 

It was my guy Keith. 

I used to drink and smoke weed with him when I didn’t have a job. 

‘Crazy Keith.’

He had on big yellow plastic headphones that only played the radio. 

He always wore a leather trench coat no matter what temperature it was, even like over a hundred. 

Slicked-back gray hair and a boiled-looking face and that ‘Is he going to bite me’ presence. 

He woke up and took off his headphones. 

His eyes looked completely clear and he had a huge ring of orange dye around his mouth. 

He smiled his tiny busted teeth.

‘No, but,’ he said, then laughed. 

He grabbed a sports drink container he had next to him and poured some more of a brown-bagged tallboy of orange malt liquor into it. 

He never remembered me. 

‘No, but hey, nice to meet ya,’ he said, holding out his hand. ‘Thanks for stopping and talking to me. Sometimes I feel so alone out here.’ 

‘Yeah, man,’ I said. 

‘Yeah because it’s like, there’s nothing. Nobody basically, ya know?’ 

He held his drink by his mouth and waited for me to respond, and when I said yeah, he nodded and took a sip. 

Sweat dripped down the middle of his face. 

He went to take another sip, then stopped the plastic bottle right before his orange lips and smiled and laughed. 

He kept looking around, up and down the street. 

‘No, but hey, wanna smoke this weed I got? Get your yayas out, ya know? But no. I was just about to head over to this garden over uh, just past Kedzie. Know where I’m talkin about?’ 

‘No.’ 

‘Here, come with. I’ll show you. It’s just across the street and down like, half a block. Here, it’s really—ya know it’s really trang-kwell.’ 

He smiled and laughed with his eyes wide. 

‘Very trang-kwell there,’ he said. ‘Ya know, sometimes I go there and drink my liquor or smoke some pot, ya know. No because, it’s nice. Very trang-kwell.’ He laughed and opened his eyes real wide. ‘Get your yayas out, ya know?

Crazy Keith.

‘All right, Keith.’

On the walk there, he told me about his old lady. 

He walked as though cross-country skiing, taking pulls off his liquor every few strides. 

‘No because, my ol lady, man, oh she’s so sick. I go to see her but it’s sad, ya know?’ 

Said she was in the hospital dying of pancreatic cancer. 

Said he took the train outside the city to visit her whenever he could. 

‘Yeah she’s pretty much dying now though. There’s nothing that can stop it, no. They’re cutting her apart. There’s almost nothing left. I mean, ya keep taking parts and soon there’s no parts left, ya know? Come on. There’s like, nothing left of her anyways, ya know?’ 

‘Yeah. I’m sorry, Keith.’ 

Keith gestured forward with his plastic container of liquor. 

‘No but like, it’s right up here. I think you’ll like it. Very trang-kwell.’ 

The garden was behind an apartment building. 

There were benches, planters, some trees, bushes, things starting to grow, birds, vines and things. 

Keith sat on a bench. 

I sat on the woodchips. 

He took out a half-cigarette from his trench coat pocket. 

‘No but hey, thanks for the conversation,’ he said, lighting the cigarette. ‘I get lonely. There’s nothing to do. Sometimes I got work. But no, hey, listen, all day—there’s nothing all day. There’s basically nothing, ya know? 

He kept offering me his drink. 

‘I’m good,’ I said. 

‘No because, ya know,’ he said, ‘it’s just weird drinking alone. But thanks for the company, I get sad and lonely all the time because, I mean, there’s basically nothing, ya know?’ 

‘Yeah, I know.’ 

He laughed. 

He took out rolling papers and a piece of foil with some weed in it. 

‘Here, go head, I’m too fucked up,’ he said, smiling. 

I folded a paper and started breaking weed up into it. 

Keith told me he had a lot of jobs but wouldn’t say what they were. 

Every time I tried to talk to him about one, he’d say, ‘No no, like, it’s not something ya have to worry about, ya know. No because, just, don’t worry.’ 

At one point it seemed like he was suggesting he painted traffic cones on Lake Shore Drive. 

‘You paint traffic cones on Lake Shore Drive?’ I said. 

‘Yeah, seventy-five dollars an hour,’ he said. ‘Oh man, but ya gotta be honest. Except, no, if they catch ya stealing, ohhhhhhh man. No because, no, they’ll most definitely fuck ya up. Man, fucking cut your hands off. Paralyze ya by putting a thing in your spine, ya know? Make ya literally fucking retarded. No because, it’s bad news, I’m tellin ya.’ 

He laughed really hard and loud until he wheezed like heeng heeng.

When he calmed down, he said, ‘No but they’ll fuck ya up, yeah.’ 

I asked who ‘they’ were but he wouldn’t answer. 

‘Wanna hear something weird?’ he said, leaning forward and smiling. ‘Do you think I’m weird? No, like, in your personal opinion, do you think I’m a weird guy?’ 

‘I don’t know,’ I said, smiling.

I finished rolling the smoke. 

Keith picked up a rock and held it between his thumb and forefinger. ‘Hey no, but don’t take nothing for granite.’

‘Yeah.’

‘No, look, this is granite,’ he said, looking at the rock. 

Read more here.

 

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