“it’s my last one”
Having settled in at my old TCR Starbucks for the morning to work on the book – to finish work, the major overhaul anyway, on the second chapter. No anxiety, focused and clear-headed, have the right computer with me, table with a plug nearby and everything, typing away. And so I step outside for a cigarette having finished the first cup of coffee, and am almost through when via the peripheral bits of my pavement-gaze I see him coming at me. Youngish, early twenties, mentally-impaired though its unclear whether via disability or drug-use. Can I have a cigarette? It’s my last one. It’s my last one. But I’m homeless. I’m homeless. I’m homeless. Give me a cigarette, please.
Of course, it wasn’t my last one – it’s never my last one, as I never allow myself to run out of cigarettes. I stopped giving them out, giving anything out, shortly after I moved to New York when I was in grad school. The reason for this is relatively simple. In New York, the granted cigarette or change is often enough only a prelude to longer, more elaborate conversation with the grantee. Sometimes these longer conversations are simply annoying – you’ve given 50 cents, but now you’re going to hear the story of needing to get the bus back to see the blind mother, the broken eyeglasses, the friend in direr need than him. Sometimes it would turn threatening – the cigarette granted would mark you as a soft touch, and a slight suggestion of impending violence, so the logic goes, could yield a great windfall.
Just now, I said, Dude, it’s my last one. I have none to give. And I started to step, slowly then deliberately, back toward the glass front doors of the Starbucks. He followed, quite close behind, in my footsteps, as if to ensure that I hurry along. Right before I made it back in, I dropped the buttend of what I had been smoking, just a nub now, and without missing a stride he scooped the burning bit up off the pavement, stuck it in his mouth, and walked on downstreet. He never missed a stride.
With a slight but slow-subsiding tremor in my limbs, I joined the queue for another cup of coffee. When I returned to my table by the window, the one with the plug, I opened my laptop to the document that I was working on and OpenOffice helpfully notified me that I had misspelled choreography.