Today's guest writer is Tom Pitts. Sticking with our submission guidelines (stories can't be too long, and they have to be about me), Candy and Cigarettes presents
THE JOE CLIFFORD CRAZY TRICK
“It’s gonna work.” Joe said this with confidence.
I wanted it to work more than anything in the world.
“We only have four dollars,” I said. We were short sixteen dollars. Two or three and the man might let us slide, but sixteen?
“Don’t worry. It’ll work.” Joe could see my face was knotted with anxiety. It had taken us most of the day to come up with the four dollars and he knew I was getting sicker by the minute. We took turns pepping each other up, bolstering our resolve. “Come on, have a smoke,” he said.
I noticed there was lipstick on the butt of the lit cigarette he handed me. I inhaled deeply. The menthol caught me by surprise. I began to cough.
“Fuck, that’s disgusting. Where did you get it?”
“At Donald’s downstairs.”
“I thought he was alone down there. I never see anyone coming or going.” I thought it was unusual that Donald would have female callers. He was a strange old man sequestered in an in-law apartment in the front of the decrepit mansion that we both lived in.
“You didn’t know? Donald dresses like a woman sometimes.” He said it casually, like not knowing this piece of information was the strange part.
“Funny thing is, when he’s all done up like a woman, he switches to menthol.”
“Another stereotype confirmed.”
Joe and I were trudging down 23rd
Street toward General Hospital. The giant shit-hole where we lived had no running water, no electricity, and certainly no phones. The hospital had a bank of telephones in the Emergency Room. Bathrooms, too, open 24 hours a day.
We stood, waiting, staring at the telephone, urging it to ring back. We’d paged Joe’s connection, punched in the payphone number, and now we were in limbo. A watched pot never boils, so I took a piss. When I came back out, Joe was promising his dealer, “Yes, of course I have money, I wouldn’t be calling—”
I closed my eyes. I couldn’t stand the suspense. Joe hung up the phone.
“Fifteen minutes,” he said. We were on. I already felt a little bit better.
We began the much more difficult hike back up the hill toward Hepatitis Heights. We stopped halfway at De Haro.
I was still confused about how we were going to squeeze twenty dollars of dope for four dollars from a dealer that we already owed forty. We were overextended; it was simple math.
“Don’t worry, it’ll work. That’s why I gotta start getting into character.”
The plan was simple. Joe was going to get into the man’s car and ask him for the dope, hand him the four bucks and start weeping hysterically. Joe would then lock his door and refuse to leave until he got some dope. Simple.
“They don’t know what to do. It’s a very macho culture; the sight of a grown man crying is too much for them. After a few minutes, they’ll give up the dope just to get you out of their car.”
I was skeptical. “Why don’t they just slap you in the face and send you on your way?”
Joe laughed. “That’s why you gotta pour it on thick. That’s the trick
. They gotta believe you’re actually crazy, that you’re capable of anything. You gotta be hysterical
, man. That’s why I need to prepare.”
Joe began to pant. Short, little, breaths. His eyes went vacant, looking far away to some other time and place. Soon they were rimmed with tears. His left hand shook a little, a nervous palsy.
“What time is it?” he asked, “I need to save it up. If I let it go too early, he’ll never let me in the car.”
Soon we saw the dealer’s car pull around the corner. I waited as Joe walked up and climbed in. They pulled a little further up the block. So far, so good. Then, brake lights. They’d only gone about 50 yards before the abrupt stop. I could see them facing each other. The rear window began to cloud up lightly with fog. I could see the car rock just a little, and I tried hard to listen for secret trick Joe was unleashing on him. I could see Joe’s arms flailing and the Mexican shaking his head. Minutes dragged by.
Finally, Joe exited the car and the dealer sped away. Joe walked right toward me. He eyes were red-ringed; his face a blotchy white and red, tear tracks stained his cheeks. Even his clothes were somehow messed up, pants twisted, shirt unbuttoned. He looked like a rape victim.
“No way, huh?” I knew that it wasn’t going to work.
“I did everything short of shitting my pants,” he said. Joe waited until he was very close to me before smiling.
In his hand was one singular fat and beautiful four dollar balloon.
“Of course it worked,” Joe said. “Didn’t I say it’d work? Christ, it wasn’t easy though. Let’s go get well.”
We were both relieved. I felt like crying too. The rest of the hill didn’t seem so steep. The end of the sickness was now in our sights. We could now be well enough to plan for our next fix. I couldn’t believe the audacity of Joe’s move. It was bolder than stealing, smarter than a front. It took a conviction that was beyond my ability.
“Thank God. I can’t believe he went for it. I guess we can’t try that one again.”
Joe looked at me and smiled. He put his arm around me in a strangely paternal way and said, “Oh, we’re definitely gonna try it again. Definitely.”
This too, he said with confidence.
Tom Pitts 04/04/2011
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