Friday, October 17, 2008

Chocolate City

A prophetic old man at a bus stop in D.C. once said to me, “Things aren’t always what they appear.” Well, he wasn’t so much saying it particularly to me, as he was everyone in earshot. And by “earshot”, I mean pretty much anyone within ten city blocks could hear him shouting it at the top of his lungs like Paul Revere in the late seventeen hundreds. Except he wasn’t on horseback, and there were no British coming. Only police.

Those six simple words stopped me dead in my tracks. And not just because afterwards he pulled out his penis and pissed actual urine on the actual pavement in the very spot I was getting ready to walk, but mainly because I was a little scared that he might have a bomb underneath the heavy down parka he donned, complete with blood and feces-stained thermal underpants and combat boots in the middle of one of the hottest days of July.

Metropolitan Police Department officers tackled the man to the ground and his skull met the pavement with a, resounding, made-for-television, crack but he laughed jubilantly like a child being playfully tossed onto a newly raked bed of leaves. Crimson red blood oozed from the man’s head like an oil spill as the cops wrestled him out of his filthy parka. He continued to laugh as if he were being tickled to death.

Half-eaten boxes of chocolate-covered cherries he’d stolen from a flower shop just moments before, fell from the overcoat, scattered across the sidewalk and burst open. Some of the candies were smashed by police in their efforts, and some rolled down into a nearby storm drain. The man continued to laugh, grasping wildly at the candies within reach and shoveling them into his mouth along with gravel and dirt until his flailing arms were again, seized by police, pinned behind his back and cuffed.

A mess of chocolate and cherries bubbled from his toothless grin and drizzled down his bare chest onto the front waistband of his thermal underpants which were drenched in sweat, or piss, or both, but neither blood nor feces. As it turns out, he didn’t have a bomb, but rather a passion for sweets that would land him in jail and shield him from the demoralizing pain and hunger of homelessness at least until autumn brought cooler weather, better scenery, and new ploys for shelter. A shower, a full course meal and a cool, dry bed would await him at his destination and he’d not stop laughing at the irony until he arrived.
Things aren’t always what they appear.

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