MAY 1999 |
UP NEXT |
KC COWEE, a student of English and psychology who is graduating this year, is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. Cowee lives in New York City and works with children with psychological challenges.
A Faint Light
"Hey man, you really blind?"
The voice came from a young boy standing in front of Edg, who sat resting against the wall of Zora, The Psychic to the Star's den on Hollywood Boulevard. It was a good place to sit to watch the morning mature and feel the energy shift as the personality of the street transformed with the crowd that traveled it. It was quieter also; the street people and the night people had just disappeared at sunrise and only a few still straggled on. Once in a while a fast moving car, cruising the famous strip, would blow up the waste and refuse of the night before into swirling eddies of confetti that would remain stuck to the street later in the afternoon. Edg sat quiet and very still as though picking up magic spells from the absent Zora. He had been aware of the boy for the past week when he had detected him from all the other shiftless passersby, by the pause in his bouncy young walk as he approached his spot. He could feel the boy staring at him; he could sense his searching eyes on his sightless old ones.
"I thought you were gonna just stare at me every time you passed," Edg replied loud and slow, gazing out toward the young runaway. He was a small boy about thirteen years old. His dirty blond hair hung dusty and limp over his dull and tired eyes. One of his eyes had a purplish bruise; his hands were as dirty as his too big tattered jeans. The boy looked up the boulevard at the backs of the older kids he was following. They had continued on without a word to him, and were almost a block away. He looked back at the old man, and as if the sight of him cemented his decision he turned away out of the middle of the sidewalk and approached the spot where Edg sat. On the ground lay a red and white paper cup from Sunrise Donuts up the street. It was filled with nickels, dimes, and pennies. One quarter lay on the ground about a foot away. The boy reached out to pick it up.
"Hey! Leave that where it is!" Edg said loudly just before the boy's hand touched the quarter.
The boy drew back quickly as if stung. "You can see."
"No... - I am sightless but not senseless."
"Huh? How'd you know that I was going to pick up that quarter? What are you playin' me for?" the boy stammered defensively.
Edg remained still and relaxed before his head tilted up slightly and he patiently answered, "Tell me something. Why do you stare at me all the time?"
"I ah, - I was trying to figure out if you were really blind."
"Yeah, well now that you know I am, why don't you run along with dem mindless fools you're always with," he barked.
The boy tensed up as if in sudden danger and looked down the Boulevard where his companions had since disappeared and then back at the old man who just sat there transfixed, as though wondering at the sudden brightness on the street. Then he slowly rolled his head in the other direction.
A man and a girl were walking quickly toward them. They looked strange together. She was tall and wearing platform sandals with big silver buckles that caused her to wobble as she hurried up the street waving her arms and grabbing out at the shorter man. He was taking twice as many steps as though trying to outdistance her like an angry dog on a chain that would be yanked back into its territory. His appearance was as inconspicuous as hers was flashy and ostentatious. Her hair was a vibrant pink, long and wispy on the ends. He had short dull brown hair and was clad in blue jeans and a black leather biker jacket with cowboy boots, a common uniform in the area. Her long legs were clad in two pairs of stylishly ripped black fishnet tights, under a purple miniskirt topped with a green and purple halter-top. The outfit was topped with a black and purple short velvet jacket. As they approached, the girl could be heard whining and demanding something. When they got abreast of where the man and boy waited, the girl finally managed to pass the man by a step. Neither glanced at the boy who watched them or the blind man who sat peacefully on the sidewalk attentively listening.
"I don't get your problem, man. Why can't you just tell them to give it to you - or you'll kill them, or turn ‘em in, or something, Cal. You gotta do something. I can't go on like this? C'mon," she screeched again grabbing the man's leather coated arm. "That's all I want know Cal!"
The man violently pulled back his arm and side stepped almost bumping into the boy before abruptly dodging the woman and continuing up the street. "Listen bitch. You take care of your own ass – I'll take care of theirs. Besides who do you think...are...just...go...back...later..."
Their conversation faded as they moved swiftly along the sidewalk. The boy had inched up closer to Edg and from under his long bangs his eyes peeked out at the sidewalk. Edg tilted his wooly head toward the boy as if their thoughts were connected and he too was apprehensive and frightened of the energy that ran through the town like an electric eel that paralyzes its prey. He sensed a change in the boy as the couple rushed up the boulevard and he sat back and closed his eyes.
"You ever have a dog?"
"A dog. You ever have a dog?"
"Yeah, I had one once, it was mutt, and it died."
"Yeah, it was yours?"
"Well, no not exactly, it belonged to someone I think but I never knew who, it just followed me home one day and stayed for awhile."
"Hmmm? What happened then?"
"I don't know. It just disappeared or went back to where it usta live."
"Yeah?" Edg said lazily as he reached inside his denim jacket extracting a crumpled pack of cigarettes.
"I think so...I always thought I saw it after that but it always turned out to be someone else's dog."
Edg didn't reply, he paused holding onto a cigarette in his right hand, but didn't move to light it. His head was cocked as if in deep thought. Coming towards them from the other direction a family of four had just passed the discordant couple without giving them so much as a glance. Two little girls with pigtails ambled along in front of the watchful eyes of their parents.
"Hey Mommy, look!" called the smaller girl who had stopped and was staring at the blind man and the boy.
The other girl paused to take hold of her father's hand, whining she said, "Daddy, I'm hungry."
"I know sweetie we'll be having lunch soon. We're going to the Hard Rock Café. Don't you want to see the Elvis impersonators? They are right up here," the father said soothingly as he scooped her up and guided his family past the two vagrants, one staring openly the other defiantly resting his sightless eyes as if he didn't have a care in the world.
The boy watched them move off down the street before he crouched down once again in front of Edg. Peering curiously at him he cautiously asked, "How do you know who I in with if you are blind, man?" And then quick and in a more offensive tone, "You are playing me."
Edg didn't move a muscle; he appeared not to have heard the demand. A few moments went by before he answered, "I had a dog once, name was Doc. He was a seeing-eye dog. And then one bright shiny crystal-clear LA morning, a gang of kids took him from me. I couldn't do nuthin – they beat me up real bad, they broke my arm, my collarbone and some ribs, and cracked my head open real good. I ended up at the VA hospital for a month, most of the time unconscious. I guess I called out for him a lot. They thought I was calling for a doctor," Edg dreamily continued with a dry chuckle as if he had the rest of his life to speak. "When I got out I searched for him. For a long time, I was afraid to ask people. I thought I would find out something that I didn't want to know. I was alone and could hardly get around, and so finally I came to be sitting in one spot for days thinking about how that dog just made me more of a handicapper," Edg paused and cocked his head again and was quiet. A minute passed before he appeared to look at the boy who was waiting for him to finish. "That dog taught me more about life than any one experience or person or - anything."
The boy sat staring at the old man waiting for him to continue, his demand forgotten for the moment. Cars drove by on the strip, pieces of paper and twirling trash flew up on the sidewalk. A garbage truck pulled up in front of them blocking the sunlight for a moment, neither the sound nor the smell made any impression on the boy who continued to look at Edg.
Edg looked up to where the sun hung in the sky behind the truck and laughed out loud; he continued laughing for a moment and then abruptly stopped. He turned to the wide-eyed boy, his face became softer and then with a steady stern voice he answered the boy's fear. "I am not playing you. I don't see with my eyes. I feel. I listen. I smell, And I can distinguish between illusions and reality but most important to you boy, I am aware."
"When you went to grab that quarter, I felt it – you blocked the sun – eh?"
"Yeah, I did, I guess," he replied, quickly glancing at the garbage truck that was about to turn back on to the Boulevard, but still suspicious he asked, "But how'd you know I've been watching you?"
"I know that gang of ‘worthshit' you been hanging with. I know their smell like my dog knew it – they are predators. And they will suck every ounce of life out of you, until one day – One day you will just disappear as if you never existed," Edg said intensely. And then slowly and in a lower tone, "I pay close attention to them so they don't pay attention to me. That's how I noticed you, an extra pair of feet and you walk different than them."
"I do?" said the boy self-consciously, looking down at his roughed up sneakers.
"Yeah, I don't think you're as mean as them either, are you?"
"No, I'm not" said the boy, thinking of the horrors of torture and assault of the past two weeks, especially of the previous night, when he had spent the night hiding in a Dumpster after witnessing, what he thought at the time, was a murder of a dancer from a club over on Sunset. He had laid in the filth and rot until dawn before slinking back to the gang's spot under the overpass. He had been avoiding Little Ricky and Boe, the leader ever since.
Edg reached into his pocket again, this time returning with a box of matches. He struck a match and lit his cigarette, puffing the smoke out and taking a long drag in a gesture of finality, as if a decision had been made.
"What's your name, son?" he asked gently.
"My name's Josh," he replied easily.
"You can call me Edg, Josh. What do you say about getting some breakfast, you hungry?
"You see that Pastry shop over there? You go over there and get us each a cinnamon bun, and get one large coffee with extra cream and extra sugar,"
Edge said pulling $3.00 out of the inside pocket of his jacket. "Go on, I'll wait here for you."
Josh felt good for the first time in days. There was something about Edg that intrigued him. It was like he breathed out hope or something. Even more immediate, Josh was relieved to be away from Boe and his hate, and the codes of the gang of runaways that followed him. He bounced across the street in his holey sneakers and rushed noisily into the store unintentionally attracting the owner's attention.
"Whattya want kid?" gruffly demanded the owner of the store, a fat man with a long mustache in a floppy baker's hat. He stood tall, hands on hips guarding his cash register.
"I need two cinnamon buns and a large coffee with extra cream and sugar," Josh spoke quickly as if he might be thrown out of the store any second.
The owner stared at him, and as if the young boy suddenly appeared to him from out from underneath the dirt and grime of the streets. The lively green eyes that beheld his own were like the brightest stars of the soot-infested sky of southern California. This is a ‘new one' the owner thought to himself for he had witnessed so many over the years. He is probably not a month old in the glitter and litter of Hollywood Boulevard, he thought, as he looked out the window across the street to where Edg was sitting against the Psychic's storefront, and then smiling to himself, he moved to pour the coffee. Like most of the people, who ply their trade on the boulevard, Mel the baker knew Edg. He knew him to be like some sort of angel to the downtrodden and luckless souls of the streets, many of whom would have died, their hopes and dreams smashed down and run into the sewers just ahead of their bodies.
"Here you go, that's $2.85 and I put extra sugar in the bag for you."
"Thanks" Josh said grabbing the bag and looking inside.
"You know who that man over there is?" Mel asked.
"What?" Josh said as if he hadn't heard the question.
"The man across the street, kid. He is your savior if you let him be." Josh looked out the large plate glass windows and through the letters he could see Edg. He sure don't look like much, Josh thought, an old man, blind and ragged looking. He turned back to the baker and really looked at him for the first time. He had big brown droopy eyes, a large nose in a round kind face. His body was large and rounded in front. He was dressed in white baker clothes. His look was serious but his eyes were kind. Josh was not aware of what made him realize the man's sincerity but he could feel it just the same. Suddenly he became aware of the quietness in the store as if a door had abruptly shut. A car horn sounded from down the boulevard and a bus rolled up to the light at the end of the block.
He had stood still studying the baker pensively, a behavior most unusual to him in the recent weeks of running. And the baker had let him; he had stood there quiet and obliging. Finally, as if waking Josh look directed in the baker's eyes. "Thanks," he said turning around.
He exited the store much quieter than his arrival, gently closing the swinging transparent door this time, instead of letting it slam shut. He bounced back across the street almost as quickly as before; however, this time with an eye and an ear out for anyone who might be watching him.
"Hey Man, Hey Edg, I'm back with your stuff man. Yo! Here it is" Josh stood in front of Edg and intentionally blocked the sunlight. He searched the face of the older man for a clue as to what was expected of him and then he wondered what about this ragged man was special.
Edg did not move; he appeared as peaceful and unfettered as the blue sky above. He was waiting; meditating on the boy's nervous energy. If he were asked he might say that feeling people out was not something he did intentionally with an ultimate goal in mind. It was more like he was a seed riding the winds and following their ultimate knowing purpose.
Josh continued to watch Edg for movement.. He looked closer at Edg scrutinizing him, as he had the baker with the sad eyes. He was sitting against the wall, His right leg bent, and the left straight out in front of him. His arms laid loose on his lap. He was wearing a black T-shirt advertising Marlboro cigarettes and dark blue jeans with worn brown leather hiking boots. On the ground next to him lay his denim jacket and his cup of coins. The quarter was still glittering in the sunlight a foot away. His hair was black and wooly and cut short. He had copper colored skin that hinted at an African or maybe Indian heritage. Josh didn't know about such things as racial heritage. In fact, what he did know he found out in the past month in LA. He imagined the city could be drawn from above with borders dividing each kind of person. He knew the Mexicans lived in the East. The rich white people lived way up in the hills and the not so rich ones lived out in the suburbs behind some "iron orange curtain", or at least that's what he heard. The African–Americans lived in a city of its own called South Central. The Vietnamese lived in East Central and the Chinese lived in Chinatown in downtown LA. He wondered where Edg lived.
Edg was so still. His eyes were closed. His face was calm as if asleep. Josh worried that he might awake and yell at him for staring or maybe even forget who he was or why he was standing there. It made Josh nervous the way he was so intense; he shifted from one foot to the other, looking up and down the street. More people were arriving on the scene; the morning was getting old. Cars were pulling into the parking garage. Buses were stopping at the red light and spilling their human cargo like ants that moved off in all directions. Across the boulevard a group of girls were walking toward the pastry shop. He could hear their laughter as they pranced lightly up the sidewalk. They are probably going to school or something, Josh thought, when he noticed the backpacks on their shoulders. Edg still hadn't moved a muscle. Josh peered at him again pitying him for getting blind, as he might an exotic animal for getting stuck behind bars. He looked up and down the street once more. No one was near to them yet, so he sat down to wait. He put the coffee next to Edg and the bag on the ground between them. He closed his eyes. The first thing he became aware of was the multitude of sounds. The cars honking a block or so away. The rumbling diesel sound of a bus as it made its way up the boulevard to turn the corner and head west to the suburbs. A man yelled out a car window. He had shouted to the girls that Josh had noticed moments earlier. How he knew that he wasn't sure and he didn't reflect on it, there was so much else to listen to.
The street was becoming awake. A car door slammed as someone got out in front of the pastry shop. A radio from a passing car playing an old Madonna song slowed down in front of where they sat. He was tempted to open his eyes and look but he didn't. Another car slowed and he could make out a radio program. This car was close, maybe twenty feet, he thought. He listened hard er and tried to picture the car and its driver. The beating of a bass drum sounded off being muffled by the walls of the vehicle while an unintelligible voice cursed the world. Josh tried but could not clearly visualize a driver for this car.
A moment later the two cars moved off, Josh pictured the light turning from red to green. He heard a car door slam again and focused on it. He visualized a man walking out of the pastry shop with a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun in a white paper bag. The thought of the buns directed his nose or perhaps his hunger to the bag in front of him. He could taste the cinnamon buns but not the coffee. He could also smell stale cigarettes. He wondered if this was like what Edg does - tries to picture the sights of the things he heard and the tastes the things he smelled. A tap-tap-tap-tap interrupted his thoughts.
It was someone walking very fast and coming closer. He opened his eyes. Edg sat as before, but Josh could tell he was focusing on the sound even though his face remained as unmoving as before. Josh turned and it was the same girl as before, the one with the man who almost bumped into him. She was walking fast and tottering on her high heel shoes. She did not look at Josh even though he stared right at her. Her eyes were dark and her skin very pale. As she came up close Josh could see perspiration drops on her forehead near the hairline. Some of her hair was stuck in jagged points to her cheeks while the rest bounced up and down with her funny walk. He was suddenly startled as he thought he knew her. It looked his older sister Jackie, who had lived in Oakland stung out on drugs until one day, about two years ago she disappeared. Within moments he realized it was not Jackie, this girl was a natural blond and his sister was not. He was both glad and sad that it was not her. This girl appeared troubled, and he liked to think Jackie escaped all that, like he was trying to do. She was walking so fast, that within seconds she was past them. Josh was no longer aware of her footsteps but he watched her as she moved off down the street. He was so entranced with watching the moving girl that he jumped in fright when Edg kicked him.
"Let's eat." Edg said.
"Ah... OK. Here's your coffee."
He slowly took the coffee from Josh's outstretched hands. He then reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a tall thin thermos and poured the coffee into it without spilling a drop. The rest he handed to Josh.
"Oh, I don't drink coffee."
"Sure you do. C'mon take it."
"OK, thanks. You want this sugar?" Josh said putting them into his brown wrinkled hands.
‘Yeah." He put the small packets in his inside coat pocket.
"Let's eat them buns while we walk."
Edg got up and Josh followed. Later, he might think he had been uncertain whether to follow this strange man but at the time he was just riding it out as if it were a slow ride in Disney Land.
The two figures continued down Hollywood boulevard, past the nightclubs where trash from the preceding night congregated around the steel doors. Past the boutiques that were just beginning to draw open their blinds in anticipation of the new day. A couple of shopkeepers swept their sidewalks in front of their stores only looking up when a tour van pulled out too quickly from the parking garage and almost collided with a pick-up truck full of Mexicans. Blocks away, a young man in an all-white outfit began watering a small patch of yellow brown grass in front of a fast food restaurant. The traffic coursed the freeway snakelike from Hollywood to LA out past the valley and into the hills and deserts beyond. The sky, the only unchanging aspect of the entire scene, remained clear and blue as it would until the sun moved below the horizon much later in the day.
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