Sunday, August 15, 2010

Can I Play With Madness?

Max V

Sunday May 9th, 9:57

A crisp wind flows eastward stretching out towards the Willamette. I am sitting on some steps downtown waiting for the Max. Today was the first warm day of the year, but a chill is beginning to settle in to the evening – making me wish I had decided to wear a jacket. A fair weather weekend, along with the Cinco de Mayo festival at Waterfront Park have brought out the crowds tonight, so I skipped the last train through because it was crammed with folks heading home for the night. To my left, a guy at the other end of the block is making balloon animals for the kids who are high on sugar and adrenalin. I watch blankly, while holding a copy of a weekly paper in front of me.

“Can you spare any change,” a voice calls out from my right. I look up to see a teenage couple reeking of cloves lord over me. The boy has his arm around the girl and they are both wearing vintage faded black overcoats and black punk rock T-shorts. The girl clings to the boy and huddles under his arm. She is wearing a short skirt and ripped fishnets. Her eye make-up is thick and blotchy. It was her who asked for the change.

“Sorry,” I reply, almost chuckling audibly. Their punk/ goth/ industrial look is so cliché that I nearly forgot that it’s no longer my mid-80s high school years. Even the bands that they advertise were defunct by the time I was old enough to hit the clubs. I make a half-hearted effort to look sympathetic, but they eye me with disgust anyway, as they move on towards their next potential coin benefactor. I shudder with the freshening breeze and a bit of nerves as well. I no longer feel any connection with teenagers and their unpredictability, which makes me feel old and frail and vulnerable.

Another train rumbles to my stop and I watch the teens step on, along with the balloon animal guy and hordes and hordes of chattering families. The train is once again packed, so I choose to wait. I light a cigarette and commence looking at the paper for ads for upcoming shows. As I read, I lose focus of my surroundings, save for occasional yelps from children and a pair of belligerent voices yelling at each other from down the block. I recognize the voices as two drunken guys out roaming the street looking for an outlet for their drunken energy. My recognition comes from the familiarity of being one of those guys too many times in the past. Somehow, they recognize my past glory as well, because they head straight for me. I turn back to the paper with fierce concentration, hoping that they will continue stumbling and bumbling harmlessly on by.

“Hey dude, how’s it hanging?” the white guy with long greasy blond hair groans at me. I do not look up at him, but my peripheral vision ascertains his position and that of his cohort, who looks to be Native American. They are a few feet to my right, holding tall cans of cheap beer. The silent guy peels around his buddy and throws his empty can at the concrete trash receptacle off to my left. He misses badly and stumbles uselessly after the rogue can.

“Okay man. How are you tonight?” I finally respond, resigning myself to this fate, and making eye contact. He’s wearing an ancient baseball style T-shirt/jersey thing and pale ripped jeans. The guy is cut. He could easily crush my skull with his bare hands in a matter of seconds. His friend continues stomping in his heavy boots chasing the rolling beer can. Every time he catches it, he spins and shoots it erratically back to the trash – again missing horribly. This activity causes the blond guy to laugh and shout insults at him. I try to smile to feign interest.

“Kimosabe sucks like the Blazers,” he hoots loudly over his shoulder, before draining the remainder of his beer. He then takes the empty can and beams his friend in the middle of his back, which ricochets perfectly into the hole at the top of the trashcan. He releases a gut-wrenching howl and a stream of mostly unintelligible insults at his buddy, who turns around confused.

I finish the cigarette and mindlessly grab for another one, wondering if they’re going to panhandle or not, so I go ahead and offer each them a smoke from the pack. They oblige.

“Thanks dude,” the blond man mumbles with the cigarette stuck loosely between his lips. He already has his lighter out, but continues to talk without using it. “You know that today is Mother’s Day, right?” He adds, as I watch the smoke bounce up and down.

I nod with recognition of this fact, though I hadn’t really thought about it.
“No matter what, your Mom loves you, right?” Even Mr. Injun over here has a mom who loves him.”
I nod again, but feel a lump form in my throat as I try to hold back the realization that my mom has been dead for years.

“My mom passed away,” I reply, against my better judgment, as my eyes begin to sting from the smoke billowing in to them.

The blond man reaches out to grab my hand and says to me, “She’s still out there bro. She’s looking after you and she still loves you. Kimosabe! Come here! Let’s pray!”

On command, Kimosabe clods over and before I realize what’s happening, we’ve all joined hands. I play along out of a desire to avoid conflict. I do not believe in the power of prayer, nor do I believe in God. Would God let something like this happen? Well, maybe.

The blond guy stammers some familiar common prayer and after a moment of uneasy silence, I look up at their two faces. Their eyes are both clenched solemnly closed. Finally, Kimosabe says “Amen” and they bounce alive and release hands.

“Thanks,” I croak and look down at the paper folded underneath my arm. The next train is rolling slowly my way. I stand up stiffly. “This one’s for me boys,” I say triumphantly, as my escape nears and my confidence grows.

“Just remember what I said, man. She’s looking out for you…always. She has her eyes on you right now,” the white guy warns me, as I reach down and pick up the abandoned beer can and stand it on the lid of the trashcan before boarding the train. This car is also smashed full of fatigue parents and kids sticky with cotton candy and the striking smell of stale caramel corn.

I turn back and reach my hand out to shake the hands of the two guys. I feel a well of emotion spill up into my eyes and throat like a sudden rush of vomit. “Thanks,” I say, “and take care of yourselves.”

“The doors are closing,” intones the voice of the Max. I jump onto the train into the center of a couple of arguing kids and a biker with his vehicle. He is wearing some wrap around sunglasses, a stern expression, and the posture of a Private at attention. His bike dangles from a hook, swinging annoyingly between me and the handrail. I turn toward the door that shut behind me and I search for sight of the two drunken strangers. I do not see them, but I do see that the concrete trash monument stands alone with the tall boy sitting on top of the grey metal lid in memory of our strange encounter. I turn back towards the biker and see myself reflected in his shades. Behind him, written in marker, someone has scrawled “Sleep in My crotch” on the back of one of the seats. I shake my head to try and forget what has happened, but begin to wonder how I can incorporate that line in to some sort of short story.

more MAX stories can be found here:



  1. Wow - this is cool. And you managed to incorporate the line ;-).

  2. the best thing about this post is the moment of humor - when the white drunk bounces a beer can off his buddy's back - followed by such a sudden moment of sadness - having them, out of the blue, say such odd and yet maybe comforting things. very, very nicely written.

  3. Outstanding story there. What occurred after? Thanks!
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