The 50-something, black man next door, the one with the Jheri Curl and 6 teeth, with the oddly tight body and pierced nipple, came at me today - with a knife in his hand and a look of pride upon his face. It was daylight, and I had enough library books in my man-purse to lay out a prize-fighter, so rather than jump back in terror I smiled and nodded as he spoke at me.
It was a full minute before my ear adjusted to the particular patois he spoke, a Louisiana drawl coupled with the failures of the Mississippi school system, it sounded like - with the appropriate hacking of a pack a day smoker (or a crack habit - either way, all-too-familiar) - "Purt good now fa a ftty yar ol' mn, neh?" That is to say, "Pretty good for a fifty-year old man, huh?" He was talking, beaming proudly, and scratching his balls - with a steak knife in the hand raised toward me - about having finally done something about his yard.
This particular fifty-something black man is my neighbor, a man with three small, starving dogs, a son or nephew who walks up and down the street with clothes in his hands, piles of them, attempting to sell them to the neighbors or passing school-children. The fifty-year old rents the house next door, and more's the pity for its owner.
In the months he's occupied the house, the garage door was kicked in, driven through, and then removed altogether - leaving in its place - a gaping hole in the front facade of a pale pink '50s ranch house, and the view of a garage that has surely seen better days - what with the oil slick on the floor, the wall into which someone obviously drove once or twice, and (until last week's emergency repair) the smell of escaping gas.
It seems this proud, pierced man with Activator in his hair got, in his words, "the right mood swing ..." and decided to mow his lawn. The weeds were up to my knees - and crying out for raw meat - when I walked by earlier, so this was no small feat. Evidently in one hell of a manic state, the fifty-something not only mowed the lawn but edged it, too ... with a steak knife. A steak knife - one of those cheap things you pick up at Wal-Mart with a cheap black plastic hilt and a paper-thin, serrated blade.
It was covered in grass and mud and dirt, as well as the sweat, drool, tears, and curl activator of a half century old black man breathing heavily, wild-eyed, and scratching his nuts ...
I was on way back from a short day downtown when I came upon my neighbor in all his sweaty, knife-wielding glory.
On the bus ride back from downtown, I sat behind an unwed mother with a very loudly crying baby, and in front of a couple - one very black and the other somewhere between Halle Berry's color and the texture of a K-Mart weave - all of whom, save the baby - of course - were engaged in a conversation about the advantages of going to jail rather than be homeless; the words, "three hots and a cot ..." were bandied about, and I was on the verge of saying something - though I have no idea what that something might have been. Just then, the baby set off another ear-piercing shriek and I contemplated offering to breast-feed the damned thing myself.
Around that time, the familiar VIA robot voice announced my street coming up, and I dutifully rang the bell - considering whether to spend my last dollar on a can of soup at the 99 Cents store across the way. Perhaps, if I had, I would have somehow missed the knife-wielding black man - but then ... where's the fun in that?