Even by early morning, the midsummer heat began to rise. The concrete began to simmer. I noticed the sidewalk was spotted by a million blackened wads of gum, now hard and permanent. The air was stagnant which caused the downtown skid row district to literally smell as if nine million people had all farted at once.
I despairingly scanned my immediate surroundings. The local inhabitants, mostly the homeless and the deranged, shuffled around. Some alone, others in packs. In every doorway and stoop of shops, cafes, bars, and dollar store, men in shabby clothes with backpacks and baseball caps – the homeless uniform – stood talking, smoking, staring out into nothing. The route I had taken was littered in stale garbage. The few trashcans which lined the sidewalk were overflowing in festering trash. Picked clean of usable or edible scraps from early morning scavengers.
Groups of blacks howled obscenities at each other as bloated women - their pasty stomachs and sides pouring out of revealing outfits and tight sweat suits - cooed and screeched at every word. Many passed open bottles of 40 ounce beers at one another, mooched cigarettes, or hollered outward concerning petty annoyances.
“Bitch better have my motherfucking money I loaned her! I’ll cut that cunt if she shows up with nothing!”
“You ain’t getting’ shit from that ho! She done took off with Cookie to Hollywood! Yo’ ass got burned!”
“Fuck! Gimme a fuckin’ smoke!”
“This all I got!”
“Spot me the short, then!”
“I was fuckin’ Jolene last night, that fuckin’ ho done went an’ shit all over my dick!”
“That bitch nasty anyways! Why you with her?”
“She got some big titties, that’s why!”
“I got some titties, Ty, wyoncha fuck me?”
“Cause ya pussy all sloppy!”
“Fuck you, Ty! Fuck you!”
“Boxcar need to hurry up with them rocks! Dumb fuck all late and shit!”
“Yeah, but he got some good shit, though!”
“I don’t pay for nothin’! I just fuck that man for my shit!”
“Boxcar? Damn, bitch, ain’t you got no shame?”
“He gotta big dick, though!”
The group burst into raucous laughter.
I quickly strode past with hands in pockets. I glanced across the street and noticed the Central Police Department. A huge, windowless, red brick building. It was the only structure on the street which wasn’t covered by graffiti. Lined outside, propped against the wall, stood several junkies passing back and forth a glass stemmed pipe. They flicked lighters and inhaled their norcatic; issuing great, gray plumes of smoke up into the smog choked sky.
Two emaciated men began shouting and struggling with each other. The white rocks in which one held fell into the gutter. As the two men scuffled, a short, balding man briskly wobbled over to the gutter, snatched up the dope and dashed down the street.
“Donald! That crazy-ass honky just took off with your shit!” Cackled a grime covered hag. She pointed in the direction of the escaping junkie with an arm resembling a long and withered twig.
I quickened my stride as the two men scuffling broke off their fight and scampered after the thief like enraged jackals.
The crowds began to thicken as much as the garbage on the street. Packs of sordid individuals meandered around seemingly without purpose or direction. A chaotic carnival of transients biding time between feeding at various missions or soup kitchens which encircled skid row. Everyone carried a backpack or suitcase. Many pushed shopping carts pregnant with grimy and lost memories of nostalgia.
A scrawny, young black man in filthy, cutoff sweat shorts and a dingy tank top clopped down the street commanding his fat and scraggy looking girlfriend to hurry up and walk faster. The sweating, white female held a frayed rope attached to a rusted shopping cart. The cart had three more that were attached to it which created an overburdened train. No one paid them any mind as he gruffly spat vicious orders at her.
“Let’s go, bitch!” Barked the young man. “We gonna be late!”
The woman, red faced, in disarray, and perspiring, silently hauled the caravan in dutiful apathy.
Weaving through the throng of grimy citizens, I looked down as I passed, an elderly black man harassing a sleeping figure who squat on a milk crate. The black man was an ebony scarecrow in a dingy, blue sweater vest and grimy fedora. His face was contorted in anger as his bearded mouth opened and closed like a landed fish. The inert man on the crate remained catatonic to the rough shaking and poking of his constituent.
“C’mon, Jeff, get the fuck off my crate!” Howled the elderly man.
He continued to shake the bloated man who remained on the box like a khaki dressed, sleeping Buddha.
“Fuck! Goddamit! Shit!” The old man continued. “Get the fuck off my goddamn box! Right now, motherfucker!”
With a shove, the old man pushed the fat man off his crate. As if in a stupefied dream, the body slumped over and rolled out into the street. The fat man lay spread eagle on his back, his bloated gut exposed from his shirt which was pulled up in the fall. He didn’t stir. The body was immobile. No heaving of breath. I momentarily paused in my stride to notice that the fat man was indeed dead.
I looked incredulously around. The elderly man simply squat on his crate and lit a cigarette in gnarled and ashy hands. Knots of people stood and squawked at each other. A police patrol car cruised slowly down the street, barely missing the corpse which lay akimbo at the curb. The police car continued on. Not stopping. Not caring.