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Immunity to Gravity
Some Thoughts on Junky Superpowers
© 2013 James LaFond
I know that some of my readers are superhero movie and comic fans. So, when I was on the 10:00 p.m. bus this past Friday night a dim light went off in the back of my dark mind. You see, the ghetto has long hid its very own type of superhero, not a leading man with the cape and not exactly an evil, eccentrically-dressed mastermind. Rather, this vile denizen of the ruined cities is more akin to a dark ally of either. Not necessarily aligned with good or evil, he or she never-the-less possesses rarified superpowers due to his exposure to a toxic substance...
For the everyday Harm Cityite substance abuse in general provides fear, loathing—and entertainment! Some examples follow from between the dust-coated cover of my tome of sage tales and arcane lore.
I and an entire busload of people once watched a crack-head attempt to walk up a light-pole on Charles Street. You see crack-heads have a difficult time controlling their superpowers, and he was unable to harness the gravity defying secrets sought by his kind. He was entertaining however, and sometimes managed to take a second step up the pole in his worn sneakers—which had lost their ability to squeak—before his foot would slide back down the pole and slingshot his face into the pavement…
Alcohol is a more reliable element for harnessing one’s superhero powers, particularly when it becomes time to fight the cops! The stories of such applications of the power of alcohol are legion. So, instead of the predictable brains in a bottle violence tale, I will regale you with a tale of alcohol used to harness the astral powers of The Universe to see into past lives and understand…
Ponca
I was once headed into town down Eastern Avenue after an argument with my scum-bag boss who would not pay me for my overtime [I think, although I am hazy on this twenty years gone]. I got off at my normal transfer point at Ponca, beneath the hospital, in the bowels of Greek Town, where methadone clinic people would trade their methadone to street dealers for heroin. This is a major hub, servicing four bus lines, right at an interstate ramp. It was a Saturday morning.
A black couple was under the shelter in the gathering rain. A homeless woman who looked like Whoopie Goldberg with mange was yelling at two white trash guys who would not give her money or cigarettes, or whatever she was begging for. I remember her calling them racists. She also panhandled the black couple and was rejected.
She then went over to a trash can, took a swig from a large liquor bottle, belched with lawnmower-like authority, and came over to me. She put her arm around me, encased as it was in a garment that might have been a rug, a tapestry, or an ancient sweater, and yelled across the street to them, “That’s alright, I don’t need ya’all, ‘cause I’ve got my friend here.”
I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, what does that make me?”
At this time I was clean shaven and long haired and wore a bandana, and was often mistaken by street people as a Lumbee Indian, which are half-white to begin with. Ponca, however, assured me that I was a Navaho, or had been in a past life, and that she had long been a friend of members of my nation. She then—and remarkably she did not stink of anything worse than alcohol—began telling me about her connections with my ancestors. I recall her saying something about being close "to your people." I specifically remember her saying, “I have good friends who are members of the Navaho Nation.”
Other than that all I can gather from the past is that she believed that we had a mystical connection, a connection I was but dimly aware of in my unaltered state.
She took a break and relieved herself of much liquid from a very aborigine squat in the middle of the median as motorists whizzed by. I took this opportunity to try and lose her under the shelter. She followed, and kept following me around, convinced of our otherworldly connection, her astral memory piqued by her magical nectar. The young lady under the stop hugged her man and smiled up at me, “Awwe, she likes you!”
After some time the black dude looked up at me—new to the Eastside as I was—“Hey man, you waiting on the twenty-two?”
“Yeah.”
He smiled, “Well, the twenty-two don’t come this far on the weekends. You’ll be waiting here with this crazy bitch until Monday morning.”
I thanked him, said goodbye to my soothsaying weird woman, and walked off into the rain, afraid of her magic…
The alcoholics are a mixed batch, ranging from those who use the magic to harness warrior spirits to fight The Man and those few like Ponca who gazed into the firmament of The Universe. But, more often than not, it is just a brief comic relief for a busload of bored people, as the poor sot stumbles off the bus and is unable to apply the brakes as they careen headfirst into a trashcan. Heroin addicts, however, have that under control, or should I say it has them…
Rat Face
Two nights ago, the bus stopped as soon as I boarded and took my seat. The driver was admitting a figure of elder repose, a hermit like creature of medieval proportions hunched under a burden, like the old peasant on the front of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven album. As the being stumbled past the meter we saw that it was male, with a wind-burned face, appearing perhaps 40. The puffy coat was torn and stained. He labored under a bag of trash and a baby stroller, without the baby. He tried to sit next to a young woman, who he called "sweetie," in a voice barely 25-years-old, as he leaned into her in a hovering magnetic way, apparently defying gravity.
She fled.
For ten minutes, on the rocking bus, he bent and twisted and held his head nearly to his ankle, cocking his ear like a squirrel that has heard a cat, as he reached, and groped, and finally found his bus ticket. By the time he had swiped the ticket the front bench seat was covered with the contents of his pockets, including many gutter-scrounged cigarettes.
I and two ladies remained up front. For the next five minutes he rocked and swayed, nearly standing on his head. The people in the back of the bus were beginning to enjoy the show, particularly the cringing of the two ladies who wrinkled their noses in fear and disgust at the thought of him falling onto them. They, neophyte Harm Cityites, did not yet realize that he had Immunity to Gravity!
The bus driver told him to sit, so he did, kind of parallel to the floor, with a hip and an elbow touching the triple bench seat, drool yo-yoing toward the floor, and arms and legs everywhere. The ladies were convinced that he would fall at any moment. People in the back were taking bets as to which one he would fall on. He never fell. This creature all but levitated above the seats. When it finally appeared that he would fall he would spring up on one foot, mumble an incantation, and begin weaving in the aisle, head between his knees, one hand up to God, and the other one trying to rub the spot from his pants that was not there.
Eventually I offloaded, reminding him to bring his stroller, and at least make an attempt to find the missing baby. The older woman, gasped at the possibility of a weekend custody disaster gone wrong. I wished the driver goodnight. As I crossed the street the driver stopped the bus in mid intersection as the gravity defying acrobat scrambled down from the bus with his baby carriage and attempted to follow me, as if I were someone that needed to be followed to some sacred place. As I outpaced him, my thoughts drifted to Ponca—or were they drawn forth through the void?
Was Ponca out there somewhere, pissing on a median strip, knocking back liquor, wondering if her gravity defying familiar had tracked down her old Navaho friend?
I scratched my beard and went on my way, wondering where the baby that belonged in that new, clean, carriage was.
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