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The Streets Have Eyes #2
Bruce the Bricklayer
© 2013 James LaFond
A Summery Saturday Night, circa 1994
I was nearly to my bus stop on Belair Road, had just rounded the corner off of Southern Avenue, when I heard the rumble of a big pickup truck. A chill went up my spine as I heard the rattling thunder of the vehicle most favored by runt-stompers. I, being a runt, looked over my shoulder to see if I had time to run into the car lot. I noticed immediately that something was wrong: three fat bodies were not packed into the seat; the truck radio was not blaring some adolescent anthem from a best-forgotten decade; Budweiser was not being gulped from long neck bottles; and, most ominously, I was not being insulted or threatened.
Was I even on the right planet? Why had I even bothered lacing up my boots?
Oddly enough, the single man behind the wheel waived me over to his truck, “Hey buddy, wanna lift!”
When I reached the door the man even drew closer to the curb so that it would be easier for me to board. I took in the bed of the truck at a glance and saw that it was a working rig, with lots of loose bricks, some boards, a trowel, and a bucket. In less than a second I determined that this man was not a redneck runt stomper; but a working man.
The man was average height and extremely muscular; a definite mesomorphic body type, with square jaw. He looked a lot like the actor Robert Conrad. I guessed his age at about thirty. As I swung into the cab he extended his hand and said in a clear strong voice, “Hi, I’m Bruce. I’m a bricklayer, have been a heroin addict for eleven years, and am going to kill myself tonight.”
I remember being able to feel the craggy splits in his dried out hands and trying to recall if my hands were currently cut from work as the heroin addict part of his introduction set in. As soon as I was seated he roared out into traffic, cutting off a car that had to swerve into the other lane. I nodded over my shoulder toward the swerving vehicle and his foot stomping the gas, “Bruce, a, you’re not going to use the vehicle to kill yourself are you?”
He seemed offended, “Oh no man! I’m not like that. I’ll get you wherever you’re going safely. I just need to get some change so I can make a phone call.”
As we rumbled down the street I handed over two quarters. He seemed happy, “Thanks man. Don’t you wanna know who I’m calling?”
“It’s none of my business. I’ll give you some bills for gas when you drop me off.”
He began to sound worried, “Aren’t you going to try to talk me out of killing myself?”
“Why not?”
“You seem pretty serious.”
“Well, that is what the change is for, so I can call my dad and have him unlock the door so I can get in and get my shotgun.”
“Dude, don’t do that!”
“So you don’t want me to kill myself?”
“Look man, it’s none of my business if you kill yourself. But you should use a thirty-eight or something.”
“Really, I thought the shotgun would be more reliable.”
“Look man, your dad is going to have to I.D. your body. You should at least leave the head on, alright.”
“I hadn’t thought about that. You know, that is real considerate.”
I was looking around, noticing that we were headed farther downtown than I wanted to, “Hey man, I’m headed to Eastpoint…”
Over the centerline and up onto the concrete sidewalk we went, as Bruce did a hairpin u-turn onto Moravia. The truck was fishtailing as we headed east, but after he ground his wheel hub against the concrete median for a while he straightened out. Bruce was un-phased, “Hey man, there is a Dunkin’ Doughnuts over there. Do you wanna get a doughnut?”
“Sure man.”
The shotgun seemingly forgotten, we crossed Route 40 on the interstate ramp and were soon on North Point Blvd headed past Eastern Avenue. I observed, “Hey Bruce, that’s it back there.”
What was I thinking!
Bruce pulled a u-turn over the concrete median and was about to cut through the mall parking lot when he spotted a black chick in a nice new car waiting at the light; her peaceful commute home from work now a memory. He rumbled his truck right up besides her and screamed out the window, “Hey baby, you wanna date?”
She shook her head ‘no’ and said, “I have a boyfriend.”
Bruce yelled, “So? Can I follow you home?”
I interjected, “Hey Bruce, her boyfriend probably looks like Bubba Smith, alright.”
He regarded me with intense seriousness, “Really, you think so. She’s kinna cute to have a big ugly boyfriend.”
He then yelled down at her as she seemed to be considering running the red light, “Hey miss, my friend here says that your boyfriend probably looks like Bubba Smith. Is that so?”
She nodded ‘yes’ up at him with big frightened eyes, and Bruce looked over at me and grinned insanely, “Are you Jesus? You must be. You look like him and you know everything. I was thinking about going to church in the morning before killing myself—you wanna go to church with me?”
I sensed that it was time to take charge, “Doughnut; work; then, if you aren’t dead yet, church in the morning.”
Bruce seemed to experience an epiphany, “Why would I kill myself when I get to hang out with Jesus?”
“I guess that is the whole churchgoing point Bruce.”
To recount the purchase of the doughnut, the theological debate that Bruce—now a devote Methodist I think—tried to start with the Pakistani doughnut clerk, and the scrawling of my work phone number on the greasy napkin with some woman’s discarded lipstick, would, I think, take away from Bruce’s moment of revelation.
Bruce never did call me at work the next morning so that I could announce my second coming to whichever lucky congregation he had planned on presenting me to. I would like to think though, that he ended up in church; in a suit that he put on himself.
Panhandler Nation #1
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Panhandler Nation #2
orphan nation
the fighting edge
the greatest lie ever sold
the lesser angels of our nature
shrouds of aryаs
Charles Meisling     Feb 1, 2013

.38 instead of the shotgun. Always thinking!
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