Thank you all for being so damn cool. I feel like this site attracts a good crowd. You wanna hear about a place that doesn’t attract a good crowd, though? I’m going to interpret your silence as a yes.
There is a park a block from my house. This park is beautiful. It is filled with geese and a pond you can actually fish in. It is bordered on one side by a fieldhouse. I don’t know what a fieldhouse even is, except that this one has a golden dome and looks sweet as hell. This park is also a notorious heroin spot.
FOR EXAMPLE (this isn’t even the real story yet) one Sunday afternoon I was walking across the park on my way home from work. A couple of guys were sitting on folding chairs in the grass. One of them beckoned me over.
“Hey man, come here, lemme talk to you for a second,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
“No, no, no,” he said, “squat down here next to me, so I can talk to you for a second.”
“Would you like to buy some heroin?” he said, “Because we sell heroin here. This is where we sell heroin.”
“No thank you,” I said.
“Okay man,” he said, “That’s cool. If you know anybody, let them know we’re selling heroin over here.”
“Will do,” I said.
That’s what this park is like.
So anyway I know a guy who lives in this park. Everybody calls him Cuba, because that’s where he’s from. He’s probably sixty, he doesn’t do any drugs, and he’s been living in a little lean-to in the park for three years. Also he has a rooster.
I’ll tell you about how I met Cuba some other time. What’s important to know right now is that I go over to Cuba’s house once or twice a week, and there are a lot of junkies who go over there more often than that.
So on this particular day, I’ve come to Cuba’s to bring him a box of candles. One of the disadvantages of living in a cardboard hut built around an enormous dead tree in the middle of a park is that electricity is scarce, which means Cuba uses a lot of candles. I was also going out of town the next day, and wanted to wish him a Merry Christmas. There was one other person there when I arrived – a woman who was working her way through nursing school and also maybe doing a lot of heroin. She was waiting for her boyfriend to come back with some.
I talked to Cuba for a while about my work and his rooster and the worker’s comp settlement he’s been waiting on all these years. Then the boyfriend came back, apologizing rapidly about something I didn’t take the time to listen to, and I used his arrival as an excuse to leave.
I stepped out of the shack and immediately had a gun pointed at me. The gun belonged to the stocky plain-clothes police officer who was creeping down the dirt path towards the shack. He motioned for me not to speak, then asked,
“How many people are in there?”
I knew it didn’t matter if I told him, but I still didn’t want to tell him anything, so I pretended to be too shocked by the gun to speak. This was not a hard thing to pretend. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent hours imagining all the badass things you might say to someone who had a gun pointed at you. What those imaginary scenarios fail to acknowledge is that someone is going to have a fucking GUN pointed at you. There is something uniquely paralyzing about the knowledge that someone has decided that you may need to die in a minute, and has taken the steps necessary to make that a possibility. The gun he had was tiny, barely as big as his hand. But it was the Finger of Death as far as I was concerned, and I was scared, un-manned, and slightly insulted by it.
He told me to put down my backpack, then poked his gun into the shack.
“Get out here,” he yelled, “Police! Get the fuck out here!”
The nursing student and her boyfriend crawled outside. By now the cop’s partner had arrived. He was tall, skinny, and barely older than me. He looked like he would have been right at home among the junkies. The first cop poked his head back inside.
“You too,” he said.
A minute later, Cuba struggled out of the shack. He looked at me, rolled his eyes and smiled.
“Jesus,” said the younger cop, “How many people do you have in there?”
“Just us,” said the boyfriend, “We don’t got anywhere else to go.”
The younger cop peeked into the shack to verify the statement.
“Jesus Christ!” he said, “They’ve got a fucking rooster in there!”
“Whose rooster is that?” barked the older cop. All eyes went to Cuba.
“Is mine,” said Cuba.
“Where the fuck did you get a rooster?” said the cop.
“I, ah …” said Cuba, attempting to form a large egg in the air with his hands, “I … find him. As a bebe.”
Silence, except for the younger cop chuckling.
“How do you guys all know each other?” said the younger cop.
We all started talking at once.
“We have nowhere else to go,” said the boyfriend,
“We’re broke and homeless,” said the nurse,
“I come here to bring candles and soup,” I said
“I live here,” said Cuba.
“Okay, okay,” said the older cop, “Which one of you bought heroin, though.”
“I don’t have anything,” said the boyfriend.
“Don’t lie,” said the older cop, “we followed you back here. Don’t make me search you.”
“Man,” said the boyfriend, “I don’t have anything. I was just walking around the park for thirty minutes trying to meet up with my guy to pick up some dope but I couldn’t find my guy and I couldn’t get any dope! If I had some dope, I’d be fucking high by now! I was just apologizing to my girl about it!”
The cop looked at the four of us. He lifted the flap and looked inside the shack, where Cuba’s rooster scratched at a sleeping bag, looking for crumbs. He looked back at us.
“You know what?” he said, “I don’t even fucking care anymore. Have a good day. Stay out of trouble.”
The cops turned to leave, and Cuba turned to me, beaming. He shook my hand and pulled me into a hug.
“Merry Christmas, Papi,” he said.