“I like your tattoo.”
I looked up from my book to see a frizzy gray haired man in front of me. He wore a tan corduroy blazer with pockets so full they looked as though they might rip at the seams. His jeans were dark and too short for his legs. His shoes were black canvas with soles made of cloth. The glasses on his face had faded red frames and their lenses were so thick they made his eyes seem to bulge out of their sockets. In his right hand he carried a white paper bag that was torn on one corner.
“Two on my sides, roses.” I answered not knowing where this might go.
He sat on my left and set down his bag. I looked inside it and put the contents into my memory. 'Folded old comic sections from newspapers, The New Yorker, piece after piece of paper with scribbled writings on them, and a blue paper cup with coffee stains inside. I want to read what he’s been writing.’ I thought. He pulled out a scrap of paper about 3 inches by 2 inches and started to draw. We sat in silence and I watched his shaking hand scribble in fury as I tried to make out what the ink was leaving behind.
When he was finished he handed me the paper and on it was a poorly drawn sketch of Hot Stuff from Harvey comics and above the drawing he had written “little hot stuff copyright Harvey prod.”, in all caps.
He pointed his finger to nothing in particular but just up in the air in order to add conviction. His hand was almost an inch away from my face and I could smell the nicotine on his fingers as he spoke.
“This is a bad drawing but there was a little devil in diapers in the old Harvey comics, you know along with betty and all the other characters? That’s him.”
He raised his left hand and pointed to his left armpit with his other hand.
“If I ever got a tattoo I knew that is what I would get, right here.” He said with great excitement.
He bent over and pulled The New Yorker out of his bag.
“Which of these cartoons do you like better?”
I looked at the page and studied each one. There was one drawing of a man at a desk with papers piled high and the caption read something to the effect of “Oh that billion.” The other was a catcher on a baseball field with a dog sitting next to him that had a leash on. Before I could answer he spoke again.
"Can you read?"
“Yes!” I laughed.
“I like that one better.” I pointed to the first one.
He liked the other one and he explained the joke as if that might change my decision.
“But this one is relevant for now.” He said pointing the one I had chosen.
He put the magazine away and handed me the comic section from the San Luis Obispo Tribune, dated October 26th 2006. It was recklessly folded but surprisingly free of any stains or dirt.
“If you ever need something to read that will make you laugh out loud.” He suggested.
“Thank you.” I replied.
Inside I was hooked on him. I wanted to know his mind. Where he lived, what he did. Everything. But I didn’t ask one question, I let him keep going on his own. He told me he used to live downtown. Upstairs in the building on the next street that has marble steps. He lived there with his brother for three years. He told me about a real estate company that deals exclusively with downtown places and wrote their address is his chicken scratch on another small piece of paper for me.
“What’s your favorite animal? Or bird?” He asked me.
“I don’t know.” I said. Then I thought about why I didn’t know. I should know what my favorite animal is. I tried to think of just one name of one bird, any bird, and my mind was blank.
“Well what kind of animal have you had then?” He asked with apparent agitation.
“A cat.”I answered.
He proceeded to draw another cartoon. I could tell what this one was fast. It was me. The caption above me was “I wonder what’s for lunch.” He turned it over wrote today’s date on the back and signed his name. That move alone taught me an incredible amount about who he was. He asked me for seventy five cents and explained that he was out of money, he had been “tipping too much” lately. I’ve never enjoyed a beggar’s line so much. To my despair I had to deny him. I had NO cash what so ever with me. Not even change.
“Oh, that’s ok. Here.” he said, and he scrambled around his jacket searching for something to hand me.
I watched him pull out a sandwich bag with marijuana inside. He pulled a small amount off the rest then put the plastic bag away. His movements were disheveled but still fast. He ripped a piece off of one of the papers in his white bag and placed the small circle of weed in it. He then wrapped it unnecessarily tight into the paper and gave it to me.
“Smoke that with some tobacco. Don’t smoke it on its own. Even if you share it with someone, just a very small amount, its very strong. Only a tiny bit of that and it will knock you on your ass.” He instructed, and he got up to leave.
“Ok, I will. What is your name?” I said.
We spoke our goodbyes at the same time and he walked away.
I tucked the drawings and the comics in my book and got up. I held the weed in my hand and smiled. This is why I miss this town, if I ever do.