I was always seeing things. When we first moved in, it was a plus-size hooker who worked the Honey Bucket in the lot next door. What I mean is, the hooker worked the street and brought her johns into the Honey Bucket to seal the deal. I didn't want to think about it, the stuff going on in there—the smells and so forth, the disease, the visuals—because I could picture it: her and those bottom feeder johns all crushed up against each other, going at it blinding over the stink hole in that inner city outhouse...
She was alright, though.
And I blushed the first time she called me nigga.
She looked up and—zoom—there I am sitting on my fire escape one night, smoking, same as most nights. Only this time she was looking because the john was looking. She said to him, "DAT nigga? FUCK dat nigga, he ain't no COP!"
I walked back into our apartment, which is a loft, which I still live in, and I said to my girl, "Hey, did you hear that? The Honey Bucket Hooker just called me nigga."
And my girl said, "So you're not a cop anymore?"
And we both laughed.
Every time we were out walking, someone would always pass us, this person or that, young or old, male or female, it didn't matter—neighborhood people, but of a certain type—they would look at me and under their breath they would say, "What's shakin', bacon?"
Then they would look at my girl's breasts, which are huge, and snigger.
That happened all the time.
She's an F cup. Of course it happened.
"Why does everyone think I'm a cop?" I'd say. "I don't look anything like a cop. What the fuck?"
One day my girl said, "I know what it is. It's the fire escape. It's you sitting out on the fire escape all the time smoking your stupid cigarettes. You're up there looking down on everybody."
"Are you kidding me?"
"That's it, right there."
"I'm just smoking."
"It looks like you're doing surveillance, dummy. They think you're a cop."
"Duh," she said.
And I laughed and she laughed.
Because that's the way our relationship was.
I didn't have a mustache or wear mirrored sunglasses so I thought it was kind of paranoid on their end. I didn't even wear my prescription glasses much. I couldn't see too well out there, except for the Honey Bucket Hooker. The Honey Bucket was right at the edge of the parking lot, up against the fence facing the lot next door, where a house was being taken apart and hauled away. But I could only sort of see her. Her big fat shape and hot pink stretch pants. Blurry red lipstick on her blurry black face. Her big eyes.
But really, I couldn't see a thing. Not clearly. Certainly nothing that would have helped or hurt in court, or gotten anyone fingered in a line-up. There were dealers out there though, money changing hands.
I didn't sweat the Honey Bucket gal. We had a country respect, but I'd always cut my smoke short whenever I saw her. I didn't want to embarrass her; either one of us. Well, not always. Sometimes I just wanted to stay out there chain smoking cigarettes—to hell with her and whatever embarrassment there was between us—and just think about the messed-up world, or wonder about my life, or try not to think about any of it, just dream.
I never felt quite at ease in that loft—this loft—back then.
I felt like a visitor almost. I couldn't sit still unless I was smoking.
But I wasn't allowed to smoke in here.
My girl wouldn't have it.
She wasn't a smoker, that's for sure. She didn't drink much either, or do many drugs, or eat junk food at all, and never any meat except fish, because fish aren't mammals and don't give a rat's ass about their eggs once they lay them.
She could take it or leave it, no matter what it was.
Mostly she left it.
So I didn't smoke in here. I smoked out on the fire escape.
It isn't even a fire escape though, because there's no ladder going to the ground. It's just a wrought iron platform from the '40s with a cage-like rail run around it, jutting out weird from the side of the building—a balcony, of sorts.
I used to wonder what happened to the ladder.
Then I'd think of the fence and the gate you buzzed to get your car into the parking lot, and the fact that each unit had an alarm system with a motion detector and a panic button, and it made sense.
Everybody's crazy now.
Panic button? I panicked just looking at the control panel it was on—too complicated, too easy to press the wrong everything—so we disabled it.
The gizmo you had to use to get into the parking lot was bad enough.
Not that I had a car to park.
My girl did, though: a 1980 Mercedes.
It was gold and glittered in the sun on the days it wasn't raining.
I was afraid to drive it, but I was often a passenger. We'd go in and out the gate and all around together. It was my job to press the gizmo that made the gate open.
I wasn't very good at it.
There was something wrong with me, or maybe the gizmo, or both.
I'd point the thing backwards, or at the sky, or my shoe, or whatever.
Or I'd forget to do it altogether—just sit there in the passenger seat, gizmo in my lap, staring at the gate, cars honking. I'd be a million miles away...
I'd get yelled at.
One day the landlady sent all the tenants new gizmos, saying the old ones were defective, and I said, "I told you so."
And my girl said, "Stop calling it a gizmo!"