Old Dogs

SLUMMING


four o'clock
in the afternoon
on lower
2nd Avenue

a soothing
alcoholic fog
already filled my brain
but before I began drinking
in a more serious manner
on this perfec
sunny day
after payday
I had one
obligatory
stop to make

a gesture
of misplaced goodwill
somehow sandwiched between
the usual disdain
I carried for
my fellow
man

I saw
them there
eight or nine today
camped on the steps
of a boarded-up
former flophouse

a couple
were asleep
the others wistfully
watching the traffic
vehicular and pedestrian
offering musing comments
now and again
to each other
all acknowledged
with halfhearted nods
or shakes
from weary
heads

I turned
into a store
a half block away
to promptly purchase
a carton of cigarettes
three bottles of red wine
and a half case
of beer
(for me)
the counterman laughing
as he sacked the load
apparently amused
by my small act
of occasional
almsgiving

I left
with the goods
and walked toward
the doorstep community
a few recognized me
from previous visits
and nudged awake
their dozing comrades
to make way for me
amidst their
derelict crew

I sat down
in a central locale
and unsacked the stash
grabbed a can of beer
and shifted to the landing
as they quickly
and quietly
distributed the loot
according to some
silent system
I neither understood
nor questioned

one bottle of wine
was opened and passed
cigarettes were lit
and nothing
was said

the hookers
strolling by
pointed and laughed
at the skinny kid
entrenched
among the crowd
of bums
all but obscured
by a heavy
cloud of
smoke

"Visitin' relatives Whitebread?"

"Be careful honey
liable to catch something!"

"You're wastin' yo' money boy
if you're lookin' for a friend
I'm a better investment!"

we sat there
smiling
at their gibes
stale
from months of use

the guys
didn't talk much
especially after a handout
it made things
less complicated
and more comfortable
for all
concerned

as I drained
the last drop
from an empty can
I nodded
a tacit yes
to a questioned glance
and received
a fresh beer
from the now-hidden supply

we watched
the movement
of city life about us
trying not to think
too much about
our place
in it

after
a forth beer
I stood slowly
descended the steps
and without looking back
raised a relaxed hand
of understood farewell
that was answered
with a few
grateful grunts
and guttural
replies

I don't know
what
I was seeking
on those sordid
steps

each time
that I left
I felt
a bit better
knowing
I had touched
something
that was real
but to which
I didn't quite belong
always an outsider
in whatever the
surroundings

I smiled
to myself
a dilettante bum
using these excursions
to validate my contempt
for a segment
of society
of which
I was
regretfully
a standing member

if only
a marginal
one