The awkward Safeway checker looked like an extra from Revenge of the Nerds. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. Cherubic, maybe, is the word. His cheeks were red and fat.
“How’d he die?” he asked.
“How’d who die?”
He pointed to my Ol’ Dirty Bastard t-shirt, the one with the date of his birth and death.
“Ah, yes,” I said.
I explained to him that ODB had to be at a recording studio on the opposite side of the country from where he was. So in order to board a plane, he swallowed his bag of crack cocaine, as not to be arrested for transporting narcotics across state lines. With the crack safely inside his stomach, ODB boarded the plane. Once his plane landed, he must have forgotten all about the crack he swallowed because he got to the studio, started recording a song, began to sweat profusely, clutched his chest and then he died rapidly of heart failure.
The checker looked perplexed.
“Really?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
He stopped placing groceries in my bag, pushing my box of Fig Newtons into his chest. He appeared to be thinking.
“It’s a solid lesson,” I said. “If you think about it.”
“What is?” the checker asked.
“You know, not to swallow crack.”
He finished with my groceries and I left the store. Walking to my car, I thought about ODB and about how I had once smoked crack with a homeless man in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, where I lived. My girlfriend had gone on a trip and I was drunk. And bored. So I walked outside, told a homeless man that if he got us some crack, that we could smoke it in my apartment. I gave him 40 bucks and watched as he disappeared around the corner. I waited for ten minutes and figured he was gone for good, but just as I was about to go to the liquor store, he came stomping up the hill with a shit-eating grin.
It’s really easy to find homeless pictures on Google
He opened up his dirty hand and there were two baggies, with two large rocks of cocaine. They carried a yellowish tint. They look like canine teeth.
“Do you have a pipe?” I asked.
The homeless man looked at me as if I’d asked him if he was ever a boy.
We walked into my apartment and sat down on my couch.
“It’s nice in here,” he said, staring very hard at my television set.
I watched him rip open the plastic and break off a piece of cocaine. His fingers turned the drug a dark brown.
“You have to have a piece of steel wool in there,” he said, holding the pipe up to the light.
“Like a filter?” I asked.
He stuffed a bunch of crack in the end of the pipe.
“Do you have a knife?” he asked.
“Oh, fuck you,” I said. “If you think I’m going to give you a knife.”
“I’m not going to stab you with it,” he said. “I’m going to use it to stuff this shit in.”
“Can you use a spoon?”
He gave me the pipe first. My hands were shaking.
“You need help?” he asked.
“You never smoked this shit before?”
“This shit is bad”
He held the flame up to the pipe.
“Now suck,” he said.
When the smoke entered my lungs, my head went light. A burst of fluorescence exploded in my lungs and spread out through my chest, my groin, my legs, fingertips and exited through my eyes and ears. My brain felt like it was made of gentle electricity. My heart filled with love.
We sat there, smoking, talking about shit I can’t remember now. We smoked until the crack was gone. The only thing I remember is that he told me he’d steal me a bike later that night. For my hospitality.
I walked him out to the sidewalk.
“What kind of bike you like?” He asked.
“I don’t know.”
“A red one?” he asked.
“A red one,” I said, and I watched him limp strangely back down Hyde Street.
In the Safeway lot, I slammed my door shut and started the car. But as I was pulling out, I saw the checker running across the lot toward me. I rolled down my window. A security lady stood right behind the checker.
“You need to come with me,” he said. Most of his fingers were curling into my car. I rolled up the window on his hands and he jumped back. He looked frightened and angry. And a little bit sad. I put my car into park.
“You need to come with me,” he yelled again. His voice wavered and his forehead was sweating.
I got out of the car and went with him. On the walk back to the store I asked him if my card was declined.
“Nope,” he said.
And then I remembered the employee in the fruit aisle who seemed to be following me to the banana section.
I wondered if they thought I was stealing. And if that whole conversation about Ol’ Dirty Bastard was an excuse to stall me so they could get the security wench.
There was a huge line at the checkstand. A couple college girls were standing there, looking at me like I’d just knocked over a bank. I pulled out my debit card.
“Are you gonna pay for our groceries, too?” one of the girls asked, flirting.
“Yes, but I’m not paying for that,” I said, pointing to her box of Tampons.
The security wench stood next to me scowling while the checker fumbled around with his cash register.
Finally, he printed out a receipt.
“There you go, Mr. Clark,” he said, smiling.
I looked at the receipt.
“But I’m not Mr. Clark,” I said.
“Are these your purchases?” he asked, pointing to the receipt. Fig Newtons, DayQuil, Raisin Bran, lettuce …
“Yeah,” I said.
“OK, I’m sorry, Mr. Clark.”
I wasn’t quite sure what happened. As I left the store and crossed back into the lot, a white truck with a McCain sticker on it’s bumper nearly ran me down. I jumped out of the way and watched it speed into the street. It was completely dark outside. A homeless man asked me for a quarter and I told him I didn’t have anything. I guess I was lying.