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February 17th, 2010

I Wish I Could Write A Song For Michael

Townes was signing his Dollar Bill Blues to me and no one else could hear it as I did tonight through the plugs in my ears. I wasn’t watching where I was going, I was lost in my thoughts and the beer washing around in my stomach was not comforting.

I walk this spot on 51st Street everyday, most days, several times. Tonight, a man had returned again for this spot is his and his without question. Since before I can remember, he’s always been here, then one day very long ago, I noticed he was gone. This is what I always assumed was his home, his small spot of comfort here on this tiny spot so close to my tiny spot. Sometimes he is selling things pulled from the garbage, sometimes he is practically nude, shadow boxing the air around him, sometimes he is screaming at the passerby, sometimes he is sleeping next to the cardboard on the sidewalk instead of on it and other times, he just stares at me, through me and along with me staring back at him. Eyes on eyes as I walk by him, I would often nod never having it returned or even my very presence acknowledged.

He’s tall, very tall, he’s skinny, very skinny, his skin is dark as a starless night, his teeth are mostly missing, his hair is often in various states of erratic, his clothes never fit the season. Coats in the summer, threads in the winter. I often wonder where he is when not here, where he went and the history of his story altogether. Once, he stopped me and refuse to let me pass. He held up a small piece fabric he had, “$50, $50?” I said, “$5, I can buy it from you for $5.” He took the $5, I took my fabric. I was never acknowledged again. This was over 10 years ago.

Tonight, not moments ago, there he was again. I noticed him confronting all those walking in front me, approaching them in the cold and watching as each one, one by one, parted in extreme avoidance.

“My friend, my friend. It’s been too long, it’s been too long.”

“What’s it been, 10 years right? Ten years, yes? I’ve known you ten years?”

“I am Michael, I am Michael, I am Michael.”

Townes was still singing in my plugged ears. “If I had a dollar bill, yes I surely will, go to town and get my fill, early in the morning.”

He outreached his hand, I took it and we shook. He did not let go. His hand was warm, his hand was strong, the textures of his hand felt brittle yet had no frailty. He was not letting go.

“Can you help me, can you help me, can you help me. My friend, we’ve known each other so long, can you help me. I am Michael.”

“I am Michael, I am Michael.”

“I am Jonathan.”

Townes in my ears, “Little darling, she’s a red-haired thing, man she makes my legs to sing, gonna buy her a diamond ring, early in the morning.”

“You remember me? You remember me?”

“Yes, I remember you, I bought the fabric from you.”

“Right, right, right. Can you help me, can you help me? Anything, anything, anything?”

He was still holding my hand.

Townes in my ears, “Mother was a golden girl, I slit her throat just to get her pearls, cast myself into a whirl, before a bunch of swine.”

I reached into my pocket and felt the wad of ones from when I had taken them off the bar as my change and handed them to Michael without thinking or counting them all.

“Thank you my friend, thank you my friend, thank you my friend.”

Michael let go of my hand, stood straight up and opened his arms and stepped closer to me. I did the same in return. There, on his tiny spot of comfort so close to mine, I was embraced with Michael.

Townes in my ears, “It’s a long way down the harlan road, busted back and a heavy load, won’t get through to save my soul, early in the morning.”

I told Michael to take care of himself as we broke our embrace. He nodded.

“Thank you Jonathan, my friend, thank you Jonathan.”

“Take care of yourself Michael, take care of yourself Michael, thank you Michael.”

I then continued walking back home. I could still hear him as I was walking my way and he was walking his.

“I will, I will. That’s my friend Jonathan, that’s my friend Jonathan.”

Townes in my ears, “I’ve always been a gambling man, I’ve rolled them bones with either hand, seven is the promised land, early in the morning.”