Drugstore Cowboy

I met your father on a Saturday night in the middle of the road. He said he appreciated me coming out to talk with him. I said it was no big deal. When I coaxed him back to the sidewalk outside the coffee shop that we had exited minutes before, he pressed his forehead to the coffee shop’s glass window and flipped off the young employee behind the counter inside. He said, That fucking cock-sucker. I told your father not to worry about him. He’s just some kid making eight bucks an hour. The moisture from your father’s breath spread for an instant like a yellow rose. Then disappeared.

A few minutes before, I was inside, sitting with my friends on the leather couches playing cards, and your father sat down at a table across from us. He was eating a bagel. He started smoking and the employee came over and told him to put it out. Your father dropped the cigarette in an empty coffee cup. Then the employee said, You’re eighty-sixed man. You have to go now. I remember someone saying, I’ll kick your fucking ass, but I don’t remember if it was the young employee with the fuzzy moustache or your father with his muddied boots and blue jeans and a white pull over. Maybe they both said it. I told your father that we should go outside and smoke a cigarette together. That’s how I met him.

Your father said that when he was young he used to come to this coffee shop, but it wasn’t a coffee shop then. It was a drugstore. He asked me if I’d seen Drugstore Cowboy. He said the movie was filmed right here, and he pointed at the drugstore that’s now a coffee shop and then flipped off the employee inside. He said, That mother fucker. He asked me where I was from. He said that when he was kid he saw a guy’s brains get splattered at this cross walk. The guy was walking across the street and a car came and pow. He said he saw his brains get splattered.

I asked your father what he did for a living. He shook his head and said he used to make a hundred and fifty-thousand a year, seventy-five taxable income. He asked me where I was from and said he really appreciated me coming out here and saying hey. He asked me if I wanted a cigarette.

He said, The Portland music scene, let me tell you, it is happening. You are right in the fucking middle of it. He asked me where I was from. He said he really appreciated me coming out here to talk with him. He asked me what I did. I said I went to school, worked at a church. He asked me if I was Mormon. I said I wasn’t. He said, My ex-wife is Mormon. I have four kids. Here let me show you. He pulled out his wallet and set down two pictures side by side.

Your father said he had four kids and he didn’t care if you were straight or gay or whatever. He asked me if I was gay and I said no I wasn’t and he said, Because I’d still talk with you if you were. He said his oldest daughter was dating a girl. And his oldest boy played the guitar. He said the Portland music scene is the place to be. That his son’s band would be playing after the opening band next week. I asked your father if he went to your concerts. He said he tried to make most of them. He said that you’re six foot nine and play the guitar. I asked him if you played basketball. He said, Shit, no. Shit. No he didn’t. He said you used to wear a shirt that said, “I Don’t Play Basketball”.

He said he got lit tonight. He said he appreciated me coming out to talk with him. He said that when he was a kid he saw a guy’s brains get splattered right here on this street. And for the first time that night your father was quiet. He looked at the ground. Around us drunk girls were stumbling home as the bars were closing. Some were smoking outside and talking on their cell phones. Inside the coffee shop my friends were sitting in the couches and sometimes I could hear them laughing through the glass. I thought your father was going to cry the way he was looking at the ground all silent. When he lifted his head he pointed across the street at a bar and said there’s lots of fresh pussy over there.

I’m sorry your father is an alcoholic. I’m sorry if he was never around. I’m sorry you couldn’t be there the night I met him to see how much he loved you and how much he was sorry. Sometimes when you return to the pain you can start to heal. Like returning to scene of an accident just to be sure that the man’s brains aren’t still splattered on the pavement, that the bloodstains are washed away, that the street is safe to cross.

Sometimes it isn’t safe at all.

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