Have you ever met someone and realized they are a living work of art, honed to their specific purpose in such a way that you will never forget them? I hope you have, they are great to keep in mind when you’re writing.
I was fortunate enough in my youth to live on the street, and that isn’t exactly a joke. I mean, sure it sucked, hunger and illness and all that. I wasn’t even there for “the usual” reason of addiction (those quotes are a discussion for a different day), it was a combination of religion, lack of a supportive family, and getting stranded in another state. It was a harsh situation, but I was young, and I ended up in a variety of situations that will provide endless stories and insights into the lesser seen aspects of society.
Like the cat burglar. I doubt I’ll forget him.
I thought of him the other day, when one of those sudden and completely irrelevant and useless type revelations struck me. I realized I was surrounded by police at a party with a possible cat burglar, who may or may not have been laying low for a bit. He must have been shitting his pants. I mean, we all were, because we were high as a kite and surrounded by police, their commissioner, and the mayor of New Orleans. But I bet he was really feeling it.
If you don’t want to year about that particular party, you’re dead inside, but no worries because I already told it right over here, so go take a look when you like. For now, you probably want to know more about the possible cat burglar.
Our little crew was a little different from most of the gutter punks and street hippies around us. We were a collection of street pagans, I was the wandering nature loving mystic and my ex was one of those shock value ceremonialist teenage punks, the equivalent of a republican and a democrat getting married at times. Wingnut was Wingnut, but the point is that all day long we babbled about the nature of the universe like street philosophers, with occasional interjections of Rocky Horror quotes.
This guy Ducky though, I don’t know what he thought about anything. I don’t know if he believed in the occult (I like to dance from one side to the other myself in an eternal self debate between science and mystery), I don’t know if he ever saw Rocky Horror, I don’t know if he was fond of the 80s songs we would sing to keep our spirits up, or much about him at all. I only remember him speaking once, in this story. I was never sure if he was smiling to laugh at our jokes or to laugh at us.
Ducky was not just quiet. He turned quiet into an art form. We found this out one morning when we woke up in our squat, an abandoned play theater in pre-Katrina New Orleans. This was not the typical squat, rat filled and punk defiled, covered in filth you don’t want to imagine. There were some areas of such, behind the concession stand and in the halls leading to the bathroom. The bathroom itself, one of us wandered in and immediately back out and warned us not to go there, we believed him.
The rest of the place, the auditorium with its red velvet seats and the stage still framed by red sliding curtains, was near pristine, save for a layer of dust. It was admired, special. A small place of beauty that those who live on the street seldom get to enjoy. The centerpiece was a giant chandelier, with real crystal adornments, not cheap plastic.
I know that because one morning Wingnut woke up to glance over and see Ducky sliding up a grappling hook going from the banister to the chandelier, making not a single sound as he gently pried off a couple of pieces and slipped them into his pocket, then returned to the banister and unhooked his shady rope of thievery and returned it to a backpack probably holding abundant pilfered treasure.
Wingnut notified us by waking us up to cries of “HOlyShiT!!!” as he ran over, and we jumped up in a panic, rushing over to find a bashful Ducky, who smiled as he proved Wingnut’s story by pulling out the two pieces and clinking them together.
I looked at him and (here it comes, he’s about to speak) pointed out he was pretty short for a guy. Understandably defensive, he said, “Yeah, so?” to which I replied, “The perfect size to crawl into a window.”
He just smiled. Just smiled and said not another word.
Oh, it all fit together then. The navy clothes that looked like a generic work uniform, able to pass off as a janitor, meter reader, delivery man. The stocking cap was the kind that could be hiding a mask when it was rolled up the way it was, his unassuming manner that wouldn’t draw attention to himself, his desire to quietly follow people more attention grabbing than he was, people who might distract from his presence. Hands to his sides, no flamboyant gestures, never saying anything that would cause him to stick in your mind.
And he clarified nothing. Nor did we ask, it’s not polite to ask questions to people who live on the street. So many people have someone looking for them, questions cause suspicion you might be a private investigator sent by their family, or even a narc. Besides, we knew the kinds of histories people might have when the sidewalk is their pillow. It’s just plain rude to bring up painful pasts as a topic of casual conversation.
But oh, man, the fuel for my imagination to go wild. As I grew older, the possibilities grew a little darker, not everyone who climbs into windows is a loveable type guy. He seemed okay, harmless, but by now I’ve learned how deceptive that can be. Still, I will always admire how he turned being a wallflower into an art form to serve his own purposes. After my little revelation, I’m also amazed at how well he kept his cool when faced with a largish gathering of the local police force.
I mean, wow. He needs to write a book on deep breathing techniques or something. Who have you met, who seems so perfect it’s like they walked out of the pages of a novel?