Tom the vet (january 2019)

he’s standing near the subway entrance
at 44th and 8th
a thin white man
medium height with bright eyes
dressed in slightly worn blue jeans
and a nice striped shirt
that he’s had on
for a few too many days

he’s underdressed for the mild winter day
holding a 5 by 8 piece of lined white paper
wants money no doubt
seems to be in his 30s
but you never can tell

he says his name is Tom and is a vet
i’m thinkin’ iraq war

as he speaks i notice his bad teeth
misaligned with maybe one missing
not quite the british look
more west virginia

he runs his script
like a ball rolling down a hill
bumping along
haltingly picking up steam

he occasionally points to the paper
which has letters and numbers
in several sizes shapes colors
and handwritten fonts

he lives in a vet shelter in new jersey
can stay there as long as he’s workin’
just lost his job
went to the city for a couple of interviews
thinks he maybe landed a gig in brooklyn
gotta get back to the shelter now

he says he got MS
from his mom
who had it before him
the disease usually skips
a generation
but didn’t in his case

he likes this corner we’re on
it’s as far from port authority as he can handle
but a straight shot down 8th avenue
to get back there

it’ll cost him twenty nine fifty to get home
nineteen fifty for one bus, ten dollars for another
he shows this to me
on the piece of paper
written proof

i hand him thirty bucks
his face lights up like a kid
who just got a case of candy

he asks where he can get
something cheap to eat
i point down 44th toward 9th
there’s a pizza place
right off the corner

he hesitates
says i don’t want to
lose this corner
i say it’s one block there
and one block back

as he slowly walks away
i notice his limp

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Where There’s Smoke continued…

Trinidad February 1978

The scene at the gate was chaotic to say the least. The combination of a snowstorm and an excessive amount of oversized luggage had delayed our flight by several hours. Babies were crying, then eating, then crying again. Older children were running around every which way. Adult family members seemed to be debating who among them was going to make the trip. There wasn’t even a semblance of security.

Had we known it was going to be like this, we wouldn’t have left the Thai sticks at home. But all was forgotten when we landed in Port of Spain and bounded down the mobile stairway, winter coats in hand, to the steamy tarmac under the blinding sun.
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Where There’s Smoke

United Kingdom October 1976

In those days, the cultural difference between Americans and Europeans was expressed in what are now called “delivery systems.” In the US we rolled up bud into joints. In Europe they mixed hashish with tobacco. I’d quit smoking cigarettes some years before. So when I made my first foray across the pond, I was prepared to make some exceptions. As they say, when in Rome.

In my case, London. My British friends had access to both of the common varieties: powdery tan Paki and gummy black Afghani. The Paki was smoother, the Afghani more potent. Mixed with their flavored loose tobacco, I found both to be somewhat nauseating. But that didn’t stop me from smoking. The things we put up with to get high.
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