1: Rainbow Kid
I suppose this is as good of an introduction as any other. I am walking from downtown. I am walking from a day of walking. From a day of coffee and a day of thinking—where, of course, thinking is too strong a word. It’s more of a day of considering and observing. But mostly it’s been a day of waiting. I’m leaving downtown, passing to the left of central campus. I’m on my way to somewhere else. I’m expecting a phone call.
A kid shuffles out of the shadows. He looks at the sky sincerely puzzled and relentlessly confused. He asks “where’s the rainbow?” It’s a fair question. It’s been drizzling or raining all day. I don’t want to be impolite, but I don’t know how to respond. I smile and gesture. I am surprised with the subtleness of that gesture. I am noncommittally expressing camaraderie with a lost leprechaun.
He doesn’t react. He doesn’t budge nor flinch. Mist settles over his eyes as he continues to scan the sky for the missing rainbow. I continue through central campus, through the medical campus and then…
2: The Arb
I’m at the Arb. It’s a quarter till five. It’s not as warm as it ought to be but, in hindsight, it’s not as cold as it would get. There’s that undefinable odor in the air. Wet wood chips and leaves. Newly blossoming flowers and that thick densely sweet powder that reminds me of black women that I can tell are black even when bundled up head to toe in deepest winter. I once followed that scent down the block and into a grocery store so I could prove to myself that I was indeed capable of smelling ethnicity.
That is what the day is like. I have been chasing specters of comfort. I have been following the cold sun and the aroma of the familiar. It leads me here to the Arb, to the musk of decay and the screaming scents of birth.
And I wait. I consciously wait. As I wait I think bitterly of Bukowski. Bukowski and his “No Help for That.” There is a place, Charlie, and it is here, at a rubberized table, at the Arb, on a Thursday, with no wine. I am dressed in sandals and my feet are cold, but it’s good to be off them. I try to see what the sun sees, but I am in shadow.
There is a path down to my right that is bounded by obscenely square peony beds. It will eventually curve into something more organic. It will curve and snake through memories of Sally and coffee. A memory of raw sewage leaking from a conduit. And the decision to turn the other way. I only saw her once more after that. I look away.
An offshoot of that path, a year later, is a bench overlooking a hollow where I wished I had marijuana as I refined the bus story. I can’t tell which is worse. I look away. I stare at the entrance sign and I wonder if it says anything about bikes. I stare at the trash cans and wonder if I have the strength to even to that far down the path to dump my butts. I look away.
3. The Table
The table top is quilted with fine strands of rubbery plastic. It reminds me of spiderwebs and woodgrain, of packing material and dirt roads. Its beige, or tan, or a similar color that I’m told guys always have a hard time discerning. Its the color of this pen tip. It’s a fine weaving of silky strands and pits and it feels like corrugated cardboard, but rougher, deeper. I don’t understand it anymore than I understand flesh.
My goal is to wait for the phone to ring. To have a distraction from waiting for the phone to ring. It doesn’t occur to me how bizarre that goal is. I wait for the thing to happen to take my mind off it not happening. I stare at my phone. I pretend it is to check the time—it’s almost five—but it’s actually to see if I had somehow missed a call.
As I wait I attempt to balance my phone on its short edge on the rough table top. It takes a while. The phone’s bottom is curved, and the table is uneven. I eventually get it to stand. The trick is to get the curve of the phone into a pit on the table. The theory behind this endeavor is that when a call comes in the phone will vibrate and fall from its uncertain balance. I have a smoke while I wait for the fall.
That proud phone stands steady in its commitment. Unyielding and unfailing—even against the cold wind, even against my harsh stare. It’s toying with me—confident and cocky. It’s a game of patience and stamina. Relentlessly refusing to budge. I shiver and I wish and I hope for even a wrong number. I have even stacked the deck in my favor. I eventually loose. My patience gone. My pride burnt out. I slowly stand on uncertain legs and unceremoniously shove the phone into my pocket.
It’s after six. I’m walking back from the Arb to downtown Ann Arbor. At Rainbow Corner another young street kid approaches me. He asks to use my phone to report a crime.
I’m weary. I have lost enough already.
I size him up—young, but tattered. “I tried to use the emergency call box,” he points toward campus, “but it didn’t work.”
I wonder if I could out run this kid, half my age, in my sandals with my messenger bag dragging me down. If I’m quick enough I can trip him.
He says his girlfriend was almost raped.
I hand him my phone. Because I’m concerned. Because I like to err on the side of caution. Because if something bad did go down he should report it. But mostly because it will be the most action my phone has seen all day. He takes it, turns, and briskly walks away. I stay close.
I dread having the cops call me back. I dread having to explain I have no idea what’s going on. I wonder if 911 is advanced enough yet to go to the nearest routing center instead of Dallas where I’m from.
A young girl at a nearby table thanks me, “that’s very kind of you.”
He dials three digits. “I want to report a crime. My 16 year old girlfriend was almost raped. Yes. At the apartments near Thayer. Yes. This guy tried to rape her. Thayer. Thanks.”
He gives back my phone. Thanks me and turns back. I continue to the coffee shop.
I can’t concentrate on my work. I am amazed that the call went so smoothly. I wonder how the campus emergency phone is not working. Did the call actually connect to Ann Arbor’s 911 call center? I check my outgoing call log.
He didn’t make a call.
I’m at the busstop. It’s almost seven. No-one has gotten back to me yet. On the ground are three Uno cards. Two eights and one face down. I check the bus schedule, I have 20 minutes until the next bus.
The cards have me crazy with curiosity. I have to know what that third card is. I either wonder if, or hope that, it’s another eight. But mostly I need to know. I want to prove that it is in fact a third eight. As if that would lend some meaning to the day. As if everything would click into place with the reveal.
But I’m terrified that it’s not. And what if it’s not? What if it’s a five or a four or a reverse? I am frozen between my desire to know and my need to turn the other way. I don’t know what to do. So I stand there, eyeing the three cards. Perhaps hoping for a strong wind gust, or for someone to wander by with the answer. The homeless guy on the bench in turn eyes me with suspicion. He has a long white beard. But I need to know and need to not know what that facedown card is.
I flip it over with my cold sandled feet. It takes longer than I think it should. I stumble, almost loose balance, but I eventually flip it over. It’s a wild card. There’s your rainbow, kid.
[Is it over? Should I continue? Lead into other stories of the day?]
//such as the email I wrote?
//Solidified spider webs
//later in the day a streetkid pretends to use my phone. I had let him because it was the most use it would get. but…be doesn’t even place a call.
The phone stands steady in its pride. Unyielding and unfailing—even against the cold wind, even against my harsh stare.