What about you, Virge? Bush or Kerry?
Virge draws up and squints at the utility pole, figgering. “The Pres’nt got to do what the Pres’nt got to do. Ain’t none my bidnet. Who’m I ta know what he got to do? But I’ll tell you what: y’don’t cross streams in the middle of a horse. N’ass a fack.”
We’re at the all-night corner store, meet-up place for the homeless, the mentally ill, the professors who “can’t sleep,” tattooed Goths with portfolios, drunks that best not walk into the house without a few cups of coffee on their breath. And cops looking for coffee, cokes, donuts and, of course, conversation. All of it free as speech.
It’s two in the morning, time to waste the day’s cold sandwiches. Feeding time. Interesting that in this neighborhood the criminals, the insane, the sleepless, homeless and hungry don’t vanish when the cops walk in. They appear to be friends. Friendly, at least. Respectful.
At this hour of the night there are no Democrats. “‘Kin Kerry, I’ll you what,” says Long John, lives on public aid in the high-rise behind the store, lost his legs 20 years ago and never talks about it, “I knowed rich boys, I met rich boys, fought alongside rich boys and rich boys,” he pauses now to slurp hours-old coffee. “Ahhh… rather fight alongside a two-hunnerd pown sack of broke up snapper eggs than fight alongside a rich boy.”
He receives amen from the mob of munching loafers. “Man don’t pay no taxes neither, what I heard,” says Lequat, the cop. “You think a rich guy’s paying his taxes? Uh uh. You and me, buddy. You. And me.” He takes his purchases to the counter to be waved away, then adds: “Well, maybe not you. But we do.” He’s talking about me. “You guys have a peaceful evening.”
Arlin the drunk shouts HEY! Lequat turns. “You be careful out there, Louie.” Everybody laughs, a gentle laugh with no insincerity, no sarcasm. In time it becomes clear they all went to high school together, even though they might be decades apart. They were not stellar performers, but average. Some did good but not well, others did bad but made good for awhile, then bust — but they’ll be back up on top, they’re big shots at heart. Some, in fact, at this hour, most have done time, either in prisons or hospitals or the streets of this Illinois town late at night.
Here, in this town, no one is poor, but blessed, at peace with who they are, grateful for what they have; they are change counters, and on the day before pay day, change is all they’ve got left. The register overflows with semi-precious metals. Friday nights they all spend something: “maybe a cupachino from out a the cupachino machine,” or maybe the six dollar jerky.
By three a.m. they’re all gone but the homeless, and the conversation turns to the strange state of the union. They whisper. They’re worried about what’s going to happen next. They’re worried about November, but they’re more concerned about September, which is when the nights get cold.
Lots of people are afraid to speak out or criticize The President in any way whatsoever. Everybody lately seems to feel this way. And out here you’re either with us or against us. Turns out to be good incentive.