There’s this guy who all too often sits on the step (or “stoop” for those of you who insist on using a word that makes me shiver, and not in a good way) just outside the double doors of my building. He’s always hunched over, knees close to his chest, smoking a cigarette, squinting into the sun even when it’s cloudy. Only once or twice have I seen him do anything else, and even then — when he’s struggling to get his bike down the stairs — he still appears to be stuck in that same posture and still reeks of cigarettes he’s already smoked and those he plans to.
He’s one of these people whose age is difficult to determine, due to what appears to be a lifetime of what others refer to as “hard living” when they don’t want to come right out and say, “The guy’s a boozing junkie whore.” I think he lives in my building or is “shacking up with” (nice-speak for “blowing in lieu of paying rent”) the one tenant in this building (the oddly noisy one) I would sacrifice to spontaneous combustion if only I were offered the opportunity. If I had to guess (and oh, I have to!), I’d say he’s anywhere from 55 to 65. He resembles Popeye. A decrepit, suspected semi-toothless, unshaven Popeye who developed an aversion to spinach, but Popeye nonetheless. When he looks up at me, squinting into the sunshine of my face, one eye always seems more shut than the other and his lower jaw juts out as if he is mid-cud-chew, thus rendering his appearance even more Popeyean.
He’s always pleasant and always says hello. Yet I dread seeing him. And when I see him as I approach — either from the stairs inside the building, where I can see him through the two sets of glass double doors leading outside (or inside! it all depends on your perspective! P.S. THE GLASS IS HALF EMPTY AND ALSO HAS A CRACK AROUND THE RIM, SO BE CAREFUL!), or from down the block, when I’m coming home from the gym — I think, “Oh god no. Why is he always there? Why? I don’t want to have to say hello. I don’t want to have to say hello. I don’t want to have to say hello.”
Still, I walk the plank, brace myself, and take a deep breath, knowing I’ll have to hold it when he opens his mouth to offer a croaky, cigarette-stink greeting. And then I exhale my own “hello”, enter the building, and somehow still live to tell about it.