Remember that fateful morning? Yes, you know the one. You awoke heavy eyed and queasy, wearing the same pair of filthy blue jeans frayed and stained with excrement. Oh, Henry Hulligan, her little hooligan, how your head did ache!
Where were you? You didn’t know. Sitting upon a park bench where strangers judged your carelessness, you leaned over the armrest, half-awake and hungover, and vomited the previous day’s poison into a neighboring ant pile. As you wiped the dripping strings of bile from your beard, you tried to recollect the events of the previous night, but they only came in vague flashes of doped-up memories. What glory…
The day was young, but the junk still surged through your veins. Oh, the vacuous possession of the whore! How she begged for you to prick her tongue inside your blood and poison deep until you wasted away to nothing. Her appetite never fulfilled, she always begged for more.
A grazing class of young future scholars pointed and laughed as you released your bile. Some of the girls covered their eyes and squealed in disgust. Who did you see in that group of students? It was your own daughter—blonde haired and blue eyed like her mother. She was laughing the loudest. In your sickened state, you rose to your feet and, like a zombie, stumbled toward her. She screamed as you embraced her, kissed her, and told her how sorry you were and that you loved her so much. Soon the judging strangers surrounded you, and you felt like a kicked puppy as you fell to your knees and cowered. Sweet Henry, that was not your daughter but a scared black child on a field trip to the park. Blame the whore, Henry! She gripped your mind! You were covered in your own piss and shit, yet she still came first.
You ran away, as you often do; through the park and to the city, you went to find your spot of beggary. Walk those streets, weary traveler! Only God knows what signs await you!
Did you know that you were employed? Doubtful. A corporate star would shine if he saw the way you and your friends devised shifts, cuts, and various other rules of operation for beggary. Not a minute after Little Pete punched his time card to leave the corner of Sixth and Red River, entered you, Mr. Hulligan, eager to take your shift. The sign you carried that day was so bleak and soggy that you could hardly make out the fictitious scribbles drawn upon it. Were you the patriot whose acts of honor and bravery forever scorned you with a limp? How silly you looked limping from car to car, deceitful Henry. Was it not just the day before that you were the newly fired man with two kids and a wife to feed? Or were you a diabetic about to lose your foot? You savage Christian! You fundraising firefighter! You institutionalized madman!
In the heart of that disgusting city, blending in so perfectly, stood you on your median, walking up and down the line of cars stopped at the light, waving to each one and attempting eye contact to pluck their heartstrings. The sky was now filled with clouds, leaving a gray and overcast look upon everything. Your favorite liquor was just across the street, and how badly your mouth smacked and stuck with dryness as you wished that just maybe you could get enough money to buy your junk and a case of beer. The teenagers stopped with their hands out the window, holding a crinkled dollar. Inside the car, the group of young rebels stifled laughs as they tried their best to look sincere. How your heart fluttered at the sight—that small piece of your beloved whore. If I remember correctly, it was your first dollar of the day, wasn’t it? All the money to your name was the 96 cents in your pocket, and now, in a moment, it doubled! You bowed your head and, with a muffled thank you, went to grab the dollar. He jerked it away and instead spat into your face. How the spit dripped in strings from your nose and chin as you stood too astonished to retaliate. The aroma of his breath, so powerful in the saliva, nearly made you vomit. They released their suppressed laughter and waved the dollar back in front of your face. You took it, desperate Henry! Henry the whore, who charges a dollar to spit on him. Where was your dignity, Henry? Was it in the sewer with the last needle that had entered your arm? You promised yourself then and there that this dollar you had earned would serve a purpose! You abandoned your shift early to find this purpose. Remember how the clouds seemed to part just as you walked away? How that clear blue sky greeted your new attitude? Walk on, poor Henry! Find your fortune!
And there she came like fate often does. Tucked beneath a light pole on a nearby intersection was a cardboard sign that addressed you so casually—“The Hooligan’s Plumbing Service – Needs Experienced Plumbers”—and displayed its contact information. Oh, weary traveler, how your heart lifted for the first time in months! You were a plumber for twenty-five years before the whore stole your heart. You philosopher, how through these years you’ve reached for that second chance, and now it comes not in a needle, nor the bones of a broken teenager, but in the form of a cardboard sign! The twinkle in your eye went so preciously with that smile, Handsome Henry. That spiteful dollar was quickly eaten by the pay phone, and you dialed the number to your future.
“Hooligan’s Plumbing Service, how may I help?”
You cleared your throat and nearly forgot how to speak properly and professionally. Your voice had grown so hoarse over those last few years, poor Henry. You used to sing sweet lullabies to your child in your smooth, golden voice and rock her in your scarless arms while staring peacefully into her eyes. Damn that whore! That wretched witch! How she stole that precious baby from you. Yes! Remember this now, and keep it close. Throw it into the fire fueled a mile high by your sins.
“I am looking for a job. I saw a sign and thought I’d give you a call.”
“What’s your name? Do you have any experience?”
“The name is Henry Hulligan, sir, and I have twenty-five years of experience. Done it all.”
“Shoot, we’re in a real bind here. Need some workers really bad. Say, if you’ve got the time, I’d like to do an interview. What’s the soonest you can come in?”
“Today at five sound good?”
“That sounds great. Henry Hulligan, was it?”
You looked so young as you scribbled the address on a page torn from a phone book. That boyish smile hadn’t appeared in years, although it only lasted as long as the phone conversation, for as soon as you hung up, the smell of bile, sweat, and excrement lifted from your clothes. What in God’s name would you wear? With only pennies to your name and five hours until the interview, where would you get clothes? You almost gave up, didn’t you?
In the midafternoon bloom of the early summer, you caught her standing there, so tender and incomplete, scavenging those awful streets for a fix. Her glowing skin encased in a halo of sunlight, she paced with her head to the ground and her hands on her hips. You nearly turned away from your beautiful Cynthia, didn’t you, Bashful Henry? You knew she lost her father to the Earth and how great the need grew for you to take his place. She loved you, you fool. Even though you were that wretched soul, she saw what once was in you and knew that, somewhere, it was still there. And even though you had no home, she felt your chest was hers.
“You hooligan! How awful could today become?” Sweet young Cynthia said, her short black hair covering her brown eyes as it blew wildly in the wind.
“I need clothes, Cynthia. I need money too. How much have you made today?”
“You never even told me how pretty I am, you brute. How pretty am I, Henry? Tell me please.”
She was young, you knew this. Her mind hadn’t yet formed that shell that protected her insecurities. You were that shell. How you knew this and used it to your advantage. Poor young Cynthia used by her own foster father!
Cars honked to your sweet Cynthia as they passed; her short jean shorts, which barely covered her bottom, drove men wild from miles away. She worked this corner with a broken sign every day…just this very spot in front of the Motel 6 where her clients often took her. She was only sixteen…
“I’m sorry. You’re beautiful…more beautiful than any whore I’ve ever known.”
“Don’t call me that. That’s such a nasty word. I’m not a whore; I’m a survival expert.”
“Well, then you’re the sexiest survival expert I’ve ever known. Now have you made any money or what?”
“Would you like my money, Henry? Take all I have, and my body too. Take my heart, and bring it with you! Take everything, why don’t you? Leave my bones here in the gutter where they may get a wash from all the cars that speed on by. All for you, Henry! Take it! Oh, oh. Just take it!” And then she began to cry for you, Savage Henry. She wept not because you used her, but because she loved the way you did it.
“I’m such a nasty girl, Henry. What would my father say?”
“I need the money, Cynthia. It’s for a job interview.”
“A job interview?” And like a woman, her sobs turned to joy instantaneously. “What for?”
“Don’t get all excited. I need some clothes first. I’m going to get that job, Cynthia, and I’m going to get clean. All for you.”
“Go on, my Henry! Don’t stop.”
“I’m going to buy us a house, and we’re gonna have kids, and you ain’t gonna have to work no more, and I’m gonna buy you whatever you want, and at night when I come home you’re gonna be waiting for me with our twelve kids, and we’ll all be happy.”
“I love it! When is the interview?”
“Today at five. Do you have any money?”
“No, sweet Henry. I’m so sorry! I haven’t had a client today!”
And that was all you needed to hear, for not even five seconds later you were back on the hunt. You nearly returned to your corner, didn’t you? But you refused. Dignity held a spark in your stomach, and if only for a moment you tried your best to feed it. You hadn’t a clue where you were going, but fate guided you this morning, and a feeling in your gut told you to keep following it. So you moved through those filthy streets looking for another sign!
“You look awfully familiar,” came a voice, and you nearly ignored it. You stopped and turned to find an elderly man sitting outside a café sipping on a cup of coffee. His bald head shined in the sun, and as he smiled, he revealed a set of teeth so white you could see your reflection in them. In the act of putting down his newspaper, he slowly rose from his seat and walked towards you furrowing his brow in a confused and inquisitive stare.
“Yes, Yes. I know where I have seen you. You are the beggar down the street. I have studied you, you know. I watch where you and your friends come from when you switch places. Quite the operation you have going. I’m impressed.”
“Don’t stand so stupid, beggar! You look like a dog. My name is Bill.” How strange this man was to you as he extended his hand in friendship. Could a common man treat you as an equal? You shook his hand, and with trepidation you sat beside him when he offered you a seat. “Sit! I am an old lonely man. I could use a chat. It’d be a pleasure.”
“I have a question for you.”
“Money?” he said as he picked up his cup of coffee, “You want money. I will not give you money. I see those marks on your arm, and they tell me one thing. Money to you is poison. Money is just as bad as that junk in your veins. I won’t give you a cent. But I will buy you a meal. How does that sound?”
“What time is it?”
“One O’clock, why?”
“I have a job interview for a plumber at five. This is my chance. I need clothes. I need money.”
“You devil! A job interview? Amazing! You’ve seized it. What a pleasure!”
He took a sip of his coffee and sat quiet for what seemed to you like an eternity. “Opportunity. Why it swarms in the air. I swear that as I get older I see entire generations piss away opportunity. They spend their days glued to those damned phones and when their life passes and they find themselves ankle deep in debt, then the real finger pointing begins! When I was a boy we worked. Whether it was building skyscrapers, paving roads, or cleaning sewers, we worked. And we loved it, Goddamnit. You know why? Because we grew up surrounded by filth. Absolute filth! We didn’t pretend like this filth didn’t exist. We didn’t waste our efforts distracting ourselves away from it. No. We saw this filth and yearned for something more! It was stressful, yes, but stress is good for the soul, beggar. Don’t get me wrong, too much of it and it can break you, but just enough of it will make a man of you. Do you know what I mean? Life moves in a way that requires ambition. You don’t have that and the cogs’ll get stuck.”
Oh, Billy, that philosopher! How you sipped his words like a fine wine. He was a sweet old man, wasn’t he? Selfless and wise. He bought you a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich with a coffee, and you two sat in silence as you gulped it down. The whore was lost somewhere, and you enjoyed every minute of her remission. You even dared to chuckle once in the conversation.
“I tell you what, beggar. I’ll go against my instinct and give you something to buy some clothes with. Only if you promise me you won’t buy any junk.”
You nodded your head, and for a moment you believed your promise. From within his wallet he pulled out a fifty dollar bill and handed it to you with such an innocent smile. As your fingers touched that poisonous paper, the whore sang straight into your heart. Broken Henry, how you wished you could control it! Inside you screamed to walk away. You parted with your friend, telling yourself you were off to buy some clothes.
Not even ten minutes later were you walking away from the café and heading towards the corner where Marcellus worked.
Remember sweet Cynthia when you were but a child? How your mother left you and your father with nothing but a note? Your father never said a word. Only packed your things and onward you went in a trailer to discover the world. Those days you remember so fondly, don’t you? Remember the first time you saw a mountain? You were so confused that you turned to your father and warned him of an oncoming thunderstorm. He laughed his hearty laugh, then patted you on your shoulder and told you those were not clouds, but mountains. Your eyes filled your face because you couldn’t believe how they commanded the sky! Take these thoughts, sweet Cynthia, and fill your head with them. For the final image of your father dying in the desert, the sand blowing and burying his corpse, is not the image which defines him! It was not your fault, innocent Cynthia.
You just couldn’t wait for Henry to find you. Being so excited about his interview and those promises he made, you decided to wait outside of the office. At four your heart pounded in your tiny chest, and you dreamed tender pictures of Henry returning to you clean and alive. In those dreams he didn’t make love to you in an alley-way or in the restrooms of a movie-theater, but in a bed surrounded by candles. And he didn’t grunt and groan his poetic songs of love, but whispered his lines sweetly into your ear. How you played with your belly-button as you toyed with the idea of it protruding far from your pelvis, and how you and your love would sit across a fire in each other’s arms arguing of names, and sex, and future occupations, and whose eyes it would have. Those pleasant thoughts drifted away when at 5:00, Henry was nowhere to be found.
You escaped a life of duties to be alone and “free”. What did you think you’d find, dear Henry? What malevolent force were you searching for? Often you preached of independence, but everybody laughed when you turned away. You joke. You fool. You preaching imbecile. How she loved you in the most peculiar way…
You found your whore and now she surged throughout your veins. In the darkness of the night you sat, drifting, reaching, drooling, against a grime-infested brick wall. The stars, blank and nowhere to be found, were drowning in the light of a full moon. You took too much, you fool. Your eyes were half open as you struggled to stay awake. And then off you went to another realm. Oh weary traveler, what did you dream? It must have been fantastic, because you never woke.
You searched effortlessly in the rain, crying out to empty ears. Standing soaked across the street from the alley where you first met him, you felt so scared at what you might find. You couldn’t help but feel that you were being swallowed as you entered that dark alley. And there he was, so pale and dull, staring amazed to the full moon. You screamed and took his cold hands into yours, kissing his fingers and trying your best to not think of your father...
“What happened, my little hooligan? Please, sweetheart, wake up! Tell me how pretty I am, darling. Please sweetheart. Am I beautiful?”