Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Handsome Man

Here's another one from my archives, originally written during my second semester at the University of Baltimore. Again, I've edited it to better reflect my current writing style.

I
’m used to dealing with weirdos. The Pennington Hotel down in the deep south of Baltimore is full of ‘em. I call it a three-quarters house cuz although we don’t get no state funding most of the residents are stuck here on their trip from whatever halfway house they come from and the real thing. I doubt any of ‘em will ever be ready for the real thing, being able to keep a full apartment, much less a house. No, most of these weirdos will always be teetering between here and back in the same jail or crazy house they came from, except for Andy. Nothing weird about Andy, at all.

His name is actually Andres, some Porta Reekin version of Andrew, but he likes Andy just fine. He’s tall and thin—some might say lanky—with a face that looks like it’s carved from rock, like those big old heads from Easter Island. A handsome man. Not that I’m gay or nothing. He’s just so different from the freaks that usually live here that he really stands out.

The lady comes first. I worry when I see her. She’s very attractive, something you don’t see here. The few ladies that have stayed here were all kinds of butch and burly and could handle themselves with all these men. This lady looks like she had class and maybe money, so I figure she’s a whore at first. We get them too, but I can’t have no pretty, classy whores here. That would attract attention, and people living here don’t usually want attention. I’m about to suggest a different rooming house when she explains that she wants to rent a room for a friend that was coming out of prison in a few days. She gives me a few weeks rent and a security deposit. She warns me that he’s a might sickly, asks me to keep an eye out for him.

I’ve got no problem with that being as I try to keep an eye on all these fools living at The Penn. One more won’t hurt, right? With that, she leaves me her name, Maria—a pretty Spanish name for a pretty Spanish lady—and a number to call if there’s an emergency, and she’s gone as quick as she came.

Andy doesn’t show up for a few days. I’m standing outside, under the awning, watching the rain come down hard on Pennington Avenue—nothing like watching Baltimore getting drenched on a hot August day. I see a car drive up. Pennington dead-ends here at The Penn, so most folks driving all the way up are headed here. That lady, Maria, might be driving, but I can’t really tell with the rain and all. Anyway, she doesn’t get out. But I see this handsome man hop out, reach in the back seat for a couple duffels, and walk towards me as the car speeds off.

I’m taken aback as he gets closer. He’s taller than me—maybe five-ten—and dark like he’s American Indian or maybe Creole. He’s got the neatest beard I’ve ever seen, trimmed in perfect strips down along his face, across his chin and up to meet his neat little mustache—nothing like the shaggy biker beards you normally see here. “Can you take me to the manager?” he asks, snapping me out of the kinda trance I was in.

I introduce myself, and he tells me who he is, tells me there should be a room here for him. I’d prepared a room for him cuz I figured he’d show up any day, and I wanted to make sure he got one of the rooms fitted for handicapped or older folks being as he’s supposed to be sick and all. Granted, he doesn’t seem sick by the looks of him. I tell him to follow me. Inside, everybody notices him. He’s pretty cool about it, too, giving everyone there a nod.

Upstairs, I show him around. Not much to show, really—just the bed with a nightstand and the bathroom. I tell him that most of the others eat elsewhere, but that if he wants he can get a hotplate. He thanks me all cordial-like offering his hand to shake before I walk off.

He doesn’t spend much time in the rec room watching t.v. or playing on the pool table, except when Soul Train comes on. So he spends a lot of time telling stories. Like how he grew up in New York. Bragging really. Like how it takes balls to rob a bank in New York like he did. How he shot a man in the head for a few thousand dollars in broad daylight in Manhattan, and nobody noticed it was him cuz he ran off with the crowd that started panicking. He tells us how he got high with Mick Jagger and David Bowie in Studio54 in the 70s, and how he spent a lot of time in jail in Bordentown in New Jersey on account that he would always get caught in Jersey.

He got caught one time lifting a couple of cases of Yoo-hoo right off the truck while the driver was making a delivery. He got away with that scam all the time in New York, but in Jersey it was like the cops had radar for him or something.

I tell him a couple of my tales, although I don’t have many to tell. I only did one stint behind bars. Some buddies convinced me to drive the car for a liquor store robbery, one of them that cashes checks so they keep lots of cash around. Got caught. That was enough for me. I knew I wasn’t smart enough to be no career criminal. I did my six years, and went as straight as I could when I came out. Worked as a longshoreman at Dundalk Marine Terminal for years until I ruined my back. Now I collect disability and manage The Penn under the table.

It’s nice having somebody that’s sorta normal living here, somebody that I can talk to that don’t come across as half-baked, or all-baked. He treats me like I’m his friend, even though I know it’s just cuz I’m one of the only ones here for him to talk to. He don’t go out much cuz he wants to stay out of trouble, and there ain’t shit to do here if you don’t watch t.v. or play pool.

He likes cards though. He shows us how to run Three Card Monte, and one time Maria brings him some dominoes, and he shows some of us how to play. Andy may not think so, but I consider him my friend. Ten years I’ve been working here, and I never made no good friends.

Yeah, we talk a lot, but I don’t ever take Andy for being sickly. I mean, he’s real thin, gaunt even, and he has a bit of a cough, and he has those scabs on his cheeks he’s always scratching at, but he’s only forty-something and don’t hardly seem that old even. Things change fast in a year.

It’s August again when Harvey, this drunk that stays here so he can afford to spend most of his social security on liquor, comes down and tells me he smells something burning in 3C. That’s Andy’s room, and I haven’t seen him all day.

I hurry on up there and knock on the door. No answer. I can smell the burning, so I use my master key to get in the apartment. I figure he left real early for one of his walks to the harbor and forgot to unplug his hotplate. Sure enough, when I get in the hotplate is on, and Andy was nowhere around. There was a bit of something black and bubbling on the burner that was smoking bad and stinking up the place. I yank the plug and get ready to walk out when I hear some water running and some kind of scraping noise coming from the bathroom.

It gets me curious, so I open the door and peep in. There’s Andy, on his knees, in boxers and a wifebeater, bent over the edge of the tub. I’m thinking, maybe he’s puking or something. I bend over to look, and he’s cooking. I mean he’s trying to cook something. He’s got this small can sitting on the bottom of the tub, and he’s stirring it up with a spoon. He notices me there next to him. He looks up at me, and he says, “What’s up Mac? I’m heating up some SpaghettiOs. You want some.”

The water’s running, but not hard, and definitely not hot enough to heat up no SpaghettiOs. I tell him no, thank you, and reach over to turn the water off. “I think you need some rest, man,” I say, and carefully picked him up off his knees and lead him back to bed.
“I’m hungry, Mac,” he says, in this sad voice.

I don’t know what to say. “Don’t worry, Andy. I’ll go down and get you something to eat,” is what finally comes out as I close his apartment door behind me and lock it. I hurry downstairs and call 911. They send cops and an ambulance. They must think they got a real crazy on their hands, but I can’t blame them. This is The Penn after all. But still, it makes everybody here nervous.

I take the paramedics to the room and let them in. They ask him questions, but it’s all such a ruckus now, I can’t follow what’s going on. Pretty soon though, they got Andy on a stretcher, and I was following them back downstairs.

A couple of days go by, and I don’t hear nothing about Andy. I remember about that number the lady, Maria, gave me, so I call her. She’s really upset with me at first being as I waited two days to call, but I remember the name of the hospital they were taking him to.

I feel pretty bad about forgetting like that, so I decide to go check on Andy myself. I lock up and jump on the 64 to Harbor Hospital. I figure, it’s been a couple days, they probably figured out what was wrong with him. I mean, we ain’t got no air conditioning, except in the lobby and my office, so maybe it was just like a heat stroke or something like that. He should be right as rain by now.

He’s not. As a matter of fact, I have to talk my way in to see him because Andy’s in ICU and he can’t get no visitors unless they’re family. I tell them that I’m his landlord, and that I need to get word to his family about how he is because they can’t get here right away. They still don’t want to let me see him, but they don’t have no next of kin information for him. I give them Maria’s number, and they tell me that they’ll give me fifteen minutes with him, but then I gotta go.

They take me to a room with glass walls on three sides. “Mr. Candelario is right in there.” The curtains around his bed are closed, so I walk in and around the curtains, and I’m taken aback, again. Andy’s hooked up to all these machines, and he’s under one of them clear plastic tents from the chest up. He’s just really a skeleton now. All those parts that made him so sharp and handsome just look hard now, like they’re gonna bust through his skin. I just stand there in shock, looking at him. I can’t say nothing.

I don’t even realize I’m there so long when a nurse comes to tell me I have to go. I nod. Lord knows I don’t like seeing him like this. “Excuse me ma’am, but what’s wrong with him?” I ask the nurse ask she walks me out of the ICU. She explains that he has AIDS, and that he’s suffering from some complications, including pneumonia. I know it’s sad to say, but the first thing that comes to my mind is that I hope I didn’t get it, wonder if he’s ever been bleeding around me or something.

I tell her how I found him, acting all crazy and stuff. She says something about some toxic stuff, germs that was attacking his brain. She says something about how people with AIDS can’t even have cats around cuz the litter can make them really sick and start acting crazy. I tell her we don’t allow no pets at the Pennington. “Is he gonna come out of it?” I ask her before I leave.
She says, “Not likely.”

I get back to The Penn, and I go to his room and start stuffing his things in big black contractor bags. I want to make sure that if he does get better, his stuff is safe. If I leave it in the room, I know somebody will eventually break in and steal it. I’m careful with his clothes cuz I don’t know how he got the AIDS, but I don’t want to get pricked with no needle. I done had that happen, and waiting for those test results is downright stressful. I drag all his property up to the attic, which has a big padlock that even these folks won’t try to break.

All his property, except the trimmer. I’m going through the stuff in the bathroom, you know, soap, deodorant, cologne and stuff, and I find the trimmer in the cabinet under the sink. It’s a tiny thing, run by batteries, but it’s sharp, sharp enough to shave a spot on my cheek clean when I try it out. I decide to hang on to the trimmer for a bit. I’ll give it back when he gets out.

Andy doesn’t get out though. Maria hears that I visited, so she puts me on the list to see him. She says he don’t get any visitors but her and his mother who comes up from Puerto Rico when she hears he real sick. I guess she ain’t too mad at me. So I try to stop by everyday, but he just lays there. He’s awake sometimes, but he still just lays there, staring at the ceiling, not saying nothing, or worse, mumbling. I just sit there telling him stories about my boring life. After a while, I can’t bring myself to go anymore.

It’s September, but it’s still hot when Maria comes to ask for his things. She don’t say it, but I can tell because she’s just got these puddles on her eyes that she’s trying hard to hold in, so I don’t say it either. I have her follow me upstairs, and I tell her how I packed up his things, not because I didn’t think he wasn’t coming back, but because I didn’t want anybody breaking into his room and taking his things. You can’t trust these guys living here.

I tell her as I help her carry the last couple of bags to her car how sorry I am. I tell her how Andy and I had become good friends. How he was the only tenant I could really talk to. She just kind of nods as she puts the last bag onto her back seat. I stand there as she pulls off, stand there until her car disappears up Pennington Avenue. It’s raining. It’s been raining, but I just notice.

I don’t really talk much to the renters here anymore. Everything is just business: collecting the rent, giving them change for the pool table, fixing their heaters. But every once in a while, I’ll pull out Andy’s trimmers, and I’ll get in front of the mirror and trim myself up real nice. I’ll even splash on some of that aftershave even though the guys’ll tease me about it, calling me a fag and all that. But that’s just fine because you can’t expect them to know how much work it takes to stay a handsome man.