“Anybody got a loose one?!”
On the subway platform, waiting for the train at Mondawmin, his tortured voice cuts through the
typical murmurs that bleed over the mechanical silence.
“Loose ones! Looking for loose ones. Anybody got a loose one?”
The call is just short of desperate. Granted, he’s just just high enough to not sound desperate, yet.
One murmur becomes clearly audible. “Damn, they out late, tonight.”
There is no they, just one lone addict coming off his fix & looking to feed a different craving, tobacco. They is a pejorative, here. The addict is being relegated to subhuman standards, not worthy of being an individual. Everyone knows what he wants. No one offers.
If you live close enough to Lexington Market, close enough to find yourself there often, you learn the lingo. If you wait for a bus on the corner of Howard & Saratoga enough times, you will inevitably be asked if you want to buy a loosy, or have one to sell.
You may be confused, at first, but when you finally see someone pop a cigarette out of a pack & exchange it for a few coins, it all becomes clear. Microeconomics. The soft sell of a sole cigarette.
“Anybody got a looose one?!”
Now he was becoming more desperate. He had already made a lap of the platform, and with no luck, his call had transformed into a chant, an uncomfortable one with such energy, I could sense everyone one on the platform recoil, gather tighter, try to shield themselves from the discordance.
“Loose ones! Looking for loose ones! Anybody got a looose one?”
I’m no better. As he approaches me, I try to avert his gaze. I’m not trying to interact. I have my earbuds on, playing nothing—my shield against the world. But I also know better than to be completely unguarded. I observe him peripherally, notice the staggering cadence of his walk, his gray, unkempt crop. He looks old, but addicts can be deceiving. You never really know if one is old, or just prematurely aged from constantly poisoning himself. He looks old, but mostly, he just looks hollow, like his soul has been eaten away, leaving nothing but a drying husk.
Shit! He’s looking at me. Betrayed by my curiosity, I’ve inadvertently made eye contact. I don’t know if I can handle this energy, now. I’ve just spent the past couple of hours consulting an old friend, being the ear she needed, offering a shoulder & bit of hope. I’ve had my fill of desperation for the day. Any more could be wounding, leave me so raw that I’ll spend the next few days in self-induced solitary, hiding from the world in a bed I’ll be unable to sleep in, just toss, pretending sleep will come, eventually.
“Loose one?” he asks. Even his eyes are hollow, his gaze dying, not dead, not yet.
I take a deep breath. Before I can let it out, I hear someone say, “Hey brother, how’s it going?” in a soothing baritone. An officer had made his way to the platform, had reached the addict. There’s no acrimony. There’s no aggression. Just brother, from an MTA police officer whose build was as daunting as his voice.
“Hello, officer. I obey the law, officer. I respect the law. I’m just looking for a loose one.”
“That’s fine,” the officer says, “but I don’t think you’re going to find one here. You might have better luck somewhere else.”
By this point, they’re both past me, the officer was herding the addict towards the up elevator, his broad shoulders dwarfing the small, broken man. They continue in now inaudible conversation. The rest of the platform finally loosens up as the desperate energy dissipates, like lungs after a fit of coughing. Everyone is free from having to face their reflections in the eyes of a hollowed one. We all have hollows, & hate to be reminded how close we are to becoming completely, tragically empty, looking for our own loosies in a world that has none to offer.