It was 1999. We met his guy and he didn’t have anywhere to go. He had long brown almost black hair and a scraggly beard, he was about our age, he had long angles on his face. He was at The Last Drop all day, and he was loud. He was bumming Dave’s cigarettes, watching the guys plays chess. We got to talking.
He was in a tough spot. He didn’t want to go home because he’d had a fight with his boyfriend who had got violent during their domestic disagreement, and he didn’t want to face him. His boyfriend was bigger than him, and he said he had an aggression problem. We advised him to wait out the day, because what could another cigarette hurt. We passed the time.
The sun began its descent, and he was tired. He ramped up his courage, and we helped, and he tromped off down Pine Street.
He was back super quick. When he’d got back to his place and tried to go in, his boyfriend berated him from the second floor window and threatened to throw his stuff out the window if he didn’t go away.
He came back to us for help. We couldn’t believe someone would do that to this guy, he was a nice guy, and after a few hours of coffee we were already fond of him, already sympathetic. He was one of us, he was down on his luck; I don’t remember his name.
We walked down the block with him to his place, to his pile of stuff on the sidewalk. The guy had really done it, had chucked his stuff. Prince cd’s were out of their cases, strewn into the ginkgo leafy gutter. He gasped. The last of the designer jeans came raining down. He hurried to collect the cd’s. We helped, gingerly popping them into jewel cases. When his backpack was full of Prince’s music, his prized possession, he started on the clothes, jeans first, leaving the rest of it in the street. He had the important stuff.
“Now I really have nowhere to go,” he said. He was shaking with anger, with fear, and all the other emotions. We said he could come home with us.
We always said that. We had an apartment with a couch and warmth, with music and food, and we shared it. He was grateful, he said he’d pay for a cab, but we lived only two blocks away.
That night he stayed at our place. He played his Prince cd’s on our system to assess the damage done. We talked late. He told me about his estranged mother, the time he spent under institutional care, how his friends questioned his judgment.
“I had my money in my hand,” he said, “and they said put your money away. I pay for the cab, and we go on to the next place. Why should I put my money away when I’m just going to need to take it out again?
I picture him stepping out of a cab with money in his hand, going to a restaurant, or a shop. I think frequently of “onto the next place” as a concise, clear-cut world view. This guy’s world view was that life is a series of transactions. If life is a series of transactions, one must keep one’s money in one’s hand, to be ready for the next exchange.
This guy whose name I absolutely cannot recall didn’t know what to do in our world. At that time in our lives we tried to avoid transacting as much as possible. We didn’t have much money, so we kept it in our pockets and not in our hands. As I said, we didn’t take cabs, we walked, and we mostly ate at and drank at home, with the exception of the endless cups of coffee at The Last Drop.
I talked to him more about his mother. I thought that he should call her, that he should go to her, somewhere out on the Main Line, with her high property value and higher expectations, that he should try, softly, to make her understand.
After three days, he left. He didn’t say goodbye, but we knew he’d left for good. He left a red backpack behind. Eventually we opened it.
The only Prince on my phone is Parade. My collection is larger than that, but this is all there is in my pocket. It was his cd. He left it behind. I still have it. After our friend Chris died, only a month or so later, I found this record to be ideal for grief. To weep: play Christopher Tracy’s Parade, followed by Sometimes It Snows in April.
I thought of our nameless former house guest this past week, after Prince died. I wondered if he still operates as though life is a never ending series of transactions, or if he’s found a place to relax, to give nothing, to take nothing, to exchange only oxygen for carbon dioxide.
I hope wherever he is he’s got someone who he loves and is kind to who loves him and is kind to him back. Hope you’re well out there, wherever you found yourself. Thanks for the Prince.