My friends were at college, and I had lucked into an arcane kind of photofinishing piecework where you really could make money at home. So I toiled in a sweatshop of one, waking up each afternoon and stalling and procrastinating till after midnight, when Fred Grady on the radio was my secret crush. Jazz After Hours, countering the counter-culture.
There was a diner on the corner that sold lukewarm coffee in thin plastic cups nested in plastic holders. That was long before we all got spoiled by the good stuff. I don’t know who owned the place, but Frank worked the counter. He had a barrel chest, a broken nose, wore a paper hat and called everyone ‘Champ’. It was worth the price of the coffee just to get ‘champed’ once a day.
Elias used to hang out by the bank, selling mimeographed blue chemical-smelling pages of his poetry. He must have known someone who worked in a school, and charmed her into running off the pages, because all he had was what he could scrounge or beg. All except style, that is. No one else outside Jamaica wore dreads, and even some skeptical cynics thought that Elias just might have powers. He liked to give that impression.
He and Milo Stranger used to do a street performance, Milo on tin whistle and Elias exhorting his America to cease foreign war. They were actually pretty good, but seldom got up to speed before the cops would tell them to move along.
I escaped their notice. I was naive and unwary, but plain and shy and poor. A minnow in the shark pool.
That pool was too small to hold Milo and Elias for very long. One day they were out in front of the bank, summoning the Age of Aquarius with flute and verses and raking in a pretty good haul of spare change.
The next day I was sitting at the diner, drinking Frank’s greasy coffee. Elias rushed in demanding to know where Milo went.
“Sorry, Champ, haven’t seen him around here in a while.
Image of the Thayer St. Bus Tunnel from Greater City Providence.
From an attic apartment on the South Side, Milo watched his new neighbors move in– Part 7,The Bantu are Coming, They Need Winter Coats