Run Don’t Walk

by Yves Jaques


The Indian is higher than a kite. Each step he takes across the intersection looks as haphazard as the last, his legs rising, hips swiveling to some unknowable rhythm. The foot drops, the leg plants, and the process starts all over again.

I’m sitting in the passenger seat staring across three lanes of traffic at the blinking ‘don’t walk’ sign. Actually, it’s one of the modern signs, a red man standing legs akimbo, appearing and disappearing in time with the thumping stereo playing the latest U2 album, Bono’s voice blowing over distorted guitar. U2 seems to be a favorite with the young suits I sell to. Like the one next to me, David Philip. I’ve always wondered if his family just lost their name somewhere along the way, and so they tacked another first name onto the end. I asked him once. He said he didn’t know but that he’d been to Ellis Island once as a teenager on a family vacation. After visiting the island they’d had a big discussion about the possibility that some immigration official just fucked up their name. "D’Angelo," he’d said to me, "What the hell kind of a name is that anyway? I bet they fucked up yours too."

The red man is still blinking. I’ve been counting and I’m at nine. The Indian is in front of the car next to us now and I’m watching the contrast between the driver’s frozen Friday afternoon look, and the drunken Indian’s boozy smile. The scene would be a standoff but the driver in the other car is looking straight through him.

Street people always remind me of gypsies now. Indians in the streets, on the surface they remind me of gypsies; the same mismatched clothing and thick oily hair. I guess they all came out of Asia at some time. I’d always figured gypsies were just circus performers - crystal ball-gazers and sword-swallowers - until a few years back, when I’d done really well on a deal and I thought I deserved a little vacation. I went to Italy, did all the usual tourist stuff, Florence, Venice, Rome. Got drunk a lot. Went to museums. Bagged a couple hookers.

I was on a bridge crossing the Tiber in Rome when I saw a group of these really colorful looking kids running towards me, waving newspapers and dried flowers. I remember that the way the girls were dressed made me think of that 80’s new-wave singer, Cyndi Lauper, the one that used to fly around the stage in a garbage can. These kids look like garbage pail kids, I’d thought to myself. The little buggers cleaned me out too. I felt all these ghost-like fingers running through my pockets. They were shoving the flowers and newspapers at me and all shouting in Italian. At least I think it was Italian. By the time I figured out what was going on those kids were a half a block away, and running like only ten year-olds can. I didn’t even try to catch them. Those were gypsies I found out later from the clerk at the hotel. I’ve seen a lot of scams but that was slick. After that I started noticing them everywhere, and always in crazy get-ups. True, the men wore suits, but cut for someone else, and kind of greasy looking.

Like the Indian in the street. Now he’s in front of our car. I notice he’s actually got a tie on, he’s even color-coordinated: brown slacks, brown coat, purple tie. He’s still doing his crazy walk, one leg going up, hips swiveling, then foot down, and the leg plants. One step at a time. Now he’s leering into our windshield. Time slows, you know what I mean? It happens to everyone. When it happens to me, I feel like there are more than enough moments for me to look at, and think about anything within range of my eyes and ears. The smell of diesel still rockets me straight back to a street corner bus-stop I used to always stand at to get to school. Time unfolds. But usually, something comes along to snap me straight out of it. Usually the moment I realize that I’m actually in a state of freeze-frame. ‘Freeze-frame’ I call it. I probably read that somewhere.

But sometimes, like now, I can think about it, and bend it. So I’m just taking in his face, the Indian’s face. I’m doing it because, when you’ve lived in the city as long as I have, and dealt with as many freaks as I have, your mind just starts to label and dump. That guy’s a freak, you think to yourself, and he just goes into the freak pile, and that’s it. If a cop asked you what he looked like, you’d just be able to say, "He looked kind of freaky." So I try and work around that.

The first thing that pops out at me are his pores, these huge pores on his nose. People always talk about the red nose of an alcoholic. Have they ever really looked at one? Sure, it’s red, but what really stands out is that black hole of pores across and up and down and over the crown; all the way to the rim of the nostril. Why does this happen? Its always given me the creeps. And his lips are so swollen and cracked. They look as if they’re begging for water. I’m fishing in my pocket for my chap-stick; I don’t know yet if looking at his lips has made me want to moisten mine, or if maybe I’m gonna roll the power window down and hand him the shit. I don’t know. I don’t know because I freeze in mid-motion. Three things catch my eye in the same moment and I freeze. Squeeeeeze and -click- goes my Instamatic brain: the ‘don’t walk’ red man has blinked its last and holds, at a count of nineteen. The Indian’s eyes, and I know it would be poetic to say that I saw his soul in this moment but it would be a lie; his eyes are so flat and dead. As flat and dead as David’s eyes. Now David is on coke, and I would assume his eyes to be flat and dead anyhow, but this is different. Stimulant and depressant are weaving. David and the Indian are somehow sharing the same space.

So these are the three things I notice. But there’s a fourth that crowds into my brain: they’re both smiling at one another like paralytics. But now here is the difference between alcohol and coke: The Indian’s smile is the warm, goofy smile of the drunk who doesn’t get mean. David’s smile is the brittle coke smile. All stimulants, even coffee have a tinge of this, they render you heartless. No, that’s wrong, they disengage the heart from the soul. That’s why people on ecstasy start hugging everything around them; it’s not that they’ve found their heart, it’s the reverse, it’s the desperate hunger of the soul trying to find and eat that damn four-chambered monster. David looks to be smiling inwardly at his own incredible self-control, a self-control that keeps him from just flooring his luxury automobile and running this piece of human garbage over. He’s smiling at his own incredible restraint.

A lot of people do dope because they think it gives them that freeze-frame. Like David Philip sitting in the driver’s seat next to me. He makes huge bets on the market while flying on coke. Not his money, he just skims the cream off the top. I’m no different really. David’s one of my last coke customers. The rest have all gone to Schick Shadel and done the treatment route, or gone to the next hip thing, heroin, which has been really good for me. It comes from Mexico, much closer to home. Much easier than getting that long-distance multiple-border Colombian bullshit. At least that’s the word. What do I know? I’m pretty low on the pole. All I know or care about is how regular are my suppliers, and how regular are my customers. And with heroin, they’re regular.

David Phillips though, I’d try and fob him off on some other dealer that’s still into coke, but he likes me, we go way back, college buddies, never real close. Back then I used to sell him quarters of green bud mostly. It helped put me through school. I didn’t know anyone with enough money to make it really worth my while back then. But when I got into powders, all that changed. Now I just try and keep a couple of eight-balls around for old David Phillips. I’ve got a soft spot. I’ve tried to get him on something else, but he won’t. I’ve learned that stockbrokers are a superstitious lot. "I can’t do that other shit, it might mess with my radar D’Angelo," he’ll say. Always talking about his goddamn radar. "I snort some blow, and I’m in there with those numbers! I’m telling you, it’s some damn link with the future. I can feel the trends blowing."

Yeah right. But then again look around. I’m sitting in a spanking new top of the line Benzo. I’m thinking of Ice Cube rappin’, "Me and my homeys, rollin’ in the Benzo." There’s not much difference. Just skimming off the top. "And they will take one in ten of your sheep," the Bible says. Amazing how that catechism stays glued to your brain. A quote for every occasion. It’s what makes us Catholics witty, that handbook of human folly, the Bible, drilled into our brains.

Rollin’ in the Benzo. And look at David there in his Gaulthier designer suit. Maybe the coke really does work. Maybe cleaving your heart from your soul propels your mind into? I don’t know where. Someplace where you can figure stocks.

The red man blinks its last. David and the Indian have dead eyes. My hand is on the chap-stick in my pocket. The Mercedes roars forward, and it feels like we’re four-wheeling as the Pirelli tires grab traction on the Indian’s oily suit. I’m yelling or something, my hands fumbling with all the damn arm-rest controls, the window going up and down up and down. David slams on the brakes. I recover and get the door open, look around, not sure whether the Indian is under the car or behind it; not wanting to step on him. I get out and see that he’s under the car. Usually something like this would snap me out of my freeze-frame, but it’s not. If anything it’s worse. Things are moving in step-motion, but all jerky, like when you try and do slo-mo on a VCR with only two tape-heads. Some of the traffic is moving, the drivers that didn’t notice, or just don’t want to know. Other people are just sitting in their cars, mouths moving all funny. Nothing like disaster to stimulate a crowd. The cars in the oncoming lanes are slowing, drivers craning their necks to get a better view. And then Philip floors it a second time. The back end bounces up and down like a horse-drawn buggy on a rutted road as the left wheel spins over the Indian. David is gone.

And then all is quiet. But it’s just not like it is in the movies. Indians after they get creamed are supposed to fall gracefully and lie still. But just as the first pilgrim comes up to the Indian and bends down on his knees to get closer, the Indian’s legs move. His legs start flailing, like a thunder-crazed horse; he’s bucking so hard it’s lifting his lower back off the pavement. The sky is sprinkling just a little, and the air has that gorgeous storm smell to it. What a time to die. The Indian though, has plenty of fight left in him. His arms are moving now, waving spastically in what looks like a comic attempt at flight. I’m remembering the time Evan McBride, an epileptic in my junior high school had a fit during gym class. We were doing aerobics. Our teacher, Mr. Reynolds, was one of the pioneers of aerobics. Evan had a full-blown seizure right in the middle of class. I still remember a Blondie song was playing, ‘The Tide is High’ I think it was. Mr. Reynolds noticed Evan almost right away I guess, because one moment he was leading the class, and the next moment he was sprinting from the center of the gymnasium and ripping off his T-shirt. He was built. I was doing jumping jacks or something and staring at my buddy Jimmy. We were mouthing at one another, What the fuck is Reynolds doing? What he was doing of course was ramming his T-shirt in Evan’s mouth, so Evan wouldn’t bite his goddamn tongue off.

I’m standing in the circle of onlookers. We’re all just staring down at the wounded Indian as if we’re each of us completely alone. The wind is rising a bit, blowing mist from the rain into our faces. It smells so good, not like the city, more like earth, or open prairie. I notice a woman break off from the pack and weave over to the sidewalk. She kneels down on the concrete and vomits into a dirt-filled planting square. Just then some guy says, "I’ll call an ambulance." He runs to his car and must have called from his cell-phone, because a few minutes later we can all hear sirens. And it feels like a few minutes and not forever because at some point I slipped out of freeze-frame. I’m now just standing there, feeling the cold in my fingers, and the wet rising through my thin Capezio soles. The Indian has stopped moving, I’m not sure when.

The cops arrive. They get out of their cars already decked in yellow slickers. They mill through the crowd like lazy bees, asking questions, and taking notes and names and numbers. I put some chap-stick on my lips. The Indian lies still. I hope he doesn’t die. Jim Morrison had this idea that the soul of an Indian that his Dad ran over had entered his body. The last thing I need is the drunken spirit of this crazy Indian running through me. Funny how you can know something is bullshit, and still feel it, fear it.

"Anyone know this man?" I hear a policeman yell. I don’t know why but I slowly put up my hand. No, it’s more that it rises lazily on its own like an exhausted helium balloon.

"I do," I say, "He’s my cousin."

The policeman comes over. "Were you here with him," he asks gently.

I look around at the crowd. Stare down the cop. "No, I haven’t seen him in years. I just happened along. It’s a small world I guess."

A couple of people in the crowd are watching me strangely. I can tell that everything’s unreal to them. Some of them must have noticed me getting out of David’s car. But who can be sure in a time of crisis? I’ve seen those films in Psych 101 where some guy runs into a room, fires a gun, and runs back out. What was he wearing? What did he look like? You get ten different answers.

"Are you sure this is your cousin?" asks the cop.

"Sure I’m sure. Look at that nose, you think I could forget a nose like that?"

The cop looks down. "I guess not," he says, "but he’s an Indian."

"He’s not full-blooded," I say. "His Mom’s white."

"That’s pretty unusual," says the cops slowly, looking up at the dead gray sky. "A white woman marrying an Indian. I’ve only heard of that."

"We’re Italians," I say, with an emphasis on the ‘t’, dropping it out against my teeth.

The cop nods and points to the paramedics. "You want to ride with him in the ambulance?"

"Yeah. I guess I probably should."

"You got the names and numbers of any family?"

"I’ll make some calls from the hospital."

The cop closes his notepad. "Great. Why don’t you go ahead and get on in."

I think about melting away with the crowd, but I don’t. This seems safest. Or maybe I want him to be my cousin. I mount into the back of the ambulance and sit down on the bench across from the paramedic. I feel numb. Like the Indian. The faces of the crowd warp and blur through the rain-coated back windows of the ambulance. My knees are jammed against the stretcher. The Indian moans softly. The driver hot-foots it away. As I stare out the window, I catch a quick flash of the red man blinking.


Yves Jaques can be reached at