This afternoon a bum on the street mistook me for a drug addict.
“It’s that CRACK that’s making you sweat,” he advised me.
I nodded and said, “Yeah, I really ought to quit,”
as people walking near me picked up their pace to get away from me.
Later, I’m crossing the street when a carload of scraggly haired kids pulls up beside me.
“Hey, man, you got any rolling papers?” one of them asks.
“No,” I say, “I just drink, that’s it.”
“Come on,” he says, “just give them to me, all you Filipino motherfuckers smoke reefer.”
I keep quiet and walk ahead as they start to jeer and yell at me.
It’s been said that the meek shall inherit the earth.
But I’ve got bruises on my arms from running into people
on the street who expect me to scurry out of their way like a rat.
I’ve got dark patches on my soul from people who move out of my way
because they think I’m going to kill them.
People always either see me as the lamb who’s ready to sacrifice himself
to the gods of their ambition
or as the wolf who’s going to set his fangs upon them,
tearing them limb from limb, eyeball from eyeball,
when the truth is somewhere in between.
“Do you speak English?” people in bars often ask me.
“No,” I tell them, “I’m from France, I speak French.”
“You’re not from around here, are you?” other people say to me.
“No I’m not,” I answer. “I’m from Saturn and I’m here to mate with Earth women.
Is that your sister who’s sitting next to you? Nice tits.”
It’s been said that he who makes a beast of himself gets rid
of the pain of being a man.
So I drink straight from the bottle till the hair grows on my cheeks.
I steal the drinks from in front of other people
until the fur forms on the back of my neck.
“I was born here,” I used to say to people,
“I ate my first McDonald’s cheeseburger when I was 4,
recited the Pledge of Allegiance for teacher when I was 6,
and by the age of seven I could speak the language better than you do now.”
It’s been said that the truth is what sets you free,
but whenever I speak the truth no one believes it,
and whenever I hear the truth it makes me feel like a prisoner
on death row.
So I tell stories to keep the truth alive without telling it.
I create history to keep me from becoming history:
“I was raised by flying cockroaches until the age of seventeen. Could you lend me a buck?”
“I’m a crack-head pimp from the planet Liechtenstein. Would you like a job?”
“I’m a millionaire from Muffberg, Ohio. I came here two years ago with a dollar
in my pocket and a smile I could pry open doors with. Would you like a tip on
the stock market?”
“I’m vice president of a mid-sized consulting firm making
two hundred grand a year tax free. Can I pay for your groceries?”
“I’m Johnny Depp’s garbage man, wanna go out?”
“I’m Conan O’Brien, wanna fuck?”
This is the way I spend my days.
This is the way I earn my nights,
walking the earth telling lies, spreading rumors:
“And blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will
shepherds the weak and ignorant through the valley of darkness
for he is truly his brother’s keeper.
But I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance
and furious rebukes those who attempt to poison and destroy
and you will know my name is The Lord
when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”
It’s been said that that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I think that that which doesn’t kill you simply lets you live longer.
There’s a difference.
The film, Pulp Fiction, is twenty years old this year while this poem is about eighteen years old. I took the photograph of the Ontario Theater when it was in the process of being demolished last year. The Ontario was where I saw The Sound of Music when I was about six years old. When I was around twenty-five was when I saw The Gang of Four play there. And it was across the street from the Ontario, when I was about thirty-nine, where I was mistaken for a crack addict, which was what inspired the poem.