Home Schooled by Alan Catlin
If life were a short story in search of
an author, he’d be looking for Ray Carver
or one of his many disciples near the bus
stop, pushing aside overgrown weeds,
grass, searching for expired day passes,
ten trip tickets to sell to the gullible
or the easily intimidated, waiting at Division
Street shelter. His half-hearted sales
pitch fails to persuade, asks instead,
“Do you know where there’s a pawn shop
nearby? I know there’s one on this street.”
He might have added, “somewhere”,
on this main thoroughfare that extends
from Albany to Syracuse and points West.
Finally settles on, “You have a buck you can spare?
Loose change?” Rebuffed, he seems more
discouraged than upset, this neat, middle aged,
overweight black man wearing new sneakers,
fresh clothes, and badly in need of a drink.
“You see I really need a drink.”He says,
almost casually, matter of fact, “If I don’t
have one I get sick. My hands shake,
I throw up, sometimes I even convulse.
Doesn’t matter what it is either: flat beer,
bad wine, anything, man. Got to have it.
First thing every morning, every day, all day.
It’s awful. I done the rehabs. All of them.
None of them took. My daddy was an alcoholic.
Died young. Wasn’t but 45. I’m 50 now.
Counting my days. You could say I was home
schooled. My mom left and my daddy didn’t
care about nothing but the booze so that’s what
I learned and I learned it good.”
Who knew if his story was true. He didn’t smell,
look or act drunk. “You can’t know what it’s
like to need something that bad.”
Actually I could.
I gave him a buck.