Posted on December 7, 2018
I walked with a hobble down Danforth Street in Portland, Maine. It was around fifty degrees, and the air had a chill to it. There was nothing going on that I could see, and the night seemed extra quiet. Still, as is my habit since I don’t trust people, I kept looking behind me to see if I was being shadowed. I could never quite shake that feeling.
Nobody there, of course. Better safe than sorry, though.
My right foot had something wrong with it. A bone that was out of place, a cramp…something. Whatever it was – it made me limp along. I didn’t pay much attention to it. It would walk itself out. That’s how foot things usually worked, right? After a while, you just got used to it.
I reached Fore Street and finally things came to life, and the city began breathing. I kept my head down, just a habit, and I moved through the crowd with my hands in my pockets. That’s where I kept my keys. I had my fingers wrapped around them, keys sticking out between my fingers like claws, in case I needed to strike. I didn’t, of course.
I made my way into Five Guys, the burger joint. I’d just entered through the door when I noticed one of the security guards eyeing me. He looked familiar.
“Hey,” he said, nodding. “Remember me?”
I did. He was the guy who worked at Irving on Commercial Street. “Yeah,” I said. “So you work here, too, eh?”
He stroked his beard and laughed, raising his eyebrows and looking askance. “Yup. This is my tough guy job.”
We talked a bit more, mostly about the burger joint itself. I nodded a goodbye once the line began moving again. “See ya’ around,” he said.
I ordered a cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard and mushrooms – gotta’ have the mushrooms. Some fries and a soda on the side. The woman cashier gave me my order number. “Your number is sixty-nine,” she said. The twelve-year-old part of my brain chuckled. She could see it in my eyes and she cracked a smile. I thanked her, leaving a tip in the jar.
I sat and observed. I felt a touch out of place. For one, everyone was drunk. For another, I felt a bit out of the age range. Was I really that old, already? Nah. I just wasn’t drunk, I told myself.
Still, I couldn’t help but look around and see all the lives I’d already lived and would live. There was the really drunk guy with the red face and droopy eyes, sloppily shoving fries into his mouth and jamming to the tunes. That was me, once. There was the guy in the group of guy-friends who kept them all laughing. That was me, another time. There was the guy who was telling an exciting story to his friends, who called bullshit or laughed along as he told it. That was me, once. There was another bearded man, sitting in the corner at a table by himself. That was me, now. There was an older man, looking annoyed at the noise in his tweed jacket. Would that be me at a later date?
“ORDER NUMBER SIXTY-NINE AND SEVENTY-TWO. ORDER’S READY.” bellowed someone over the mic.
A man saw me approach. “Sixty-nine?”
“Yes.” I flashed him the receipt and he handed me the paper sack full of greasy food. A man next to me laughed. “HEY. SIXTY-NINE. That’s, like, the perfect number!”
“Isn’t it?” I asked, moving to my seat. I sat there for a long while, eating and thinking.
“HEY, FUCK YOU!” a drunk guy said to one of his female friends across the room.
“NO, FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE,” she said back. Both of them laughed.
“HEY, EVERYONE – SHE SWALLOWS,” he shouted.
“HEY, EVERYONE,” she shouted back. “HE’S GOT A SMALL DICK! SMALL DICK!”
I smirked and shook my head.
“HEY, EVERYONE,” he shouted again. “SHE LIKES FIVE GUY GANGBANGS!”
This continued for some time. I finished my burger and decided to leave as the place was getting crowded now that it was past 1am and the bars were closing. My full stomach thanked me, and I patted it.
I decided to take the long way and walk down Wharf Street. I got a couple of stares, probably for my buttons, but I wasn’t in college anymore. I wasn’t in my twenties so nobody messed with me. It was probably the beard. Maybe. Nobody knows what a bearded man will do. Nobody wants a piece of that.
People were milling around like crazy. I walked through a lot of pot smoke. I walked through many groups of women with skirts so short they may as well have been large tee-shirts. Cars drove by blasting hip-hop, causing one man to shout out “CHECK THAT SHIT, MY NIGGA”.
I looked into some of the clubs, watching people shuffle around. I had a longing to enter, to go crazy on the dance floor. I could give some of them a run for their money – but not tonight. Another time.
I listened to two people having an emotional discussion on a stoop as I walked. “…It’s not that I don’t understand HIM,” the woman was saying to her male friend, who was shaking his head in understanding, “It’s that he didn’t understand ME. Do you know what I’m saying?” I was that man, once, a long time ago.
I moved away from that other world, back to the sleepy quiet of upper Danforth Street, amid the old buildings nestled near the water. I climbed the fire escape that led back to my new home for the time being and I entered, shutting away the chaos of the Old Port.
“Another time,” I thought.