Life On The Street
When I was in sixth grade I sat next to Alex Fernandez in Mrs. Sears’s class. Alex was Portuguese and lived in Fox Point where many of the immigrant Portuguese families in Providence had settled. Most of the Portuguese boys at Nathan Bishop Junior High looked unhappy. They always seemed on the lookout for something, their attention coiled as if ready to strike should it appear. In sixth grade, Alex was not on the lookout. He liked hamsters, and I liked hamsters, and so we had something to talk about. Ten years later I was living in an apartment in Fox Point. One summer afternoon I was walking home when I passed a young man reclining in a lawn chair on the sidewalk in front of a chain-link fence.
“Billy Kenower,” he called.
I blinked at him. I wouldn’t have recognized Alex if he hadn’t said my name. At twenty-one he had the bearing of a middle-aged man. His hair was thinning, he had a pot belly, and a double chin. He reminded me of a mafia don. His eyes shifted left and right continuously as he talked. He wanted to know what I was doing in this neighborhood. I told him where I lived, and he warned me about the sort of men who hung out in the park across the street from my apartment.
“They’ll cut you as soon as look at you.”
It was clear he was dealing drugs. It was his business. He asked me what I was up to and I told him I was going to be a writer.
“I write,” he said. “I met this lesbian chick from Brown. She really loved what I was doing and would work with me on it. It was a story about being on the street.”
Alex then recited verbatim the first paragraph of his novel about life on the street, about what it feels like when the sun rises and the smells seem to rise with it. It seemed to me he carried that paragraph around in his mind, where it remained insulated against the very street it depicted. It was good and I told him so.
“Yeah, that’s what the lesbian chick said too.”
I wished him good luck and he told me be careful. I never saw Alex ever again - though, come to think of it, I never saw the men who would cut me as soon as look at me either.
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