Jeff Smith 3:30 p.m., June 24
- Community Blog
- Beggar's Banquet
“Can I have seventy five cents,” said the beggar. He’d edged up to us as we waited to get served at our local taco stand.
I never pony up but this guy caught me unawares. He had egg shaped head with loose jelly like eyes. There was something strangely soulful about him. Like a street after a carnival, a lone flower in an overgrown cemetery, a page of a telephone book lying in the gutter.
His music was low Spanish guitar.
“The old seventy-five cent trick eh?” I said.
I gave him a dollar.
He took it and walked off slowly, hobbling, the anvil of the street dragging at his heels. The way some homeless move. It’s no joke living on the streets, even in sunny California.
I hardly ever give them money and it’s so ingrained in me now they hardly seem to ask.
Drip, drip, drip. One thousand bums asking your best stony face for a dime. Then they stop. Then one night. Outside the taco stand. One appears, hobbling, sounding like a low Spanish guitar. Feeble. With jelly eyes and I nearly forgot, a cleft palate. How could I miss that?
He had a cleft palate like Dracula’s henchman. Like a close up of a flower bulb painted by Georgia O’Keefe. Like a split sausage.
A dollar. What’s a dollar? I’m poor but I’m not that poor. It’s nothing really.
I guess it was Knut Hamsun’s fault. I’d just read The Women at the Pump and was feeling sentimental for the struggle of my fellow man, my eyes pulled open afresh to life’s delicious tragedy by the old Norwegian.
My wife ordered a vegie burrito. I’d eaten earlier but it was late now so I succumbed to a taco. How can you resist. Resistance is futile.
La Posta. La Posta. You golden jewel on Third and Washington. Constantly sweating out a enticing aroma fried spices. Really good burritos, tacos and tammales. Carnitas, Carne Asada, Adobaba. Gulp, munch, drool. White crumbily Cotija cheese with cheddar and cilantro and fresh tomato and guacamole. Thank God for Mexico.
“Gracias. Gracias. Gracias.”
I haven’t tried the fish taco yet and I don’t think I will. The meat options are too damn good and I’ve been spoilt by the other places near the beaches that serve up whole lobster tails fried in butter. After this, battered white fish seems to me to be a step backwards.
The place is open 24hours and it’s so cheap they are practically giving the food away.
Always people hanging around. A real mix. Sun roasted millionaires from Mission Hills, old gay men clutching Pomeranians, bag ladies, cops, escapees from the local hospital in gowns buttoned up the back, sometimes with drips still attached to their arms, Drs, nurses, on their lunch break, looking the other way…
And tonight, the beggar with the cleft palate who is coming back I see, slowly. Ever so slowly.
Deja-vu. The same routine all over again. As if him tapping me up barely a minute ago never happened. Drip Drip Drip. What the f…?
“Can you spare seventy-five cents?”
“I just gave you a dollar.”
And then a curious but obvious thing happened. He actually started to beg, I mean really beg. Contorting his face in a childish and sickeningly soft-headed way. Grotesque. Like a child. Like a gargoyle. Like a spoiled child you hate. Like a spoiled child in a supermarket.
He stopped and shuffled on to a new guy who had arrived at the stand. Mr lemon yellow Pringle sweater. As soon as the guy saw him coming he narrowed his eyes. The perfect city face. The beggar paused momentarily, saw what the new mark had done to his face and hobbled quietly on his way.