Portrait of a Homeless Man in Clarion Alley, San Francisco

Smokes

A concrete picnic enclosure on Venice Beach; abandoned except for a weathered old man on a picnic table rolling cigarettes.

A faded tattoo of a sword wrapped in a ribbon on his forearm, the words on the ribbon merge together in blue curlicues, like the blue veins that criss-cross his swollen nose.

He says his name is Eddie.

Eddie has selectively gathered cigarette butts since dawn.

He has searched in and around the enclosure and is now ready to roll a few butts for the day.

Boys on skateboards zip through.

A photographer wanders in and snaps a picture of Eddie as he teases tobacco into a rusty can.

Eddie flicks away the yellow filters.

Pigeons scurry over to peck them.

He rolls two thin cigarettes and lays them out to dry; I offer him one of mine, and he gently declines, “I have enough” he says.

“What did your tattoo say?” I ask.

“Death before dishonor, I was in Nam.” He offers me one of his rollies.

“OK.” I opened a pack of Death Lights, “If you take two of mine.

“That ain’t a fair trade,” says Eddie. “One for one, I can make a hundred of these; ain’t bummed a smoke in years.”

We exchanged cigarettes, lit up and sat quietly.

His rollie makes me nauseous.

Eddie glances at me and shoots a toothless grin.

“Good smoke, eh?”

“I guess I could get used to it,” I choked and laughed.

“A man can get used to most things, “Eddie says, “’cept shame”.

Eddie spat, lowered his eyes and fell silent.

Then he looked up, eyes filled with rage: “If you ever lose your shit, man, an’ have to beg? Don’t beg for things you can make yourself ’cause it’s shameful!”

Then his rage softens: “You gotta save as much of yourself, for yourself, as you can.”

(c) Rob Goldstein 2015-2017 All Rights Reserved

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10 thoughts on “Smokes

  1. I remember so many special faces I have seen over the years and would have loved to take pictures of. But I never really had the guts to take that pic. I love faces and your picture and then the post reminded me how much of a story a face, a person has to tell…

    Liked by 1 person

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