Not Only Do You Have to Pay $7.75 for a Pack of Cigarettes…

…you have to walk through Chicago to get them.

It is 11:00pm and the neighborhood is just waking up. There’s a gang of twenty-something black males lined up on the curb. Police cars block both streets. No lights. Certain ones are unhandcuffed and pulling at their necklines. White T-shirts stretch a great deal. “What gang is that,” I hear the cop ask.

“Swords, man.” There’s a new gang in Chicago. The Swords. I love it. I will be an ally. A hideout.

The liquor store is right around the corner. The first time in there, the employee informed me that they “take care of their customers” and that if anyone tries to bum change off of me, they’ll “hurt them”. I told them that I could fend for myself.

I haven’t seen him since. Now it is a quiet one watching shitty TV overdubbed in Spanish.

When I walked in tonight, he was loud.

Bat in hand, he said, “What are you talking about?”

“I work at Jo-Ann Fabrics!”

“Why are you yelling, sir? Get out!” The bat was held like an axe. Straight down on the skull like a tree. Chop it down. Swing! Swing!

“You can’t treat me like this!” The customer was, for lack of a better term, Taz. He nedded to be tattooed on a Southern Indiana Junior High English teacher’s ankle.

“Out, Out! Fucker, out!”

I watched and smiled.

He left.

I walk to the counter. “Hey, man. Bad night?”

“I don’t know what that fucker wanted.”

“What did he ask for?”

“Condoms. We don’t sell them.”

“Why not?” I really wondered. He seemed annoyed with my question.

“We just don’t. Why? Need some?”

I wanted to calm him. The bat that he wielded was resting in the corner. I wanted it to stay there. “No. Just some cigarettes.”

Quick transaction. He talked to his comrade in Spanish while I paid him too much cash. The door rang as I left. The bar next door bustled with conversation and I looked at the sky to ask for rain.

Where did the irrate Jo-Ann Fabrics worker go? Was he watching me? I needed my new allies, the Swords. I wonder if we could get a walkie-talkie system going. This could be Code: Quilt.

Cover me in safety, Swords.

They were gone by the time I returned to the corner.

The broom out, getting everything except that fine line of dirt that backs you across the floor until you finally resolve to the vacuum.


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