The Man With the Dog
by Liz Kelso
The man with the dog looked like he just left a neo-Nazi rally. The wool hat on his head was pulled low to cover the shaved skin. Tattoos that colored each finger continued up arms that his winter coat concealed. His skinny friend, the one with the eyes, looked like he rolled out from under a pile of pigeon shit. Crayola would call his hue “filthy gray”. He was the quintessential homeless man with long matted hair and a beard to match. His buddy, the man with the dog, should lend him his razor.
Every day as I walked down 42nd Street, I would see the man with the dog talking to the man with the eyes. Both of them had their life in bundles that rolled behind them. They’d talk, but the man with the dog would not stay. He’d go off down the block into the bowels of New York. The man with the eyes sat there, alone, in the spot by the sporting goods store. He was there on sunny days and rainy days. He was there on sub zero days, where could he go? He was wrapped in a heavy coat and a blanket and he shivered. I couldn’t tell if he was depressed, no one could. No one could see his face.
Month after month, the man with the eyes sat, he was a fixture, like a fire hydrant. One day, the man with the eyes was gone. His body wasn’t gone, but the familiar was. He was sitting on the ground, clean-shaven and cut. He was bathed. He was clean but he was still dirty. It was the dirt of homelessness, the kind that soap couldn’t remove. He was very handsome, but he was still homeless. He stared into vacancy, watching everyone and seeing no one.
The man with the dog often reappeared in the afternoon. He sat near the curb that was near the sporting goods store. The man with the eyes was no longer there. The man with the dog’s virginal white head cut through the sea of people that stepped around and over him. His dog, a beagle lied next to him atop the subway grate. This man was Charlie Brown after the football pull.
The man with the dog didn’t have the filthy gray homeless aura. He was shiny, his head was pale but his face was ruddy. He was neatly shaven and didn’t have an odor. He had only four teeth and they were as brown as the river to the east.
“My name is Frank,” he said.
My body was bent over trying to talk to him face to face. He sat crumpled on the ground with a diluted cup of juice. His breath wasn’t foul despite his lack of oral hygiene. It was just laced with Vodka.
I asked him about the man with the eyes.
“Where is he now?” I asked.
“He was just there.”
I took his hand and told him I’d see him next week. For a moment, I could see his little black eyes focus on me. He was deciding.
* * *
“Hi,” I said.
The man with the eyes looked up from his Sudoku puzzle, confused.
“Hi,” he responded and smiled.
He had teeth. They were off white and small like the Sudoku boxes.
Our conversations continued over the next few weeks. He would unload and I would collect. I zeroed in on him like a reporter from the New York Post. I stored the information in my mental files entitled: Filthy, Gray, and Homeless.
The who: Theo D. White
The what: Current Residential Status - Homeless
The where: New York City by way of Middletown, New Jersey
The when: 2 ½ years ago
The why: Oxycodone addiction
The guy with the eyes, aka Theo and I became very close. I knew him well. I knew what he liked; I always knew where he was and what he was doing.
And then he was gone.
The man with the dog, aka Frank lost him. Theo had only two friends, myself and Frank, and now he was ghosting us. For three weeks he didn’t respond to texts or calls (yes the homeless have cell phones). He didn’t visit Frank on the grate or at the courtyard where they often slept.
I’m sneaky. I’m persistent. I called him from parts unknown, he didn’t see me coming.
“Yes,” he said. His voice was flat. He recognized my voice.
He responded to my inquiries, although he sounded like he would rather be swinging from the Chrysler Building by his thumbs.
“What’s up, where have you been?” I asked.
He wanted to play the monosyllabic game.
Subsequent inquiries on my part were followed by “Yes”, “No” and occasionally a grunt.
“Why the fuck didn’t he tell me? Fuck!” Frank yelled in the middle of 42nd Street. “He’s my best friend, what the fuck!”
Between grunts Theo promised to call me but that day never came. He did call Frank here and there. The conversations were always clandestine and late at night. They were also short.
“I’m in a hotel with Homeless Mike,” he said.
“That’s great, I’m happy for you.” What else could Frank say?
“I sleep in the chair.”
“What? Why?” Frank asked.
Homeless Mike paid the lion’s share of the bill. So he slept in the lion’s den while Theo scavenged the carcass.
* * *
“He’s not doing too well,” Frank said to me one day.
“He’s selling drugs,” he said.
“He’s working the Carnie,” he said.
“He still in the room?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s having a hard time holding on to it. Homeless Mike left. He went to live with his girlfriend.”
Then, there he was, standing in front of Grand Central Station with some small blonde rat boy. Theo always pretended to be surprised when he saw me. It was something fun he did to make me smile, but this time his surprise wasn’t for comic relief.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“I can’t explain,” he said
“I’m sorry,” he said.
I wanted to kick his pigeon shit gray face in, but I maintained my cool. Looking at him made me realize that his karma was already running over him with a Zamboni. By the looks of it, it had rolled backwards, forwards and sideways. He was still shaved and cut, but his sweater had a burn hole in the front of it the size of Frank’s big bald head. I soon learned that he had one day, accidently set himself on fire.
* * *
The voice I heard was clear. “He is using drugs.” I was alone, and it was at night. That is when the voices usually came.
“I never see him anymore,” Frank said. “We would have movie dates and he never shows, he never calls.”
“He’s on drugs.” This was a fact, a statement. I didn’t leave it open for denial. I stated it with authority. Frank looked at me with a quick flicker of, “How the hell…”
“I know he’s on drugs,” he responded in his familiar gravelly voice of exhaustion.
* * *
He hugged me. He put his arms around me, said “Happy New Year.”
He squeezed me. My right hand found a piece of his bony back and patted it with little enthusiasm.
I mumbled, “Happy New Year.”
My text read, “Tell your friend that he needs to go to the doctor, he doesn’t look good.”
Frank responded, “I told him that, he knows.”
“Tell him he needs to see an Oncologist.”
Frank didn’t respond. I didn’t expect him to. He’s not good with the disturbing.
Theo used to be a filthy gray, now he is the color of subway soot. Not only is his skin this color but the whites of his eyes as well. The man with the eyes is dying.Type your paragraph here.