I stood. “Excuse me, sir.” I walked toward him.
He looked up, heading toward his bike. “I don’t want your cans.”
“No, please. I’d like to talk with you.”
His hand motioned to push me away. “Proper channels. Proper channels,” he said.
“What? What proper channels?” I asked, nearing him.
“Call your governor. We’ll have a man out in twelve minutes or it’s free?”
“What’s free?” I asked.
He looked around, upset. “Everything! Everything, man, don’t you know that? It’s free.” He spoke loud with a lisping apostle’s rage. He looked up to the sky. Then raised a crushed beer can and showed the decay in his smile, “Why do you throw it away?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Actually, I’d like very much for you to have these cans.”
The Can Man picked a can off the ground. “I’ve been picking up for you kids for one hundred years.” He looked up at me. “It’s time. Go into the world. Get a job!”
I followed at a distance as he walked to a carnation planter with beer cans covering its oak rim. He stooped down before the planter and picked a can crushed into a disk off the red bricks. “You see that? That’s a Big Nic. Nickel got too big. Carry her back to my spot; flip her for a nickel that spends.” He scrounged over the cans on the rim. “Devil, Devil,” he poured beer, “Some Saint-ey in this here.”
As a breeze moved past him, green horse manure and burning leaves flashed to mind with the fear of confronting someone so dazed and inhuman settling in my throat. “Where do you sleep?” I asked.
“What?” I asked.
He didn’t look up. “World. I sleep at the world, the outside part.”
“Oh.” I scratched my head. “Where was that again?”
“Under rocks. Specs of sand—inside them; I do. The sleepy brains of strong-fisted police marble-ers. Up the butt of that beagle. And the crawlspace of public libraries. Sometimes I sleep also, there.”
“What are you doing to prepare for the future?”
“Future?” he asked.
“It’s what happens next.”
“Ah. No. I, I don’t think so,” his voice wavered and softened, “It don’t happen next.”
“Well, actually it does. Like earlier we talked about something and now we’re talking about something different. Time passed between that. Take that and extend it out to a really large scale. That’s the future.”
“Scale? You going to punch? I hit first, last.” He pointed to his thumbnail’s old, dry wound cleaved to the cuticle. “I hit you in between.”
“I’m saying that time passes and things happen. We have to prepare for what’s to come. You know? winter’s coming and it’s going to get cold. Don’t you remember things that happened to you when you were young?”
“Sure! Sure, man: things.” His eyes lit and moved like a child with so many presents. “They happen, they always happen. Bling blang bloom, they come at you and they move out like, like ... Things are always happening. It don’t stop, it don’t start. It just is. Here we are, man. Here we are.”
“But things happen, things change, one after the other, we have these events that change us like a, like a bead of paint running down a wall that can never run upward again.”
“That what you think?” He patted my back with dry, rough fingers pressing. “Sorry, man. That’s a shit way to get these sidewalks and white walls figured. Keep working it. You got money, man. I don’t talk shop because I like you. Need fuel to burn me up. Starting to be stuck on the tight fingers and belly.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a bill. It was a twenty—all I had. He saw it. A twenty wasn’t something to be easily parted with. I had less than three-thousand in checking. Boozing and maintaining an early Nineties domestic car, such as the Plymouth Laser, didn’t come cheap.
“Here,” I said.
He stuffed it into the pocket of his cargo shorts, wordlessly. The shorts didn’t suit him. Both he and the manufacturer had spent time fatiguing.
“Where were you born,” I asked. “Do you have relatives?”