As I move through the blustery afternoon, kicking about the midday blues, I encounter Jose. He is heading into the Texas Showdown bar, donning his usual patchwork coat and bowing his great silver head. Inside, the corners of his mouth will slightly turn up in an omniscient smirk when the fraternity boys in their baseball caps and shaggy hair challenge him to a game of foosball. The ball will never near his end of the old, rickety table. His wrinkled, vein-ridden hands will anticipate moves and flicker to counteract; his tiny plastic soldiers will swiftly dart horizontally, and their little legs will swing at just the right moments. The fraternity boys will grow tired of losing and sit down with their girls. Jose will stand quietly by the table, sipping his beer, awaiting his next victim.
I keep strolling down Guadalupe, hands buried deep in my black coat. The red and orange leaves blow about me in tiny confetti whirlwinds. Girls on the street corner snuggle closer to their boyfriends.
Here comes Leslie, the infamous drag queen in his long, matted beard and pink, silk woman's panties. A leopard cape flows out behind him, his only hope for warmth. He sings an off-key tune loudly, displaying an impressive row of broken, missing and rotting teeth. His bike veers dangerously in-between preppy college kids, who laugh because they know him.
I hurry across 22nd Street, gazing up at the chipped faces of stone angels hovering menacingly over the Catholic Church. At the entrance, young street punks with tattooed faces gather. Dressed in all black, they smoke and brood, as their thin, desperate dogs roam as far as their chain-link leashes will allow. One of them has unnaturally large holes in his earlobes that appear to be melting like some nightmarish Dali painting. They don't ask for money, but don't turn it down if it's dropped at their feet. Five years ago, they lived in the Westlake mansions of town. They attended high school, maybe even with some of the students that pass them on their way to class now. Some wore knit sweaters that their grandparents gave them for Christmas and participated in Choir recitals. What's the point? they ask. I don't know and keep going.
When I reach my destination, I hurry inside, past the counter where, under the glass, bagels are displayed on constantly rotating platters. When the door to the bathroom opens, I scurry inside and stand upright in front of the cracked mirror, staring intently at the reflection of wind-blown hair and ruddy cheeks. I am here.