Tag Archives: Still Shooting

“Still Shooting” – Non-Fiction by Todd Pate

Drink Coca-Cola - Weegee (Arthur Fellig), c. 1950
Drink Coca-Cola – Weegee (Arthur Fellig), c. 1950

Our good buddy & hobo journalist extraordinaire Todd Pate gets personal and shares “Still Shooting,” a plaintive account from some of his darker days, which you can also find in our Summer 2014 issue.

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I CAME UPON THE OLD JUNKIE at the corner of 111th Street and 3rd Avenue. Spanish Harlem. He’d just finished shooting up in the middle of the sidewalk. The thin rope he’d used to cut off the circulation to his left arm dangled loosely around the elbow. The syringe lay on the sidewalk at his feet but he still held his right hand to his left arm in shooting position, pressing his thumb down on the invisible plunger, over and over. People passed by with Spring afternoon speed, going in and out of the bodega, dollar store, fried chicken shack, Cuban or Chinese joint or liquor store. Never noticing, never caring.

I can’t say I cared, either. I’d quit drinking that Winter, I cared about very little then. I had no compassion for myself, much less for that old junkie, in those early months without the drink. I didn’t even know what compassion was anymore. I knew nothing about anything in those days. Without the drink, everything was one greasy unformed thing. The only thing that made sense was drinking and I wasn’t drinking anymore and the only thing to do about that was to walk, day and night, above freezing or below, around Spanish Harlem. The noise in my head faded a little when my feet were moving. While in motion, I could forget about the gaping hole running through the center of me, quit worrying if it would ever close up. I took each step as if they’d been predetermined. But my feet froze about 10 feet from that old junkie. Seconds after I stopped, the noise rushed in. I fought to push it away, putting all my focus on the old junkie…

His eyes were broken windows in his sagging gray face, curtained by stringy, salt-and-pepper hair. Sparse cactus-needle whiskers grew around his open mouth that looked to be stuck on a syllable of a word he’d failed to finish. A skinny and bony creature, but rogue flab managed to collect about his midsection. Shoulders rose and fell with each slow breath. Dirty sweater, holes in it. Dirty pants hanging below a pale ass. Belt buckled in the last hole, excess of belt swinging about like the withered remnants of some mysterious appendage. Sockless feet disappearing in tattered tennis shoes much too large.

He took three tiny crab steps toward me as if to balance against a wind blowing in his mind. Once stabilized, he looked at me. I looked down. I was wearing a sweater, too. Belt buckled on the last hole, too. My green cargo pants too big, cuffs shredded. The pants I wore the last time I drank. I pulled them up over my waist and there were my black tennis shoes. I felt the hole in the right heel. I wore them the last night I drank, also. I looked up just as the wind blew the junkie again. He crab stepped closer, I crab stepped further away as if he were the bull and I the matador. I couldn’t take his eyes anymore so I looked down. The same pants, the same shoes. But I can’t remember anything else about the last time I drank. Crab steps, crab steps. I just know Mount Sinai was the hospital…

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