Without a window facing the street, exiting the door was always interesting. Sometimes a car window broken. Sometimes a car wreck in progress. Sometimes a dead dog being tossed into the dumpster by a passerby. Sometimes Tony the Tiger of Oxford sleeping in the doorway blocking the rest of my day.
Today was the sometimes where Tony the Tiger was sitting across the street by the hamburger stand forcing everyone to ask if he was in line. He was not. The sidewalk was free for anyone to use, he said, could someone buy him a burger. He was willing to work, though, no one ever took him up on that. That was a tragedy waiting to back up into a parked car called don’t borrow my car that’s called grand theft auto.
He was wearing the jacket that made him famous in the surrounding blocks for the last time. It was a very worn marine flight jacket circa 1965 Vietnam decorated with a dragon fighting a tiger. The story changed every time, but you knew he was never in Vietnam, he wasn’t old enough though he looked it.
Being hungry meant hamburger, pizza or enchiladas and today felt like hamburger. Typically, I might head back upstairs and call it in then head over and pick up, but it was worth the time to mosey over and watch the spectacle.
Being numb to the sheer number of panhandlers in the neighborhood meant I could stand there ordering and smile graciously while declining to contribute to Tony’s delinquency. Just the day before, a friend brought over his long lost little brother who offered to go buy a six pack across the street. When didn’t return, we headed out to look for him. He walked up to me and not remembering me from just a few minutes before asked if I had any change.
Mr. Castro asked if I wanted jalapeños and I said yes and he wanted me to cough up fifty cents. I think he just wanted to torture Tony the Tiger with the change rattling in my pocket. I declined and was gently pushed out of the way by a couple of large bucketheads who proceeded to order doubles with cheese. One of them looked over at Tony who asked if they could help him out.
This is the first installment of “Not Particularly True Stories”
He proceeded to compliment the jacket. Was it his daddy’s? No. Was it an uncle or older brother? No. Where’d you get it? Found it. No worries, we’ll find the owner for you.
The two skinheads with marine tatoos looked at each other and walked over. They picked Tony the Tiger up by the jacket and proceeded to shake him out of it. Though Tony was as big as either one he didn’t resist. He just slid out like a cracked egg into a human puddle. Looked like that was it and the boys waited for their burgers then sat down at one of the picnic tables.
Tony the Tiger lay there staring up at the sky with one hand tapping out something on his chest. My burger was getting cold in the paper bag that was going to eventually give way to the grease so I headed back across the street. Once inside I headed over to the far window upstairs where I could stretch out and still see Tony the Tiger laying there on the sidewalk on his back and the two probably marines having their burger. The jacket now folded neatly as if laundered.
Finally, everyone had cleared out and Tony the Tiger was still on the ground. A police cruiser slowly moved past without stopping. The shape on the ground was familiar and fairly harmless at this time of day. They were stopped at one of the most dangerous intersections in town. Two blind corners where the building were not more than sidewalks width away from the street.
On queue, a car in the middle lane slowly turned left was promptly t-boned and pushed back into the police cruiser. Still having eyes on Tony the Tiger I could see the commotion wasn’t enough to get him off the ground. After a few minutes the scene grew a crowd and a few ambulances. A paramedic made his way over to Tony the Tiger and he was forced to get up by the cops. Gravity held his face in a frown scene end.
Nothing holding me inside I ventured forth yet again this time to the ice house. Frank the proprietor was grilling some chickens in his usual way to entice customers to purchase a fine lager for a dollar a pint. He didn’t keep it too cool that way it would force you to drink quick to avoid drinking it hot. An ice house in name only with all the doors wide open to the hot humid air.
Why why oh why do we stand around the hot grill on a hot night? It’s a lament not a question and it brings forth all the fireflies and rat racers. And Tony the Tiger of Oxford must appear to ask for some beer today he could repay someday. He does manage to get a piece of chicken, that’s free for anyone, but the beer is always a dollar no matter. No silence was achieved that hour as the parade of non-beer-buyers streamed past. Frank was not fazed but someone was moved to finally say what no one else was thinking.
The new guy who looked to become a regular couldn’t take it anymore and asked Frank why he kept feeding the freeloaders. Look at this guy, keeps asking for change. Why don’t you ask him to scram?
Everyone looked at Tony the Tiger. He would eventually manage to collect enough change to buy that refreshing brew he longed for. It would not take long, but the new guy was making it tough. He held his ground. Silent. Brooding. The new guy unleashed enough venom to make anyone want to fight back. Especially if you had friends standing around like the rest of us did.
Tony the Tiger faced the demon alone. His eyes slightly watering. His lower lip shaking. He looked down and saw a quarter. He bent down and picked it up. Slowly he turned and walked away. We never saw him again.
Some weeks had past when late one night at the pizza joint after closing a poker game was underway. All the shades had been drawn. There through a crack between the shade and the window of the front door I thought I saw Tony the Tiger sitting across the street on the curb looking right at us. The sad look on his face asking if he could join us.
No he couldn’t.