Joe awoke at dawn to the bang and clatter coming from below. A family of Mexicans had moved into the empty storefront and opened a tortilla shop. They broke out their stones at the first sigh of daylight and began pounding their corn.
He crawled out of bed and padded into the kitchen, stepping around the cockroaches. The garbage sack sounded like something alive.
Things grew in the refrigerator. He saw something green there, covered in sticky fuzz. A yellow plume of rancid foam protruded from the neck of a plastic milk container. A month-old banana lay like a turd at state on the rusty shelf.
Screw it. He'd have a couple of instant coffee. Not much of a way to screw that up. . .especially since he had no cream or sugar. He ran tepid tap water over the stale crystals and almost gagged on the first sip. Mountain grown my ass! he thought.
Outside, a sick haze hung over the mean streets. Cars and busses rumbled by, farting exhaust. Joe opened his mouth and breathed deeply. He could almost feel the carcinoma forming in his lungs.
A black whore approached him. She looked as though she had spent the night working on her back. She had large bags under her eyes, eyes that were mean and sad all at the same time. She curled her lips as Joe walked past, looking at him the way a preacher looked at a used condom floating in the gutter.
Joe cross the street against the light. He was struck by a huge black Lincoln and knocked into the gutter. A bald little man jumped out of the car and rushed up to him.
"Are you hurt" the man asked, a worried look on his face. He had struck a bum and a bum could spell trouble.
"I don't think so," Joe replied. He got up from the street and dusted himself off. His knee hurt. He had a large tear in his pant leg.
"Do you need medical attention?" The little man's eyes glinted like frost on car chrome.
"Naw, I'm okay," Joe said.
The little man reached into his breast pocket and extracted a thin alligator wallet. He peeled out a crisp one-hundred dollar bill.
"Here, take this," he said hastily, shoving the bill into Joe's hand. Joe looked up at the man was gone, having loaded back into his Lincoln and hauled ass.
One-Eyed Louie was behind the bar. Joe strolled in and took his customary seat. The C-note in his pocket made him feel like royalty.
"Flip for one?" Louis asked. The first sucker all day.
"Why not?" Joe answered.
One-Eyed Louie reached up and pulled the fake plastic front from his right eye socket. He flipped it into the air.
"Call it!" he said, grabbing the disk out of the air and slapping it down on the back of his left hand.
"Pupil," Joe said.
One-Eyed Louie lifted his right hand. The blue-flecked pupil looked up like yesterday's haddock.
"Sonuvabitch!" said One-Eyed Louie.
Joe treated himself to lunch at Li Ching's. He stumbled three blocks through calmer streets. Fewer vehicles emitted their evil winds. The whores were resting up for the night shift. The cop on the beat gave Joe the evil eye and slapped his big Irish palm with his billy stick. Joe allowed his mind to smile and walked on about his way.
The food was shitty. The rice was lumpy, stuck together with starch. The tiny bits of meat hidden among the broccoli clumps looked green. Joe could recall seeing few stray dogs in the neighborhood and there had been rumors.
Across the way sat an ancient Chinese gentleman. He had long, dirty fingernails and he spoke with his mouth full. Strings of saliva clung to his lips, quivering in the fetid air. His mouth looked like an obscene harp, Joe decided, turning away.
The waitress was halfway attractive. Dark and small, with flashing black eyes and straight hair dark as a crow's wing hanging to her ass. Tiny little tits. She smiled at Joe and showed gold inlay in her front teeth. As she walked past Joe noticed she smelled of stale Kotex and fish. Too bad.
Joe went to the "Hardhat Bar" for more drinks. He like to go there in the afternoons and watch the mill workers fight.
They came in at five-thirty, sweaty and grimy from the furnaces. They chugged huge pitchers of cold tap beer one after the other. Arm-wrestling was then required, with huge muscles bulging. Winners yahooed and drank free beers and losers sulked and got pissed. Smiles turned to snarls and fists were closed. Lips spit racial slur, doubts of parentage, the possibility of incest. Soon, anarchy prevailed.
Names were taken and asses were kicked. The smoky air vibrated with the din of violence. Wild cries and the plop of big fists on wet flesh. Cods were kicked and windpipes strangled between fingers big as Polish sausages. Tongues stuck out through lips rapidly turning blue.
It was always great fun until the cops came and dragged the combatants away. Joe enjoyed sitting on the end stool near the cigarette machine, well out of harm's way, and watching the show. People were such stupid, violent assholes, he decided.
Joe met the whore two blocks from his dump. She stood on the fringe of the street lamp's glow, leaning against the wall of a building. The took one look at him before looking away. He looked like a bum.
"Are you working?" Joe asked.
She glanced back at him, ran her eyes up and down him. She lifted a long, brown cigarette to her purple-painted lips and took a deep drag.
"Look fella, don't waste my time," she said, spitting out the smoke.
Joe smiled. People were all the same. He reached into his front pocket and pulled out a wad of crumpled bills.
"I got money," he said, holding his hand out. Her eyes became interested, looking down to his hand then back up to his face. He was a strange looking dude, he might be dangerous.
Well, what the hell, weren't they all?
"It'll cost you thirty," she said. He pushed peroxided hair up off her forehead with her fingertips.
"For a half and half?"
"No, straight. Half'n cost ya an extra ten. And no rough stuff."
"Okay," Joe said. He untangled two $20 and handed them to her. "No rough stuff."
The lone light bulb hanging on the frayed cord paid her few compliments. She seemed to age ten years before Joe's eyes the instant he pulled the little beaded chain.
Her face was pocked with old acne scars. The skin on her neck was going to turkey-waddle. Her breast were huge and swung across her lower chest like to flat melons. Dimpled flesh bulged around the tops of her thighs.
Well, what the hell could he expect for forty buck? Joe reasoned.
She performed the usual whore's absolutions. Out came a washcloth from her big purse. She wet it at the kitchen sink and wiped it through her thick black bush. She then wet it again and used it on Joe.
Joe lay there with his eyes closed, waiting. He heard the squeak of the bedsprings and sensed the warmth of her thigh as it passed over his face. Her lips took him in suddenly and he inhaled from the warm, wet shock. It had been some time.
He looked at her vagina. It was very ugly, a raw split with lips long and tattered. Ragged, like a rooster's comb. Oh well, what did it matter? he thought, bending to the task.
She was a pro. . .much better than the old men who knelt down in a theater balcony Joe knew about. She brought him off in less that two minutes.
Joe came out of the bathroom. She was dressed, just shouldering her big purse. She seemed nervous.
"She you around, fella," she said. She glanced at him then looked away.
"Yeah, okay," Joe replied.
"Thanks," she said, slipping out the door.
Joe walked over by the bed and lifted his trousers from the floor. He ran his hand into the right front pocket. Empty.
Well, what could you expect from a whore?
Easy come, easy go, that was Joe's motto.
He lay in the dark waiting for sleep, listening to the roaches play tag in the garbage sack.