I had an uncomfortable run-in with Tax this morning. I was exiting my apartment with a tremendous burlap sack filled with money; the "$" sign I'd painted on the sack was still fresh, and tacky to the touch. Tax was carrying a jar of urine – coincidentally, also with a "$" painted on it.
He was cordial, as always, but I was a little disoriented and not on my best behavior. Honestly, I didn't want Tax to know exactly where I lived. I realize how that sounds, but I have had trust issues with Tax ever since a neighbor told me he'd been arrested a few years back for attacking a woman in the lobby of her apartment building. And I'm sort of like a woman. No matter how kindly he treats me, or how many of the boring details of my life he seems to remember, that arrest story has always put a slightly dark edge to our interactions, and to his entreaties for cash.
Having him know where I live – and Tax told me he was already pretty intimate with my building, since he helped my neighbor, Jon, move a few months ago – also compromised my last bit of social remove. It meant that from this moment forward I would have to deal with Tax directly, and could no longer engage in the Coward's Walk. (The C.W. is a wending route from the Flatbush and 7th Avenue subway to my house. It's a series of out-of-the-way criss-crosses along 7th Avenue to avoid the regular presence of panhandlers at certain corners. I rarely use this walk, except on occasions when I'm feeling distracted, depressed, poor, misanthropic or selfish. When I'm in one of my chemically-unregulated "moods" I make sure to walk along the side of 7th Avenue that's across from Tax's perch, and across from my own apartment building. I've even been known to enter a corner market across the street from Tax, to indicate to him that I had business there, in case he might feel like I'm avoiding him with purpose – which, of course, I am. This means I've had occasion to spend $2.00 on a Gus' Grape Soda that I probably won't even drink just to avoid a prolonged, boredom and guilt-bloated transaction with Tax – and no, the idiocy of this is not lost on me, thanks.)
We talked for a while, about rent (weird), and about "motherfucker" landlords. I made a case for my landlord not being a motherfucker, as she raises my rent less than 4% each year, and Tax agreed that, yes, she was anything but a motherfucker for that. We exchanged goodbyes, and he didn't even ask me for "a little help" or, as he usually phrases it, "a little extra today." Maybe it's because I hadn't showered yet, and was covered in soot.
Ten minutes later, after depositing my fortune in The Gotham City Amalgamated Bank, I found myself in a coffee shop, drawn along through my day by rituals of which I'm no longer conscious. The new issue of STAY FREE!, a Brooklyln-based magazine, was resting in a pile on the coffee shop's floor, deposited beneath bulletins advertising creative non-fiction workshops ("an open and trusting environment!") and Bikram Yoga for Preemies. I picked up a copy of the magazine because its glossy surface reflected light and appeared shiny and, henceforth, compelled me to touch it. The cover read, "AMERICAN GENTRIFIER" and featured a photograph of a very white Brooklyn couple with their baby, and their baby's Baby Bjorn con-strapment. It was obviously a parody of white people living in Brooklyn, photographed by other white people living in Brooklyn, with editorial by even more white people living in Brooklyn. I immediately recognized the "father" in the photograph as someone I've met several times at bars, and every time I meet him I make him tell me the name of that plastic mouthpiece instrument with a tiny piano keyboard along its body. And each time he gives me a different, wrong answer. (Last time it was "Toonophone" or something equally inane.)
I thought it was interesting that I knew the model in the photo and, further, thought it was interesting that I knew one of the contributing photographers. And even further, thought it was interesting that one of the features contained pictures, taken by this photographer, of a comedian I know, and in the picture he was seated in a local bar I know maybe just a little too well. Then I flipped the magazine over, and saw that STAY FREE! has a second cover – there's a name for this in publishing (i think it's "toonophone") – and on that second cover, all by itself, was the giant, dentally incomplete grinning face of Tax. My Tax!
His name is Jake Greene, and he is a real man. Also, that arrest story was apparently true, but he did not commit the crime. He was basically profiled for being a consistent figure in the neighborhood and was never even placed in a police line-up. After three years in the can (yes, i said it), his sentence was reversed and on the heels of that symbolic apology came a big apology check from the city for over one hundred thousand dollars. Unfortunately, Tax spent the entire sum on taffy and root beer popsicles, and now he's back on the corner.
Tomorrow I'm going to ask him to autograph the magazine, and see if he's got any of that taffy left.