He walks around. Even in the winter. Even on the coldest days. The
blizzard didn't even stop him. He must have to go out to keep whatever
sanity he has left-I'm guessing. I wouldn't think he was the hustling
type. He wasn't going out and scamming anybody or stealing. Well, he
wasn't stealing anything significant and his scams-no doubt-a waste of
energy or defunct. His coat was a neon blue puffy cloud that kept him
from freezing to death. It enveloped him. Swallowed him up. His little
head arched out of the top of the cloud reaching to be able to see his
feet. His whitebeard-an obstacle as well. It is matted at the tips and
turning yellow. Piss in the snow yellow. It bends off his chin and
curves out of the top of the cloud obstructing the view of his feet.
Maybe he used to be a blonde. If I had to guess and I do-the blonde
hair screamed and left the scene a long time ago. He mostly floats
along in his cloud through the alleys-when he can. Once in a while, he
carries found objects. I don't mean things to make art with-I mean the
type of shit that is going to help this creature keep breathing. Keep
thinking. Keep collecting for the betterment of his existence.
Sometimes, the objects seem pretty useless to me. What the fuck are
you going to do with a broken lawn duck? Yeah a broken lawn duck-he
was carrying one the other day. You know the ducks that folks put on
their lawns and dress up for different seasons and what not? Isn't
that fuckin thing heavy? Maybe he is making art. Maybe the broken duck
reminds him of his broken soul. His damaged body. His beaten self
esteem. His severed hope. Maybe the garbage he collects is art. Maybe
he wanted to decorate his lawn. Only his lawn is the littered muddy
gravel pit underneath the Kennedy.
I saw him climb up a ledge on Ashland and slip through a section
of chain link fence that had been cut and carefully folded over to
make a nice doorway into his realm. So I was curious as to what things
looked like up there. It is my neighborhood now too. I can go up
there. No law protects this place. Well, not one that would protect
him over me. So I went up. Followed the beaten path. You have now
entered the realm of Whitebeard-I heard an atmospheric voice say as I
narrowed my frame through the doorway. I stood on an old railroad
overpass above Ashland Avenue. As those with an agenda zipped
underneath and past me, I looked down the tracks. The tracks dive into
the earth and disappear. The grass reclaimed the space taken by
eminent domain. I stood on an abandoned way of thinking. I stood on
abandoned ideals. This is the site of abandoned wants and needs.
Nobody needs whatever these tracks used to facilitate the delivery of-
a declaration of the possibility or inevitability of change. I stood
between the two pieces of iron that made the exterior of the bridge.
Studded iron arched and supported by studded buttresses. The façade
held a sign for all the cars and trucks to see, but the guts held
different signs. These signs were sprayed on, drawn on, scratched on,
and scribbled. White Food Food was printed in gold over the rusted
studded deteriorating iron. What does that even mean? Gotham painted
on another spot in white food coloring that dripped off the vertical
metal page-stars on either side of the word. It did sort of feel like
Gotham up there- otherworldly. It would take a step, a climb, and a
slither to get there. The passer by could never see. I could see the
sanctuary these high walls created. I could see possibilities for an
adolescent mind. I could see that I wasn’t seen. No one would wonder
why I was up here. No one would care. I could see the allure. I could
see why Whitebeard stays somewhere up here. Where? That was to the
left. It couldn’t be to the left. To the left was the elevated strip
of land that the trains used to rumble atop-huffing and puffing
through the neighborhood. Shaking the table lamps. Rattling mom’s
china. Making a poorly hung picture droop even further to one side.
Forcing you to hold what ya got till the terror passes. Till the
caboose waves goodbye and thank you. The obtrusive invader carrying
your needs along the tracks of salvation disappeared into the curve
and never returned. That was to the left.
To the right, the tracks stopped at my feet. Abruptly. Stopped. Chain-
link fence covered in green tarp. Above is the massive concrete slab
that is the Kennedy expressway. The tarp is opaque. Not country club
mesh. The type that says ‘stay the fuck out.’ For people like me, it
translates to ‘find a way in.’ There is a flap of the tarp at ankle
height alarming what’s inside of my presence as the wind kicks up. The
clouds keep me camouflaged. I stick the camera under the flap and snap
I look at the digital display to discover that I have found
Whitebeard’s castle. It was a tent with a painted green lizard on the
side and a broken stone duck on his muddy gravel pit lawn. Whitebeard
is an artist. Although his lawn is littered with garbage- literally-he
has a white plastic garbage can just outside the door to his tent.
Once that fills up, I guess he walks about ten feet or so and dumps it
out on the lawn. Makes sense I guess. That’s what I do too-kind of. I
put it in a black garbage can, that goes on a truck, and eventually it
gets dumped somewhere too. I guess the point is to not see the
rubbish, as that has always been the point.
There are also the bleak remains of another settlement to the west
of White Beard’s castle. I wonder if Whitebeard made them leave. The
place has an acrid smell. Frankly, it smells like death. Maybe
Whitebeard killed them. They probably staked their claim on his land,
a vital portion of earth that Whitebeard uses as his studio. What
else is there to do but murder? The site is perpendicular to the high
north wall that protects the castle from the cold north-westerlies. To
the east, the brick wall of the west side of a factory defends
easterly intrusion. The south wall is a sloping slab of concrete from
ground to roof. The roof was the Kennedy. It was the most brilliant
site of survival I had ever seen.
It is somewhat comforting to know that Whitebeard is not homeless.
He has a castle, a realm, a tent, a studio, a lawn, a roof, a garbage
can, a broken lawn duck, and his very own warm cloud. His existence
belittles mine. I write or paint or tend to needy people while he
collects and survives. I stuff my face with cheeseburgers, fries, and
a coke. A sausage and pepperoni pizza with a side of mozzarella
sticks. A milkshake. A coffee. A venti chocolati espresso latte
mochachino. A Chop-pak. A side of bacon. A ham and cheese omelet,
pancakes, toast, and hash-browns. A Big Gulp. A McRib-when its on
special. I super-size it. Made to order ice cream. Buckets of ice
cream. While I’m eating ice cream I make faces at people as they walk
by the ice cream parlor’s windows. I stuff my face. Stuff it again.
Then I stuff it once more for good measure. Then I go to sleep in a
California King sized bed that I sleep in alone. One day I hope to
have a realm.
This place reminds me of another. Another place. Where did I see
it before? Maybe I saw it on the television. Maybe I saw it in the
newspaper. Maybe I saw it on the internet. Maybe I read about a place
that was just like this one. It has the dynamic quality that a new
place tends to have-the kind that makes me feel like an intruder. The
kind that makes me slightly uncomfortable. The kind that prevents me
from asking the questions that I want to ask. It makes my stomach
turn. Swirling up and around in circles. My double burger is doing
flips. My fries are jigging for bits of bacon in the cesspool of
cheese that sloshes from left to right as I sneak around this foreign
I look for clues. I look for signifiers. I scan the land. I see a
pair of old sandals-half eaten by mud. I see a big silver dog bowl. I
see detergent bottles. A soiled blanket. A dirty diaper. Eyeglasses
with one lens. I see the sun trying to pierce the haze. It punctures
the smog just enough to make a rectangular shaped beam that hits the
top of the castle. This hostile beam was where the realm and the rest
of the world collided.
I feel that it is a justifiable hour to awake the king. I consider
that my call from the fence, a simple, “Hello?, ” could set a king
off. No guillotine for me. Kings can be very erratic, especially a
king who is dealing with all that racket from the Kennedy. I would
like to see him emerge from the castle at a distance. I’d like to be
able to judge his sanity from afar. I’d like to be able to run or grab
something substantial, if need be, to defend myself. So, I call,
“Helloooo???” “Anyone in there?”
There is no immediate response. I hold my position and turn the
volume up to a considerable decibel. “Heeeellllloooooo-anyyyybodyyy in
thereeeee???” Nothing for ten seconds. Something begins to move in the
castle. A circular shape presses against the rectangular sunbeam and
moves in a triangular pattern. Finally, the zipper begins to open on
the castle door. The door flap falls into the castle and two feet
emerge from within. The feet were followed by legs, followed by a
waist, followed by a neon blue puffy cloud, followed by a tiny human
head, and pulling up the rear was the piss in the snow yellow tips of
a white beard.
The emergence of Whitebeard stopped my brain. The moment was still
in my eyes. The images hadn’t gotten past the looking stage. I was not
thinking. Just looking. He looked for the voice. He knew, because of
the way he designed the castle, the voice could only come from one
direction. He saw me. I could tell I did not worry him right away. He
just said, “What?”
“Hey, how’s it going?” I asked.
Whitebeard was on his knees, his eyes on me, his body facing the
door flap, stranded in a physical state of confusion. He had his wits
about him, it seemed, but his body was confused about what movements
to make. “What?” he asked again. This time he wanted an answer.
“I saw you carrying that broken lawn duck, and I wanted to know
what you were planning on doing with it.” I returned.
“What the fuck are you talking about man?” His voice was filled
with ashes, smoke billowed from his lungs and he rasped his responses
“That broken stone duck out in front of your tent. The one that
had the head of a goose or duck or a swan or something at one point
before someone threw it out and you found it. I was just wondering
what your plans for it were-if you don’t mind sharing.”
He was shaking his head while I asked about it. He put his
knuckles on the ground and used them to push the cloud into the air
and used his toes to lift his legs. “That thing made me laugh.” He
“Is that why you have it?” I asked.
“What, is it yours or something? You can have it back man. I don’t
want it. I just found it man.”
I interjected. “ Nahh dude, I’m just curious, I saw you carrying
it, it looked heavy so, I thought I’d ask.”
Whitebeard walked toward me but slowed his approach as he neared.
“I saw it on somebody’s lawn. It had a yellow rain jacket, and a
yellow hat. Fuckin’ thing had clothes man. Then I laughed, cause I
wondered why someone would buy clothes for a fuckin stone duck.” He
laughed as he walked past the broken duck on his lawn, and he glanced
at the duck in transit. “Ya, fuckin dressed up, u bahleed dat?” He
asked. He stopped fifteen yards from my position. He considered his
own comfort level with the line of questioning. “Fuck u care anyway?”
“I wondered why you would carry that thing around. I wanted to
know the story behind the duck,” I said.
He shook his head at me. “That seems as dumb as me carrying it
around, man. I picked it up cause I didn’t want someone to go lookin
for the guy who broke it. Now I’m just the guy who founttit-it was all
broken when I fountit. You see?”
“Yeah, I get it. So what are going to do with it?” I asked.
“Fuck u mean?” Aint gonna do shit but walk past it-makes me laugh.”
“Do you collect a lot of stuff that makes you laugh?” I asked.
“Nah.” He looked right and left and found what he was lookin for.
There was an orange five-gallon bucket that he flipped upside down and
took a seat. “You got any change you can spare man?”
“Nah, “ I said. “But if I come up here again, I’ll bring you some
“Whatever.” He looked mad. Mad that he was woken up. Mad that he
didn’t get anything out of being woken up, and was now up and stung by
the cold. Awake and alive. A new day. He looked around. He scanned the
area, seemingly, to make sure all was the way it should be. His head
snapped back at me. “Gotta smoke? He asked.
“That I got,” I said, and I pulled the squares from my pocket. I
handed him one. He stuck it between his hidden lips and I lit the
smoke while he blocked the wind from blowing out the flame. He stood
up and walked back to the tent. “Don’t wake me up no more,” he said as
he lowered himself to enter the castle.
“I’m sorry buddy, but its three in the afternooon,” I said.
He stopped just before the tent and said, “Not for me.”