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Chapter One, friday, october 5th 8 12 AM Henry ran through his instructions one more time while the task seemed simple enough, his new boss struck him as the type who wouldn't tolerate any mistakes. Sitting hunched on a bench under a red wavy overhang, he waited for the 19 bus to pick him up. The morning sun peeked through the high rises hitting his neck and he could feel the familiar beads of armpit. Sweat dripped down the sides of his T shirt. It was one of his favorites, a shirt he'd had for years that red bomb hills, not countries, but he hated sweating in this shirt as the old nous exuded a more pungent body odor when on days like this, he forgot to put on deodorant. A loud quack startled him as something hit the side of the bus stop, reverberating through the entire overhang, followed by a rough, gravelly voice shouting, Get them off, get them the **** off me! Henry stood up to see a white guy wearing raggedy boxer shorts and a long sleeve button up shirt, tightly gripping a pair of khaki pants with both hands spinning frantically. He smacked the pants against everything around him. His main target was an enclosed advertisement for social, let a new startup that had recently taken san Francisco by storm. His shirt was wide open and he was writhing as he spun. He yelled this time louder and more panic stricken. They're everywhere, get them off anywhere else. A half naked man screaming at his pants might cause interest or at least a look of bewilderment, but Henry was just outside of the tenderloin and as long as there was no actual weapon or potential for human to human contact. Another crazy person yelling at an inanimate object was best ignored. He rolled his eyes and sat back down on the bench, feeling too tired for these hijinks Between seven and 10:00 AM during what might be commuting hours for the average San Francisco resident. The party for much of the city's transient community was winding down Henry Philip, who at 29 had been living in San Francisco for just over 10 years, no longer found any entertainment value in crackhead antics, he opted to close his eyes and run back through his instructions. Take the envelope to mr chan at galvez big brick building first floor, then go, suddenly something landed on his feet. Henry opened his eyes and looked down to see a pair of pants sitting on his shoes, then up to the pantless culprit staring at him, Help me stomp them, please help me get all the bugs. Henry had conditioned himself to an approach of non responsiveness but trapped inside the bus stop canopy. This couldn't be ignored. He kicked the pants off his feet and the man jumped away into the street behind him, a car slammed on its brakes to avoid hitting him and then drove on the driver shouting something out of the window as she honked the man furrowed his brow and glared at Henry. **** you, there's bugs everywhere, don't you see them, We gotta stomp him. The man lunged onto the pants, jumping on them repeatedly. In a simultaneous movement, he wriggled out of his button up and dropped it onto the pile of clothing, continuing to stomp with a crazed expression. The man looked at Henry and asked him almost politely this time, aren't you going to help me? Henry avoided the man's gaze as he replied, There aren't any bugs man, you're cool with that. The man paused his stomping. He now stood naked save for his green plaid boxer shorts, his chest and arms were smeared with black smudges like he'd been rolling around in fresh asphalt the night before. His chicken scratch tattoos blended with the smudges, as did several scars and scrapes mostly on his forearms. While the man looked weathered, Henry could now see that they were likely much closer in age than he'd initially presumed. They shared a similar build, lean, but toned as he preferred to think about his skinny nous, he's much less pale though Henry thought, surprised to feel envious of the man's tanned skin. Am I hallucinating the man asked? I don't know man, there just aren't any bugs, are you sure? Yeah, dude, no bugs, Henry fiddled with his skateboard readjusting its placement next to him on the bench, he glanced up and then back down quickly so as not to meet the man's determined stare when he had looked into his eyes before It had been unsettling. There was a glaze to them, along with a slight jitteriness, like it was impossible for them to stay focused. Now with the man standing so close he couldn't help but notice that poking out of his boxer shorts was an uncircumcised *****. Seeing this Henry stood up, grabbed his board and walked around to the side of the bus stop. God damn it, Henry muttered. The last thing he wanted to see this early in the morning was some stranger's ****. The man followed him. Please man, just look at my back, he said, turning around. Don't you see all the bugs? With a more frustrated tone, Henry responded. No dude, I'm telling you no bugs. The man paused, confused, his wandering eyes looked up then desperately back at Henry, Will you just scratch it for me then? He pleaded, twisting and reaching for the middle of his back with both hands. I'm itching, so bad. No man, I'm sorry, I can't Please man, please. They itch so bad. Henry saw the 19 bus stopped at a light three streets away with another minute to go before it arrived he weighed his options. He could walk away and miss his bus, delaying his day unnecessarily or he could hold strong his position and continue waiting. Risking some kind of physical contact with the man shuttering at the thought of an altercation. Henry pondered his third option. He wondered if it was schizophrenia or a drug trip causing this man's insanity, is it permanent, he thought, who can help someone like this? He couldn't ignore him any longer. The man moved closer to him, his stench an all out assault on Henry's nostrils, there was a rancid nous that reminded him of an ashtray stuffed with cigarette butts left rotting in water for a few days. He knew the smell well from his time working as a bartender, sometimes he left the ashtrays out in the back courtyard during a rain and he would have to carry them to the garbage. One time he tripped and the black murky water splashed onto his shirt. The smell had been so resilient that even after he changed his shirt, his manager had asked him to go home and shower, The man continued to plead, looking at the guy. A sharp pang of sadness hit him begrudgingly, Henry said, Alright, where's the ditch? The man's eyes lit up. He turned around and pointed to a spot on his lower back. Henry took his skateboard and used the edge of the tail to scratch the man's back. He looked away, hoping to avoid seeing any more of the flakes flying off the man's skin as he scratched lower the crackhead ordered Henry obliged, his board had some serious razor tail. The plies worn down so much that they formed a sharp edge which could slice this guy's back. If he didn't scratch carefully, it had been a long time since he had a tail like this when he'd been sponsored on his way to the professional ranks. He would receive upward of eight free skateboards every month back then he never had to worry about razor tail. He also never imagined that his battered board could work so effectively as a back scratcher. The bus arrived, exhaling it's deep sigh and the doors opened for him. Okay, Henry said as he slung his skateboard to his side and walked onto the bus, I gotta go man. Ah thanks so much. I think you got most of them. Henry tapped his clipper card and looked around to make sure he didn't know anyone on the bus. He first scanned the faces for Ellen as he did in any crowd, searching for her blond curls and piercing green eyes. Surely one of these days he would see her lovely face in the wild, sitting on a packed bus like this one, playing with her left ear ring the way she did when she was lost in thought. While disappointed, he was mostly relieved he wouldn't want her to have seen what he'd just done. He had just stooped to a weird new low one that along with everything else that was going on in his life. He'd prefer to keep to himself as he sat down and wiped the tail of his skateboard on his pants leg. He assured himself that it had been the right thing to do. How else was that guy going to get all those bugs off his back?