I was at Jane’s bar on Benton Place when I met the street artist who called himself the Klondike Kid. He’d asked me for a cigarette like this: “Hey mate, can I have a cigarette? This tea is so bad, I don’t know who would drink this tea.”
What made him think I had a cigarette, man, is what I said to him. He was drinking tea that he’d brought himself. He just sat at the bar with a thermos and no one seemed to care. I thought it was weird and I was kind of offended. I didn’t think it was right for him to take up a seat at the bar. It was Wednesday night around dusk. People were standing around trying to order.
I said to him “Aren’t you going to have a drink. Anyway wouldn’t it wash away the taste of the tea?”
He said he was the Klondike Kid, and it was clear I was supposed to know what that was.
“I don’t know what that is,” I said, but it sounded familiar. I didn’t tell him that it sounded familiar, because I knew it didn’t sound familiar because of anything he did. I had read it somewhere. Or maybe it was a commercial.
“It’s me,” said the Klondike Kid and he drank more of that tea and he made a face and said: “Can I have a cigarette, seriously this tea…”
“Leave me alone,” I said and shook the ice in my glass. Jane put another bourbon down and I said to her, “What’s with this guy, doesn’t he have to order something?”
“That’s the Klondike Kid,” said Jane. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll leave soon enough.”
Then I started getting really angry because I’d been coming to this bar for years and I never heard of this Klondike Kid and he was clearly nothing special and I hate when people think they’re something and I said to him, “Say, kid…”
“Call me Tomas,” he said.
“No,” I said. And then I forgot what I wanted to say. I drank some whiskey and followed Jane’s advice. I turned away and tried to find someone else to talk to.
The kid was still there an hour later and he was still drinking that god damned tea and making that face and I was drunk at that point, and I said: “Kid stop drinking that tea, god damn it.”
“You got a cigarette?” he said and that really pissed me off. I took out a pack of cigarettes and I lit one up for myself.
And I said, “Screw you, kid.”
“You know that mural on Lavendar Avenue between Marcy and Sparks?” He said this to me.
“No,” I said, even though I did. It was a beautiful piece of work. A giant blood orange was hanging from a pine tree and a woman was reaching up for it. She was an old woman, with her tongue out, and there was something magical about her.
“Come on,” said the Kid, “give me a cigarette.”
“There are a hundred people in this bar who’d give you a cigarette.”
“It’s not really about the cigarette, though,” said the Kid. “I’m the Klondike Kid. I painted that mural.”
“Go to Hell,” I told him. I gave him the pack of cigarettes and I left the bar.
Later I checked with Jane and she said it was true.