On the street where I live, Marlon haunts the corner of 22nd Street and Guerrero. He looks to be in his forties, though he could pass for late-thirties. He speaks with a heavy Cuban twang as he calls to a passerby, “Ay-lo! You know way I’m frohm? I’m frome Kuba! Heh heh heh.” Get to know him better, and he’ll share the skinny on everything that’s going down in the realm of his subconscious.
“You know-ohhhh,” he shouts, calling me over. “Dee Kolombayuns gohna moovalotta stofe tonight, my freynd.” He makes a gun with his fingers. “Alotta peeple gohna die! You wait and see.” He turns, waves, and continues down the street to spread the news to other passerby's.
The first time he told me this, I just blew it off, but a few days later, he tried to sell me a gun right there on the street. At first I felt frightened, and then I got angry, because I don’t like feeling threatened on my own block.
I avoided Marlon after that, crossing the street if I saw him coming, and I made the rounds at the neighboring stores to hear their impression of him.
Billy and Samir, two elderly Palestinian men, run the Pride Superette corner store just below my apartment. The store, opened in 1973, is a dusty relic which somehow stays afloat against the new, upscale markets that sell organic potato chips and vacuum-wrapped salmon.
When I mention Marlon, Billy twirls a finger by his ear. “He’s crazy.” Samir listens in and adds. “He talk too much, man. He talking all day long!”
I ask about the guns. “Do you think we need to be worried?”
Billy shrugs. He left his home in Jaffa in the 1960’s when Israeli tanks began rolling through his neighborhood. He doesn’t raise a fuss over some harmless crazy talk.
I repeat myself. “So you aren’t worried.”
Billy lifts his palms. “Eh.”
In Que Tal, the coffee shop across the street, I ask Andy, the veteran barista, if he’s worried.
“He used to come in here every now and then. We had to kick him out after some of our female customers complained about unwanted attention.”
“Did he ever talk about guns?”
“All the time.”
I ask if he mentioned the Columbians, and Andy says, “I thought they were Nicaraguans.”
Andy glances out the window to where Marlon is lying on a bench beneath a discarded comforter. “I think he’s just lost in his own world.”
“You think he’s dangerous.”
Andy wipes down the counter and shakes his head. “No.”
Marlon morphs characters from one day to the next. One day, he swaggers by in a zoot suit, ornamented with a gold cravat and a ruby boutonnierre, his hair gelled in black waves. Other times, he sports a cardigan sweater and wire-rim glasses that give him the look of a professor who dropped his marbles on the steps of academia. The following day, he’ll appear in a stained undershirt with the sleeves torn off, hollering about how his father, Fidel Castro, ripped him off the coca plantation they used to work together.
This evening, he’s looking sharp, with a black hat, a white jacket, and a red checkered tie. He stops outside an empty storefront, and peers through the mail slot into the space a beauty parlor used to occupy. Walking on, he stops at a trash can to sift through the contents. He shuffles a few scraps from the pile and then wanders across the street, oblivious to the painted white lines, jaywalking through a place called sanity.