My nose involuntarily wrinkles as a puff of acrid smoke wafts past it, and I momentarily crave a cigarette. I peer into the cafe through a large, single pane window speckled with the remnants of evaporated windblown rain drops. I'm looking to see if I recognize anyone. I don't. But I don't even care; I don't really feel like being around people anymore. I look to my left, checking for my friends, but I don't see anyone I recognize. I just see a gray haired woman sleeping under an old Batman sleeping bag and a few people lingering on the corner shouting at each other, arms flailing, hands gesturing; I can't tell if it's friendly or not. I'm tempted to just walk home.
“Hey,” says an unfamiliar voice. “You looking for something?”
I turn around to find a man standing before me smoking a cigarette. He's short, maybe five foot six at most, and stocky. He's wearing a big leather coat and a dark, strangely patterned Fedora.
“Uh,” I begin, trying to stifle a laugh, thinking he looks like a thuggish version of George Costanza. “No. I'm just waiting for some friends.”
“Huh,” he replies and takes a drag off his cigarette. “It's cool, man.”
I turn my head to avoid the smoke. I look back at Brandon, at his car parked in front of a fire hydrant and his new found Volkswagen enthusiast buddies. They're all still standing there, staring at the car, talking about something. Or nothing.
Ghetto Costanza's standing next to me still, bobbing back and forth, seeming uncomfortable, unable to stand still.
“Have you ever heard a screech owl kill a jackrabbit in a blackberry bush at 3 am?” he asks out of nowhere.
I look at him, cocking my head sideways, trying to comprehend the question.
“Uh, no,” I eventually reply, shaking my head. “No, I don't think so.”
He takes a drag off his cigarette. “I have. Over seven hundred times this year,” he says, exhaling.
I stifle a laugh and look down at my feet for a moment, unable to make even insincere eye contact without losing it and laughing hysterically in his face; I actually want to see where this conversation is leading. I take a breath, and I notice his feet. I notice his shoes, rather, big, shiny leather boots. They're enormous. I wonder if they actually fit him..
“Oh,” I reply coolly, eying him skeptically. “Cool.”
“Do you know what it sounds like?” he questions, leaning in closer to me.
“The rabbit makes a sound like a woman screaming. It is the sound of absolute terror. EEEEEEE!” he imitates, his wide eyes surrounded by thick, black plastic frames.
“Huh,” I nod.
“If you understand what that all means, well,” he chuckles, “I guess you understand what it all means then, you know?” He pauses a moment. “I'm from the empire of the owl you know.” He takes another drag off his cigarette.
I cough. “Oh yeah?” I question, intrigued. “Where is that exactly?”
He scoffs and steps back looking offended. “Hey man, you know, I've got better things to do than–”
“No no no,” I cut in, “I'm serious. I really wanna know; it was a serious question,” I plead, making strong eye contact with him.
“Well, if you really want to know,” he says trailing off, pulling a phone out of his pocket, flipping it open and pushing a few buttons before putting it away and continuing. “I can tell you what it's all about. The meaning of meaning. I know this stuff. I've been around, man. I've never wasted my time with all that educational institutional reading and math bull shit. I work the streets. I make shit happen. You don't need school. What you need is other people, dig? You have to talk to people. You need a group of about thirty people. And they all have to have bank accounts. Real ones, though.”
I look over at Brandon, standing in the street behind his car, his shirt mostly unbuttoned. He's pulling it open wide enough to show off his new tattoo, his shaven chest obviously artificially tanned despite the early morning darkness. The shorter of his two greasy new friends puts his hands on his head, crouching low on the sidewalk, looking like his mind has just been blown, and he's about to crab walk. The other guy just stands there looking bored. Brandon sees me looking at him and smiles wide, starts buttoning his shirt back up.
“Hey,” Ghetto Costanza barks.
“What's your name, man?”
“Oh, uhh, Brandon.”
He scoffs. “You gotta change that, man. You look like that guy. What's his name?”
“Brandon?” I suggest.
“No,” he retorts, sounding annoyed, looking next to me, squinting through his thick glasses.
I turn to look at whatever he's looking at just as Brandon steps up beside me.
“Whaddya need, man?” he asks Brandon. “I got it.”
Brandon chuckles. “Hey guys, what's up?”
“You guys gotta keep your minds sharp if you're gonna succeed in this life,” Ghetto Costanza explains. “You gotta speed things up to stay on top,” he says and taps his temple with his right hand then snaps his fingers twice. “Crack.” He nods.
Brandon laughs. “You're buying crack, Andrew?”
“Who the fuck is Andrew?” He flicks his cigarette butt onto the sidewalk. “You're like that skateboard prick. What's his name? Randy. Randy Hawkins.”
I look at Brandon, shrug my shoulders, shake my head.
“Holy Jesus, there's a chicken in there,” the shorter of the two greasy guys exclaims excitedly.
I sigh and look down at my feet.
“Crank, coke, speed, E?” Ghetto Costanza continues.
I'm staring down at the cracked, gum speckled sidewalk strewn with cigarette butts and other urban detritus. I watch a tattered page of some local, independent newspaper blow down the sidewalk and get stuck under a newspaper vending machine. I'm distracted by call girl ads and paid clinical trial offers fluttering about in the early morning breeze, spattered with what I can only hope to be ketchup.
“You guys like H? Speedballs?”
I look down the street to finally see a procession of more familiar delinquents making its way down the sidewalk. I take a deep breath, turn and look back at Ghetto Costanza.
“Weren't you about to tell me the meaning of life, or something?” I question.
“That's all you're after?” the crack dealer replies.
“I dunno, I'll take a business card or something if you've got one,” Brandon retorts.
Costanza sighs. “You wanna know what it all means, huh?”
“Yeah,” I reply.
“The meaning of life. The meaning of meaning.” He exhales sharply. “All right, well, it's pretty simple. All you really need to know is–” he trails off as a black Infinity SUV with tinted windows pulls up to the curb behind Brandon's car. The passenger window rolls down part way, enough to reveal a vaguely Asian-looking woman with big hair. He walks over to the car without saying anything to us.
I look at Brandon. He just shrugs, smirking.
The passenger side door opens and the crack-dealing philosopher climbs in awkwardly, too small for the big SUV.
“What's up Andrew?” asks my least favorite person from the party. I can't think of his name. We're not friends.