I got close enough to see that Tom’s black and white Adidas track suit had just come off the rack, and that the curb link chain around his neck, worn proudly outside the collar of his track suit jacket, was at least ten carats. His fitted Blue Jays hat turned thirty degrees to the right was being protected from sweat stains by a black and white bandana that matched the one that was wrapped around Rocky’s cash. Tom had unwittingly colour coordinated his outfit with the spoils of his thievery. Even his immaculate Stan Smith shoes were white with black trim.
I had seen a few Toms in my time. I increased the frequency of their business transactions by driving them around in my taxi. When they couldn’t afford a taxi, they hopped on the city bus, or a stolen bike. Unlike the lucky Frog-Mans of the world, the lowly Toms had to do all their own deliveries without the discretion and convenience of a private vehicle. Tom could never have Frog-Man’s black SUV with its tinted windows and nineteen-inch rims, unless, of course, he hot-wired it. But he wasn’t dumb enough to attempt that. In fact, the Toms I met in the course of my work day weren’t as dumb as they were lacking in the self-control it takes to deal a quality product. Every time that Tom got high on his own supply he had to make up for the lost weight by adding more dextrose, icing sugar, baking soda, or laundry detergent. But not even a fresh-faced frat boy on a Friday night will stay loyal to a dealer who sells them substandard recreational drugs. Which explains why Tom was perpetually running from trap house to trap house with his bag of household powders in the underwear of his recreational attire pressing into his perineum. He was unloading his kife on the only people desperate enough to buy it, or, say, barter for it, with, perhaps, a blowjob (upfront).
I was ridiculously close to him. I could smell his trendy cologne and yet he remained oblivious to my presence, hypnotized by the crisp bills he continued to count. I thought to myself that if he was picking pockets and breaking into cars, then the days of selling recreational drugs while wearing recreational attire were over. It was only a matter of time before he found himself stealing spare change out of console cup holders in the back alleys of Toronto. He had hit the rock bottom of rock bottom, but somehow he still managed to look sharp and smell trendy. It was the smell that made me want to knock him out. Maybe he’d wake up with amnesia and be a better person for it. As my fist exited the shadows and connected with his jaw I’d say, “This is for the best, trust me.” I didn’t end up punching him, though, so I didn’t get the chance to say that. And you know what? It would have been bullshit anyway. This whole character study of Tom is basically bullshit. It’s an intrigue generating combination of projection and speculation from the arguably sane mind of a nonfiction writer who didn’t have access to the backstory of his character. That said, I doubt I’m the first nonfiction writer to do this. There’s always going to be those times when characters need more development yet the facts aren’t there to work with, and so projection and speculation fill the bill. You have to be careful, though. When writing a biography you can’t drop the needle on a sexual encounter or, say, a murder that never happened. You’ll get sued for that. Maybe even thrown in jail: a place that Tom might be familiar with. And you won’t be getting anymore biography work. But that won’t matter because jail is the perfect spot to write your autobiography slash ideological manifesto. You might even become a bestselling writer slash dictator who takes over the world.
One thing biography writers are allowed to do, it seems, is to pad dialogue with poignant things that nobody in the history of Earth has ever had the wherewithal to say. In my experience, impressive and therefore well-informed things don’t get said in the heat of the moment to other people. They get said after the fact, to the indifferent walls of your apartment.
I projected onto Tom, by way of my fist, a desire for an externally imposed change and I say externally imposed because I severely doubted my ability to annex my own volition. In fact, at this point in my life I was in the habit of indulging myself in my hatred for what I had become. Self-loathing was something of a guilty little pleasure for me. I suppose this might have qualified as a form of pedestrian masochism and/or the distinguishing character trait of Canadians of colonial descent. Whatever it was, it was the enemy of my progress: the groundskeeper of my status-quo. It was the armchair activist in my ongoing fictional protest. It was the white rose of privilege thriving on the mound of my manure; a symbol of my symbolic efforts, as it were, to improve myself, and the world. All things considered, (my idea of ) Tom was better than me. He was authentic, where I was spurious. He was okay with his love of money, drugs and skinny little crack whores. He was single-minded, undivided; a carnivorous species native to his particular demographic.
I had to respect him.
Or at least try to understand him.
To that end, I will tell you that the money that Tom is holding in his hands right now, inside the theatre of your mind, will (according to me) be enough to get him off the bench and back into the game. It will restore the aura to his recreational attire. It will give him another shot at a game winning three-pointer from center court. Maybe he’ll redeem himself by choosing to build his brand on quality this time. Maybe he’ll even move up the drug dealer’s totem pole and become a Frog-Man.
If Tom gets out of the alley with Rocky’s money still in his hands, then he could (according to me) go almost anywhere in Toronto and buy himself some serious respect. He might shuffle step his way into the Ritz-Carlton fanning himself with his mad stack and get treated the way he was born to be treated. He’ll stuff a hundred-dollar bill into the shirt pocket of the doorman, the lobby receptionist, and the bartender. He’ll order up a bottle of Grey Goose, spin around on his chair, spot the high-class hooker discreetly working the room and give her the come-hither stare. She’ll award the predatorial nature of his male gaze with a look that makes him feel like the reincarnation of Solomon before she sits down next to him and runs her stiletto nails up the inside of his thigh. It’s at this exact moment that he’ll reach into his pocket, take out his phone, call up the only cocaine dealer left in the city that he doesn’t owe money to, and make his Hail Mary investment.