Slowly, Tom came into focus: His (black and white) Adidas track suit had just come off the rack, and the curb link chain around his neck, worn outside the collar of his jacket was at least ten carats. His fitted (black and white) Blue Jays hat turned thirty degrees to the right was being protected from sweat stains by a (black and white) bandana that was an exact match to the one R. had wrapped around his cash, inside his satchel. Tom had unwittingly colour coordinated his entire outfit with the spoils of his thievery.
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 perhaps 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 tucked into 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 something quick and dirty.
He had left the rear driver’s side door open, and I could smell his trendy cologne wafting through the air as he folded the back seat down and reached into the trunk with his face displaying the prescient signs of a shit-eating grin. I thought to myself that if he was breaking into cars, then the days of selling recreational drugs while wearing recreational attire were at their end or coming to an end. Either way, it was only a matter of time before he found himself doing what he was currently doing.
He had hit bottom yet somehow he still managed to look sharp and smell trendy, and it was the trendy smell that made me want to knock him out. Maybe he’d wake up with amnesia and be a better person for it, all because my fist exited the shadows, and as it connected with his jaw I would say, “This is for the best.” But I didn’t end up punching him, 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 bullshit. It’s an intrigue generating combination of projection and speculation from the arguably sane mind of a writer who didn’t have access to the backstory of his character. That said, I doubt I’m the first writer to do this. There’s always going to be those times when characters need more development, and yet the facts aren’t there to work with, so projection and speculation fill the bill. You have to be careful, though. When writing an autobiography (which is kinda sorta maybe what this book is), you can’t drop the needle on a sexual encounter or, say, a murder that never happened. You’ll get sued for that shit. Maybe even thrown in jail: a place that Tom might be familiar with. And you won’t be getting anymore journalism work. But that won’t matter because jail is the perfect spot to finish your autobiography slash ideological manifesto. You might even become a bestselling writer slash dictator who takes over the world.
One thing writers (specifically nonfiction writers) are allowed to do, it seems, is pad dialogue with poignant things that no one in the history of the universe has ever had the wherewithal to say. In my own personal experience, circumspect 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 my apartment, in spasms of self-reproach.
So there I was projecting 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, self-loathing was something of a guilty pleasure. And I suppose this might have qualified as pedestrian masochism i.e. 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, the armchair activist of my soft protest. It was the white rose of privilege thriving on a mound of manure; the symbol of my symbolic efforts, as it were, to improve myself and the world (fruitlessly so).
All things considered, my projectionist version of Tom had a better shot at life than me. I mean, he was authentic, the real deal, where I was spurious, specious, apocryphal. He was okay with his love of money, drugs and skinny little crack whores, and to that end he was a single-minded, undivided, fascist species native to a certain hegemonically enforced demographic.
I had to respect him.
Or at least try to unpack the dodgy suitcase of his person.
Consequently, I can tell you that the money 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 warm bench and back into the game. It’ll restore the lustre to his recreational attire. It’ll 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 somebody as heavy as Frog-Man.
If Tom gets out of the alley with money 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 door man, 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 hypermasculine gaze with a look that makes him feel like the reincarnation of Solomon (and he doesn’t even know who Solomon is), before she sits down next to him and runs her stiletto nails up the inside of his thigh, and at this exact moment 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.