“What would you do if you were a dead man walking?” Marshall wanted to know.
Check that. He wasn't asking what I’d do. He was telling me why he was doing what he was doing. Just like on Jeopardy, he was phrasing the answer in the form of a question.
“I’d avoid becoming a dead man walking in the first place,” I said.
The last time I’d seen him, six weeks ago, two of us were picking him up out of the gravel of a nearby parking lot. We’d turned him away from the Day Center because he was too drunk to be admitted, but he was also too drunk to walk.
We watched him careen east toward the park where he could flop on the frozen grass or collapse on a bench. His progress parodied the dying man slogging over sand dunes toward a mirage. He stumbled left, then overcorrected off the sidewalk onto the boulevard strip. The traffic on the street there flows one way, and a car would hit him from behind if he swayed a step further
For half a block, he maintained his general course before he veered sharply left and out of sight. We stood by the Day Center entrance for a while, waiting for him to stagger back into view. It was possible some glimmer of self-preservation made him head for the alley, but it was even more likely he’d collapsed.
And there he was, on his side in the dirt. We approached him calling his name and he raised up, eyes still closed, weakly balling his fists in front of his face like a TKO’d prize fighter. I wondered how many times he’d been jumped in a similar stupor.
He’s a big man, late thirties or early forties, not someone you’d mess with on a normal day. That is, a day when he’d only had half a gallon of vodka.
Like this morning.
Today, Marshall let everyone know he was in a good mood. He borrowed one of the guitars and sang part of a song. He hugged the women. He sat on Marty’s lap and shared some business with him. I asked Marty, in his red shirt, if Marshall had told him what he wanted for Christmas.
“He didn’t have to tell me,” Marty smiled. “I already know.”
“Half gallons,” Marty and Marshall said together.
And now Marshall stands in front of me, insisting on an answer.
“But if you were a dead man walking, what would you do?”
“I’d stay in the sunshine,” I said.
Marshall looked away and smiled. “Good answer,” he said. “Good answer.”