BY BUD SMITH
I decided to stand on the corner and review the people I saw walking down my street and tell them about it.
At first I stood out in the harsh sunlight, drinking my hot coffee, squinting and sweating though it was only ten am.
A middle-aged woman with a limp appeared in the distance on the other side of the street. She had on a yellow dress with blue squares, and was lugging a chalk white lamp. A bird lamp, wings spread, I thought. She was limping very slow. As she got closer, I thought they could be angel wings or they could be bird wings. The woman stopped at the adjacent corner. Her hair was frizzled and she was panting a little because the walk was difficult. I yelled over at her, “I give you four stars.”
Cars whizzed by on the street between us and it was hard to hear. So I yelled louder. “I said I give you four stars.”
The light changed and she crossed the street, altering her course, and coming towards me instead.
When she got almost to my sidewalk, she yelled, “Who are you to review people on the street? And four stars?”
“Out of five, though,” I said. “I’m reviewing people for this big exposé on the internet.”
“Review them however you want, but tell them they’re ten stars! And look at you all sweaty and pig-faced. I give you two stars.”
I said, “It’s a five star system today. And it’s hot out. And I’m drinking hot coffee.”
She said, “I don’t sweat. So, I’m winning.”
I realized she was going to the bus shelter just a couple blocks up and since the bus shelter was covered in shadow from a rouge maple tree, I walked along with her.
“Can I carry your angel lamp?”
She laughed, “No you cannot.”
The angel had the face of an angel and large breasts, fully exposed, with hard nipples. Weird. I’d never seen an accidentally erotic angel lamp before.
I said to the woman, “At first I thought the lamp was a bird. A crane or a stork. I think it’s really cool that it’s a hubba hubba angel.”
She said, “Good for you.”
“I mean, it’s a really nice lamp.”
“I bought it at the Thrift Store because my mom is sick and I thought it’d be sweet that while she read in bed, she could be lit up in heavenly LED.”
“She’s dying? I’m sorry. I give you five stars then.”
“She’s not dying. She’s just sick. Won’t stop wheezing and coughing. Bronchitis again.”
I secretly lowered her rating back down to four stars, but I didn’t tell her that. I did what she said, I let her think she was still at five stars even though she was at four, and even though it was unethical, I just let it be.
There were other people waiting at the bus stop and they all knew the woman with the lamp. They were all bus riding best buddies.
The woman warned everyone, by way of introducing me. She said, “This guy right here is a smart ass, he is reviewing everyone walking down the street.”
One thin woman with spectacles said, “Well I’m not walking, I’m waiting for the bus so I don’t have to walk, I’m no dummy.”
“Five stars,” I said.
She huffed like she disagreed.
I quickly added, “Five out of five stars.”
The woman grinned, pleased said, “Damn right.”
Angel Lamp was then asked by her other friend, with fine braids and a green shirt, “How’s your mom?”
“Annoying,” Angel Lamp said. “She broke her hearing aid and now she has to have the TV hooked up to the stereo and the stereo has to be cranked all the way. House shakes when the commercials come on.”
We all went tsk tsk tsk tsk.
A man, who’d been sleeping against the wall of the bus shelter woke up. He said, “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, talking bad about your mother like that.”
“How many stars do you give them?” I asked the man.
“Fucking zero stars! She brought you all into this world.”
All of us. All of us brought into the world by Angel Lamp’s annoying mother.
The woman with the spectacles raised her voice like yelling at a child and said, “You smell like you shit yourself. And you’re drunk. And the sun is barely even up. So …”
The man walked off. “I’m not drunk. And fuck all y’all.”
The bus buddies all got a kick out of this. They yelled at him, “Nah!”
“Nah! We good.”
I finished my coffee, tossed the cup into the trash, and said to the women, “What do you give that guy?”
“Eddie? Oh god. Same as he gave us. Zero stars.”
I said, “It won’t look very nice if you give a homeless guy zero stars on the internet.”
“Homeless? That boy ain’t homeless. He’s got a home. And a J-O-B.”
“Yup,” Angel Lamp said. “I’ve known him a long time. Zero stars is about right.”
“But he used to be more of a three or four star person,” Green Shirt said. “Stuff happens to people.”
“What stuff happened?”
The spectacled woman, said, “I try and keep other people’s sorrows and woes out my mouth.”
“Come on, just tell me how someone goes from four stars down to zero stars, it’ll be good for my exposé. Get me more likes, shares, retweets.”
But they wouldn’t say any more.
Eddie would remain my most complex unsolved mystery. It was like how some detectives were still trying to figure out what the real deal with the Zodiac Killer was. Well, I could relate with the Zodiac Killer detectives, because now I had Eddie.
A fire truck with its sirens screaming ripped down John F. Kennedy Blvd. Police cars passed each other going opposite ways and the cops had their driver’s side windows down and gave each other high fives. Seventy-nine blue cars passed the bus shelter. Ninety-eight black cars passed the bus shelter. Sixty red cars passed the bus shelter. Eleven pickup trucks of various colors passed the bus shelter.
The woman put the angel lamp on the bench where the man had been sleeping and she said, “I’ve wasted, collectively, a quarter of my life waiting for this bus. If I hadn’t wasted all that time, I’d be thirty instead of forty-two.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Spectacled Woman said. “You just alive and you have to make the best of it till your dead, then you can complain but you best not complain to God when you get there, he’ll send you back as a roach.”
“Roaches don’t take the bus. They survive nuclear winter.”
“Maybe somebody more grateful smack you with a broom, though. How ‘bout that?”
A man with his shirt off was moving along on the sidewalk across the boulevard. He was punching the air and rapping.
I said to the women, “Hey, how many stars do you give that guy?”
The ladies let out a groan.
“Oh, I hate that shit,” Green Shirt said. “Like what if that dummy punches a bird or something just flying by.” She frowned with her whole body. “Punches a poor butterfly.”
Angel Lamp said, “I could see if he was singing. If he had a sweet voice. But he’s just yelling. He’s got a six pack though. Smart of him to have his shirt off. Raise his score.”
“I can’t understand a word of what he’s saying. But that’s kinda a good thing. Let’s me imagine something better.”
“I give him two stars,” I said.
“Three stars,” Spectacled Woman said.
“Two and a half stars,” Angel Lamp said.
“1 star,” Green Shirt said.
I did some math on my fingers, “Okay, so eight and a half stars, divided by four. So that’s an average of …” I took out my cellphone and did the math, because I’m dumb. “Ah, two point one two five stars. Seems about right.”
“Two and an eighth.”
The bus came and the women got on the bus without saying goodbye to me. The bus pulled off. A cloud of diesel engulfed me. I went to walk out of the tiny bus shelter and the angel lamp was sitting on the bench.
“Motherfucker,” I said, and picked the erotic angel lamp up with its full blow job lips and heavenly booty and trotted up John F. Kennedy Blvd. towards the next bus shelter.
Their bus was caught in traffic at the light just passed my apartment building, and as is much the case, walking is faster than riding the bus, so I was able to smack on the door to the bus and the driver who didn’t care about anything in the world, opened the door with a metallic shriek, and said, “What?”
I set the angel lamp by his feet. His face was completely blank. He gave no reaction. I got off the bus. I stood back on the sidewalk.
The windows were tinted and I could not see if the women were looking out at me from inside the bus. If they knew the angel lamp was there on the front of the bus. Was waiting.
I resumed my original place on the corner. I waited there. I waited there in the harsh sunlight. Squinting. Sweating. Ethical. Critical. Reporting live from Jersey City, New Jersey.
Bud Smith reports from Jersey City, NJ. Twitter: @bud_smith www.budsmithwrites.com. He wrote F250, Calm Face, and Dustbunny City, among others. He works heavy construction, and lives in Jersey City, NJ.