I was outside the sandwich shop where I worked smoking a cigarette. It was wet out, the only dry parts the sidewalk just outside the row of stores, at one end of which was the sandwich place, myself and a scattering of other cigarette butts, a lot of them mine, shielded from the very fine rain by the overhang that turned where I was standing into an incomplete tunnel, its missing side opening out onto the parking lot.
A guy was walking up to me. He was wearing a dark blue windbreaker, he was about my age, he had a baseball hat on, also dark blue, with a big white “E” on the front. I didn’t know what team that was for.
The way he was bearing down on me with some kind of purpose, I thought he was going to ask me for a cigarette, or at least a light. But instead he stopped with one foot on the sidewalk in front of me, the rest of his body still leaning out into the wet misty air, and he pulled a lone, loose cigarette out from somewhere inside his thin windbreaker and lit it with a tiny black lighter.
“Hey man,” he said, “any of these stores cool at all?”
I exhaled smoke that in the cold day looked like steam from a train engine. “Cool how do you mean?” I asked.
“Like movies or tapes or whatever?” He hunched himself onto the sidewalk and under the shopping center’s little roof, as though it had just started to rain right then.
I didn’t know what kind of tapes he meant, but I said, “No movies or anything. There’s a music store about five doors down, by the nail salon. I don’t know if that’s cool to you.”
“Music like how? Like CDs or tapes?”
“No,” I said, “like instruments, or sheet music. Guitars.”
“Yeah well, music’s cool, but I can’t play any instruments. I can’t even sing,” he said, implying that he thought most people could.
He stepped backwards, back out into the rain, but further back into the parking lot so he could scan the row of store signs that began above my head. He held the hand with the cigarette wedged between two fingers up above his eyes, in a sort of salute. As he scanned, his eyes widened, his mouth formed an “o”.
“That a tattoo place?” he asked, still looking at the sign.
He was talking about Squid Ink Tats, which was a ways down. I said, “Oh, yeah, that’s a tattoo place.”
He chuckled and rejoined me out of the rain. He nodded his head and took a long pull on his cigarette.
“You think they tattoo dicks?” he asked. “I’d go in there, be like ‘Hey, you guys tattoo dicks?’ They’d be ‘What the fuck?’ All right, you have a good one, brother.”
It took me a minute to realize the last part was him saying goodbye. I didn’t want to actively wish him a good day, so I said “Yep.” I was noncommittal.
He walked away then, into the misty parking lot, his head turned back so he could keep his eye on the tattoo place’s sign, maybe because he thought it was going to change. After a bit, though, his walk slowed, and I watched his path drift leftwards, towards the tattoo place. He walked in a horseshoe, looping into the parking lot and back to the shops. I took my time with my cigarette so I could watch him walk quickly to the tattoo place’s front door, pull it open, and slip in.
Then, for a brief moment, I was watching nothing, just empty sidewalk. But after only what seemed like a few seconds the door opened and the guy walked back out. He was looking at me, and he stood there, shaking his head no.