Go Down Easy

By Max Bayer

turned onto my street. The usual discarded cans, plastic bottles, and food wrappers lined the curb and sidewalk. Taking a deep breath, I prepared myself for the unexpected. Rolling over bottles, cans, and debris, I parked in front of my house. Before entering, I strode next door to greet Hassan. This Black man and myself had become friendly. He was always in front of the abandoned house plying his trade.

It was some months before, as the weather got warmer, when I first noticed Hassan. He was standing outside, and cars stopped. Approaching the car, a window opened, and an exchange occurred. At first, I didn’t think much about it. But he didn’t live on the street, and it soon became clear he was a dealer. Since he had lots of downtime in between sales, and I often took breaks on the steps of the house I was renovating, we got to talking.

“Yeah, that’s a nice house across the street. It was rehabbed, but the tenants are trashing it,” he told me. Turned out he used to work in real estate. Said his brother was an attorney and would handle his sales. And his sister, too, was doing well, with a good city job in New York. I never asked about his chosen profession, but he said some things went wrong, “and I’m doing this in between jobs, you know, until I get settled?”

Being seventy-five, I always found the young guys a little strange. Hassan, with his tight jeans, pointy shoes, and well-fitted shirts, hardly looked more than twenty-five. I was impressed that his pants rested on his waist and not a foot below, as is common in Newark.

Once, I locked myself out of my truck. Hassan saw my distress. “Don’t worry, Pops,” he said. He had taken to calling me that, although I told him my name was Mark. Since my one remaining African tenant called me “Daddy,” and now this young fellow was calling me “Pops,” I decided to let people call me what they wanted. Hassan picked up his phone, and five minutes later, a swanky BMW pulled up. “Hey, yo, where’s the truck?” the thin Black man asked as he jumped out of his car.

Hassan pointed to my truck. “Don’t worry, Pops, this will take five minutes,” as he retrieved a leather case filled with instruments. How did he know my name was Pops? But who cared, since my truck was quickly opened. I reached into my wallet to tip the guy, but Hassan yelled, “No, he owes me. You’re a good guy, Pops, and I wanted to repay you for that favor the other day.” He was probably referring to the time he went behind the abandoned house to pee and asked me to watch the front. “If anyone comes, just tell them I’m out back checking inventory and will be out in a second. Some of my customers try to create trouble, but they won’t bother you.”

I think our friendship blossomed when he mentioned something about his twenty-fifth birthday. The next day, I brought two big sandwiches, soda, and donuts. I didn’t put any candles on the donuts, but he remained speechless as I handed him the food. “We can eat out here,” I told him. He reached into his pocket to give me money. “Hey, it’s your birthday,” I told him. With his head down, he unwrapped the sandwich slowly. He looked at my writing on the bag, which wished him happy birthday.

I think it was on that day we became friends. From then on, I didn’t feel so bad about going to my rental property in Newark and almost dreaded the time when my fix-up would be completed.

On my last visit, looking forward to a nice chat with Hassan, I was surprised to see a crowd of young men next door. There were ribbons, candles, and an assortment of bottles circled around the parking sign. A lady from across the street, whom I knew by sight, yelled from the window for me to stay clear of these men.

Not one to heed warnings, I walked up and asked, “What’s going on?”

“It’s private, just move on,” a tall man covered in tattoos said.

“No, wait,” another from the crowd yelled, “that’s Pops, you know, Hassan’s friend.”

When I asked about Hassan, someone said, “He’s dead. Two men got into an argument with him and stabbed him. He bled out on the way to the hospital.”

I stumbled and couldn’t speak.

“Yeah, man, the motherfuckers killed him. We’re paying our respects.”

Two more cars pulled up. Several men came into the crowd. One was carrying a young baby. One of them pulled out a phone and music started, and the crowd went into a rap about their friend Hassan. I had now become part of this crowd, and one of them yelled, “Hey, Pops, say some words for our friend.”

I swallowed hard, knowing I had to say something.

“Hassan was a friend of mine. He helped me, and I helped him. We celebrated his birthday only days before. I found him to be a good man. May God have mercy on his soul. And, Father, we ask for your blessing for all of us here today in the name of your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Murmurs of agreement.

Someone unwrapped bottles and passed them around. I had not taken a drink in forty-five years, for reasons I didn’t wish to discuss. The bottle came to me and everyone looked. I raised it and took a swig. I tried not to cough. “That’s it, Pops, let it go down easy.”

All of us stood for a long time. No one wanted to leave. Driving home, I despaired about the drink I took and, worse still, for the second one I wanted.

I returned the next day. Passing Hassan’s spot, I noticed something in the alley. I walked through the debris and looked down. I picked up a wallet, which must have been Hassan’s. It was mostly empty except for two photos; his brother and sister, I assumed. Also sticking out was a piece of cut-out paper. It was from the bag that contained the sandwich I gave him.

To Hassan, for your birthday, it read. Signed, Pops.

I held the little note for a long time. I walked to my van. I didn’t feel like working, and drove home.

 

 

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Max Bayer was born to immigrant parents who fled war-torn Europe in 1942. He came to writing late in life when he discovered that his parents—Holocaust escapees—left a daughter in Germany when they fled to America. He has worked as a health care consultant and is currently a CBD hemp grower in the Hudson Valley while pursuing his passion for building and writing.


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