Twinos - Part 3 (read part one or part two)

twinwinos3A short story told in three parts from three perspectives.

Part of the charm of the south side is that there is no other place quite like it, and that is probably for the best. It’s a roiling cauldron of types, from the predominant gentry who temporarily make it their nest while pursuing professional careers and feathering their bank accounts, to the forever dispossessed of the bottom rung, who appear to have only recently escaped from some science fiction version of L’il Abner. I guess I am part of the gentry, but I like to think I have some sensitivity for the fortune of birth that put me there. Countless times I find myself staring at a native with the features of an honest looking alien, and thinking, there but for the grace of God go I.

I have been a student of the neighborhood for almost ten years, still an outsider, but never one to avoid mixing with the locals. We frequently cross paths at such neutral zones as the video store, public market, bank, liquor store, and hardware shop. The bakery/diner is probably one of the best places to get a close up portrait. After all, people show their true selves when they eat, and when they rub elbows with the “renovators,” the conversation gets quite interesting. Just translating the hill twang of the waitress can be the main obstacle to getting your breakfast. It took me two years to distinguish the subtle difference between “tile” on the wall, a “towel” to dry dishes, and the “tail” of a dog. In the right context, confusing one of these sound-alikes produces some very funny word pictures. Of course they understand each other perfectly, and that’s what makes the gentry’s predicament such sweet irony. The renovators need the locals, as workers, vendors, and service providers, but they spend half their time trying to understand what the locals are saying to each other. Not a conversation floats by that isn’t fodder for country music song writers.

Then there’s the raw underbelly that’s not so amusing. Having to stand by helplessly as a ignorant teenage mother applies the same discipline her mother used on her, unmercifully slapping a child much too small (never mind innocent) for the punishment. Watching the swaggering young men who drink, smoke, curse, and hit their women, in some misguided search for a macho image. Walking on Sunday morning past a gauntlet of panhandlers, some polite, others not so. Or stepping over the drunk who has vomited in the doorway of Pat’s House of Beauty, directly under the slogan, “Take The Time To Look Fine.” It’s the dark side of the south side, and there’s nothing amusing about it — almost nothing.

There are the Twinos. I may not have been the first to christen them the Twinos, but when I use that reference, both the locals and the gentry know that I am referring to a pair of winos who are identical twins, and therefore called Twinos. With my morbid anthropological fervor, the first sighting of the Twinos was a red letter day, without a doubt. I thought I had made an incredible discovery, but as I soon learned, everyone knew about the Twinos, even if my name for them was new. The Twinos had been getting falling-down drunk, sleeping on the sidewalk, begging for money, and cursing everyone for as long as some old-timers could remember. One neighbor who has lived here for quite some time swears that the Twinos have been on the street for at least twenty years or more.

What were the odds, I constantly speculated, that two identical twins would become identical winos, lost souls, and muttering cursers of all humanity? How? Why? I wondered endlessly, the way one does while riding a bus and trying to make up a life story for each of the passengers. The Twinos defied any rational analysis. I came up with a variety of plots for how one twin could go bad – a girlfriend stolen by his twin brother, a bad stint in the Army when one twin went off to war and the other stayed behind, or some smoldering bitterness borne by the younger twin toward the older twin born two minutes sooner. Nothing seemed to click.

Watching the Twinos from some safe vantage point was much like witnessing a tornado cut its inevitable swath through a trailer park. Everyone in their path was asked for a dollar and those that refused to ante up were cursed unmercifully. Some people crossed the street rather than cross paths with the soliciting duo. Others sidestepped the entreaties and then felt the hail of curses for their cheapness. Much of the cursing was barely intelligible, but the targets knew the epithets were meant for them. I always thought it odd that the Twinos used such twisted logic, screaming at people who might be more generous on another occasion if only the twins’ language wasn’t so mean spirited. Other homeless panhandlers responded to rejection with the more gentle, “God bless you,” but somehow I could never imagine the Twinos using this public relations ploy. These men seemed to have a bottomless mean streak, a deep and genuine anger at a world that never had done right by them. I speculated that they must have suffered terrible abuse for a prolonged period of time.

For reasons that are not all together clear to me, I felt a need to document the Twinos’ story, perhaps to leave some legacy for them. I made it a habit to write notes about incidents I witnessed and conversations overheard. Not content with just this journal of Twino behavior, I decided to attempt photographing them. This required that I walk around the neighborhood with a small automatic camera in my pocket. A large professional camera would attract too much attention. Oddly, as soon as I began to carry the camera, I rarely sighted the Twinos or was unable to get into position to discreetly capture them on film. Instead, I took hundreds of photographs of graffiti covered walls, ancient automobiles, and mosaics of colored glass strewn over black asphalt.

Finally, while driving down an alley with the camera by my side, I spotted the Twinos. They were strewn upon the sidewalk as though they were pins knocked over in a bowling alley. I drove slowly down the alley until I was no more than six feet from where they lay on the sidewalk. Their heads were propped up by the filthy alley wall as I lifted my camera to frame the shot. I remember seeing their faces, quite aroused and angry, as I composed the shot in the viewfinder. As I squeezed the shutter, the Twinos were screaming and cursing and I suddenly felt sick with panic. Stepping on the accelerator, I sped down the alley. Was I afraid that the Twinos would come after me like some childhood boogeyman? Looking in the rearview mirror, I could see that the twins had receded back to their stuporous pose and I felt a wave of relief.
I had a huge print made from the negative and stared at it with a magnifying glass. The photograph revealed that both men had wet themselves and were laying in puddles of urine, empty bottles of cheap wine still by their sides. The hair was matted and their beards bristled with a weeks worth of growth. Both men had their mouths open and it appeared as though the photograph had captured them at the very moment they expelled a lifetime of curses that reflected their own accursed lives. I can’t look at that photograph without seeing just how close each of them is from the abyss.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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