I Work Hard for the Money
by Laura Roberts
I'm sitting at the bus station, minding my own beeswax, when this crazy guy comes up to me. How can I tell he's crazy and cast these aspersions upon an innocent stranger?
Well, for starters, he's filthy. I mean, he's black without being African-American, ya dig? He's covered in grime and grease from head to toe, the way a law-abiding, home-owning, job-having individual could never be unless he worked in a mineshaft 24/7, mmmmkay? Just covered with an unbelievable crust, and a stench you can smell six minutes before you ever see the dude heading your way.
But if that weren't enough, he's also talking to himself—a sure sign of insanity. Not just muttering and mumbling, but having a full-on conversation (both sides!), complete with corny jokes like, “I joined the military as a child. Which division? INFANTRY!!” and then the hysterical laughter of the damned, like the punchline was news to him. Cackling like only the truly batty can cackle.
So, anyway, you've got Mr. Crazypants fast approaching, undoubtedly to bum a quarter for the pop machine (75 cents, and behind bars just like we're in prison), if not the pay phone (busted, no doubt by the other scofflaws lollygagging around this sketchy scum-hole of a “transit center”), and me, minding my own business and wishing desperately there was something or someone I could hide behind to avoid this dude's furious onslaught.
When he finally gets close enough to talk to me, he ain't talkin'. Not to me, anyway. He just switches on his boombox to blast a Johnny Cash song about walking the line, and after about three bars screams out “I'M NOT DEAD!!!!!” before unleashing another unholy machine-gun round of psychotic laughter.
"Great,” I mutter. I get up from the hard metal bench I've been squatting on to give old Crazypants some space.
And that's when it happens: the motherfucker stabs me in the gut with some kind of concealed weapon. A Bowie knife, maybe, since we are in Texas. Or maybe just the blunt end of the pocketknife he's been using to pick his teeth between meals scrounged from the dumpster.
In any event, my worst nightmare is suddenly coming true, as I've just been shivved in a bum fight at the Lamar Transit Center, and I've got no one to call for help and nowhere to run to, baby.
I swear to god, if I bleed to death out here on this sea of pavement, behind a goddamn Public Storage lot and an abandoned car dealership, I'm coming back from the grave just to kill this sonofabitch.
I scream like the stuck pig I am, and make the first pure, unadulterated move of my long life. I punch the bum square in the nose, and he reels back shrieking. The blood's flowing in all directions now, and I keep coming with one fist, then the other, socking it to him as only someone who's been knifed in the gut whilst minding his own beeswax can.
Somewhere in between cracks to his face, I look down and notice his knife's still sticking out of my belly, so I yell out as I wrench it from my flesh and hurl it halfway across the bus lane in front of us.
It's about this time that the 1L, southbound, pulls into the station and the gobsmacked passengers who've been awaiting its arrival continue to stand in stunned silence as the bus makes a helluva racket “kneeling” down for the elderly and handicapable passengers that may be waiting there in the sea of dumbfounded patrons.
The bum and I are still screaming bloody (very bloody) murder, but he's crumpled up on the ground, and I'm just standing there, blood seeping from my belly, bellowing like a giant who's been knocked from his beanstalk. The driver of the 1L has a phone in his hand and his mouth is going 70 mph as he tries to tell the dispatcher to dispatch an ambulance, posthaste, to the scene of this accident. Or is it a crime? Who cares? Just send them all: EMS, PD, FD and maybe even a social worker or two. This shit is serious!
I just stagger over to the doors of his bus, one hand covering my massive stomach wound, the other wearily waving my bus pass, as if to say, “I'm a normal, law-abiding, home-owning, job-having human being, and by god, I need to get to work on time if it's the last thing I do.”