As soon as the lady handed me my coffee, I walked out into the crisp air on 14th Avenue and kicked a pigeon. That always gives me such a lift – almost as much as does the coffee.
“Hey, wall-eye, don't be kickin' no frickin' pigeons, lest you wants to kick me too,” called out a gravelly voice. I turned to look, and saw a dirty man in a old-style milkman's uniform sitting on the curb.
“I beg your pardon, and that of the pigeon's,” I said.
“No...no,” he said, coughing up a lung and spitting forcefully against a mailbox, “I mean you could kick me too.”
I was a little perplexed, as it seemed as though he really wanted me to kick him. It is not every day that a dirty old man in a milkman's uniform asks to be kicked.
“Do I understand correctly? You would like me to kick you?” I asked, opening a fresh pack of cubebs.
“You got it right, carp-sucker, you give me a little kick, and then you give me a little spare change.”
I noticed the sign he was holding. “Will be kicked for money,” it read in two-inch high red letters. He had decorated the edge of the sign with glitter and glued-on tongue depressors. Used tongue depressors, it appeared.
“I didn't mean anything by kicking the pigeon,” I said, feeling a little sheepish (thank God I hadn't kicked a sheep).
“No one ever means anything by it. They just kick. You can do the same to me, and the price is right.” Dirty milkman stared at me with a sunken eye that was dripping a little fluid on his formerly crisp, white uniform. I offered him my hanky to sop it up. “No need, crap-o. I gots me a bleachey-sponge back in my hovel.”
I sat down next to the man in the milkman uniform and offered him a cubeb and a light. He graciously accepted, and we sat there smoking our cubebs and watching the pigeons land. At length a pigeon flew over and sat down next to us.
“You want to give this one a little kick?” asked the dirty milkman.
“Naahh,” I replied, “I think I'll just enjoy my cubeb without any additional avian violence.”
“But you might want to warm up for kickin' me, you liver-lipped fool.”
I thought about this for a moment and realized that it must be a stock response of the dirty milkman's, as my lips were not even close to resembling liver. I knew one fellow back home that used to sit on the balcony of his house in the summers and stare at passing traffic. He had liver lips.
But not me.
“So,” I asked, “do you just sit here and wait for people to kick you and then give you money?”
“No,” said the dirty milkman, “I actively solicit my kickers. A man has to be proactive in this economy, you know.”
“Sure,” I said, inhaling the cubeb smoke deep into my lungs. I vomited twice and then continued interrogating.
“So all you do is entice people to kick people for money?” I asked.
“What?” he asked. “Isn't that enough? You ever been kicked?”
“No,” I confessed, “But it just seems a trifle limiting. Have you ever thought about working for a living?”
“Again,” he said, “have you ever spent an eight to ten hour day getting kicked? Don't tell me it's not work.”
I thought about this, and even though it rubbed me the wrong way, I decided to give him a pass on it. What did I know about getting kicked, anyway? I dropped a ten-spot in his can, gave him a good swift kick, bid him adieu, and then walked away, gliding down the street and humming an old Prussian military tune.
It was not until several days later that I realized that I have been taken. I was shopping for liverwurst across the river in the fashionable East Village of Davenport (otherwise known as the Village of East Davenport), when I spied the dirty milkman standing in line.
He was waiting to kick a pigeon.