He is walking down a side street off Park when he freezes in place. He sees the slow moving black Toyota blink its lights, then he sees the station wagon. Before he can take a step to flee, he sees the barrel come out of the back window. He feels the impact against his shin and another in the hip. He dives behind the bus stop shelter as more bullets splat against the wall of the boarded up store behind him. He scrambles up and runs into the street. He takes the orange he has in his pocket and heaves it at the car. Then he holds up a double barreled middle finger. â€œFuck you! â€œ He shouts. â€œYour product sucks!â€
â€œFive times Iâ€™ve been ambushed this week,â€ he explains to me that afternoon. â€œHe hit me eight times. Hurts like a mother. Look at me, Iâ€™m covered in paint. He uses a different car for his shooters every time. He flicks his lights to give them the signal, the bastard.â€
Mickey is a homeless addict who is a fixture on Park Street. He is short and wirey and missing most of his teeth. Every six months he disappears for awhile, going to stay with his aunt in rural town in the northeastern part of the state. Invariably, I see him back on Park Street. He doesnâ€™t want to be an addict for the rest of his life, but staying with his aunt in the country makes him stir crazy. He has nowhere to go in the town. He canâ€™t drive, he has no friends, there are only so many chores you do around the house and only so much TV to watch. He gets the urge to call old friends, and then he fucks up and he is back on Park Street. While Park Street has heroin and he knows heroin will kill him one day (Heâ€™s already had a heart valve replaced due to endocarditis); on Park Street, Mickey is somebody. He has acquaintances. People know his name, even if one of them is trying to hit him with paintballs.
The paintball attacks started five days ago when, not able to find his normal dealer, he bought an unmarked bag off another dealer he knew.
â€œFour dollarsâ€ the guy told him. â€œItâ€™s great. Four dollars.â€
â€œItâ€™s not all cut with that crazy stuff.â€
â€œFour dollars. Youâ€™ll love it.â€
He forked over his bills.
It gave him what he called a bad weed high. He felt all dark and paranoid, almost catatonic, all the while his heart was racing. He felt like crap for the rest of the day. When he tried to get his $4 back, the dealer told him to fuck off, so he invested the better part of two days telling everyone on the street, the dudeâ€™s product sucked and now no one will buy it. The dude even changed his brand, and still no takers. Mickey has a big mouth. He laughs when he tells the story. â€œSo heâ€™s pissed at me.â€
â€œYou have to be careful you donâ€™t get hit in the face.â€
â€œAll the shots so far have been below the waist. Thatâ€™s the code. Iâ€™m worried heâ€™s going to get me in the nuts. I got newspaper there for padding.â€
I had to admit I laughed about the comic manner of Mickeyâ€™s storytelling and the thought of a pissed off drug dealer chasing a wise-guy half-pint all over Park Street and surrounding side streets with a paintball gun. Mickeyâ€™s a tough guy, and he uses humor as a shield against the cold realities of his life. Despite his bravado, I have also seen him cry talking about all the times heâ€™s been beaten up for fun, and Iâ€™ve seen him sick and looking like death in the waiting room of a clinic he was checking himself into in another attempt to get clean and get off the streets.
I hope Mickey is forgiven by his tormentor. I hope the feud ends quickly. And as painful as paintballs can be, I am grateful they are not bullets.