“It was hard to get a feel for Carl before you met him. All us girls knew him. He used to walk the Andover Corridor where we worked late at night when he couldn’t sleep. He was so huge that most of us thought to be scared of him. But then he’d be whistling that pretty classical music and you didn’t know where his head was. But a buck is a buck and when Carl asked after the shiner I was sporting one night, I didn’t have it in me to turn him away. When he told me to follow him, I made sure some of the other girls saw me leaving with him so they could come after me, if needed. Then we get to the park and he pulls a sandwich out of a lunch bag and hands me half. I stared at the sandwich and he looks at me kind of funny and asks,
‘Are you hungry?’
“That’s how it started – us just sitting there eating and talking on that cold park bench – and not the nasty stuff either, real talk. After a while, he hands me enough for a trick and asked if I can get home OK. Here was this huge man, wearing a $500 blazer, eating lunch out of a brown sack asking a hooker if she could get home OK. Carl was one of a kind. I told Carl he was welcome to come looking for me whenever he wanted. And he did.
“I came to learn that Carl usually had an escort on retainer. Not always women, either. Carl never once touched me – not even to shake my hand. He loved how much I talked. First time I’d heard anything other than “shut up” when I talked.
“He preferred to pay for friends. He said having money brought ‘friends’ out of every crack in the sidewalk. When his last wife admitted the kid she was carrying was not his, Carl swore off relationships. I guess it hit too close to home, what with his momma not being his daddy’s wife. But Carl hated being alone. He figured if he gave folks money up front, he never had to question their loyalty. Like that damn cat – my apologies, Preacher. I never met such a cranky ol’ alley cat. Carl was devoted to him - said he had to right to be in a bad mood if he wanted. And that damn cat never left Carl; that meant a lot to Carl.
“Figuring Carl out became a game for me. I tried asking Carl where his money come from. He would act like he never heard me. I guess some came from his Daddy. He had an expensive education and travelled a lot in his time. It sounded like anyone other than his folks raised him, but what he complained about from his childhood was having to teach himself how to swim. Carl was the weirdest rich person I ever met. And most of the folks who knew Carl had no idea he had two dimes to rub together.
“But you never could tell how he was gonna spend his money, neither. Half his clothes could pay my rent and the rest looked second hand. He talked of homes he’d owned but rented that grimy ol’ walk up on Charles. Something went down between him and a business partner once. Never knew if it was Carl or the other guy that took the money. He would pay me for the hour or so we were together. That was my wage and I was free to do with that what I wanted. But if I needed anything extra, he wouldn’t give me the cash, he’d go with me to make sure it got done. I’ll never forget the looks on those dentist folks’ faces when he walked me into their swanky office up in Kentwood to fix a tooth a john broke.
“But he wasn’t no guardian angel – man, he hated that title. Whenever I called him that, he’d just growl and walk away. He said he owed folks. It sounded like whatever he’d done for work had hurt a bunch of people. I suppose he was making amends. He figured if a hooker walks up with a bunch of cash, they may be willing to just take it and leave it be. He was right. I loved giving folks all that cash – especially since it wasn’t mine. I remember the first time Carl sent me to the kiddie hospital to give them a check – by myself. I don’t think Carl trusted anyone that much. I never been so proud.
“Lots of stuff Carl and I did was fun but listening to his half stories about himself was maddening. Carl saw no reason to explain this kind of stuff and eventually I stopped asking. I was being paid to listen to what he wanted to talk about, not what I wanted to hear.
“After that wretched cat finally gave up and died, Carl was getting set to move on. I admit I was getting a little worked up at Carl leaving. I talked him into building the community center by the park to put his leaving off some. He been talking about it forever and I finally told him to hush up and do it. So Carl puts up the cash without telling nobody and gets it built. We spent a lot of time arguing during the building. It was too bad, too. By the time that place was done, I was just about done with ol’ Carl himself.
“On the day of the big opening, the whole neighborhood is out with the mayor and all kinds of festivities. I looked around for Carl and saw him walking along the back of the crowd. I wander over his way. Right before I get to him, some folks standing next to him were going on and on about how wonderful the place was and they were so lucky to have this guardian angel lookin’ over them. Carl just growled and walked away. I laughed a little to myself and watched Carl walk off. As he goes to cross the street, he turns to me and gives me a small smile and a wink.
“That was the last time I ever saw him. I’ll end there ‘cuz cryin’ always bothered Carl. God bless, Carl.”