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Santa Claus takes another drag off of his cigarette, lets the buzz creep up on him low and slow. He tosses his bell up in the air once and catches it, makes a half-assed attempt at attracting people's attention to the donation jar. Look Santa right in the eye and you can catch a long run of sweat going down into the clip-on beard. Even though it's December. He's rolling his jaw like he's chewing away at a massive hunk of gum, but you can tell there's actually nothing in his mouth. It's a wonder he manages to keep from mangling the filter of his Kool. Draw your own conclusions.

Two kids that aren't old enough to shave yet are playing jazz on the corner. They've got a battererd old hat out for donations, but I'd say they're in it more for the joy of playing. But I've always been a romantic that way.

Up overhead, there are towers that look like they're made of nothing but glass and silver. In my imagination they are full of nothing but men with identical haircuts and nice ties, and all of them are calling each other, probably for an executive summary of the status report on the Johnson Account. None of them matter now. Keep your eyes on the ground, way down on street level.

In the old art market, a pack of pierced and tattooed ferals are passing around a mason jar of something clear and strong, and telling lies about drugs and money and women. Everybody concerned realizes they're lies, but probably most of them have a kernel of truth; not that you could get anybody to admit to that.

The city bus whizzes by, the Greyhound rumbles and smokes its way to the next town over, and life runs in stop-motion. I think there's a poetry you can read in what's happenning down on the street. Maybe that's a lie I'm telling myself too, not too different from the ones the gutterpunks are telling. Maybe that lie conceals a truth too. I'm too old and too tired to tell any more, and I'm 19 years old.

When I die, I don't think I'll go to heaven or hell. Look for my ghost in red taillights reflected in storefront windowglass, and the rainbow layer of oil on top of the puddles that form by the streetcorners, and the red tip of Santa's cigarette floating free in the night.

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