HANGING WITH STRETCH

“Hey Oliver, slow down a second.”

I stopped half a block short of 7th on Flower so my homeless buddy Stretch could put a torch lighter to the pipe in his hand. I call him Stretch because he’s almost seven- feet-tall and looks like he weighs one-sixty or less. “Stretch, you know I don’t approve of you smoking crack.”

“Oliver, I’m a homeless black man with HIV—give me a break. Smoking crack is the least of my problems.”

“Well maybe you wouldn’t be homeless if you didn’t spend all the money you panhandle on drugs.”

Stretch laughed. “Oliver, you spend more money on coffee than I do on crack.”


“Not anymore, Howard Schultz sent me a Starbucks’ card with a couple of grand on it, for a signed copy of my last book.”

“Does that mean you’re going to pay me back the money you owe me?” asked Stretch.

It was my turn to laugh. “I knew there was a reason I hadn’t told you about my Starbucks’ card.” I stopped at the corner and stared up at the Wokcano sign.”

Stretch looked at the sign as well, although thinking a completely different thought than my own. “I did some good business here when this was Burger King—it’s all about foot traffic for me,” said Stretch.

I had a plan. “You really shouldn’t smoke crack on an empty stomach…Wait here I’m going to get you some sushi.”

I walked into the restaurant. “Hi Oliver, hi Oliver, hi Oliver…” I had said hello to something like five people until I found Marcus. “Marcus!”

“Oliver! How are you?”

Marcus and his older brother Michael own Wokcano, it’s an All-American-Success-Story that I’ll tell you about later, but for now suffice it to say I needed to speak with Marcus.

“I’m great Marcus, but I need your help.”

“Sure Oliver what you need?”

“I need some sushi for my homeless buddy Stretch and I’m short on cash.”

“Oliver, since you wrote that blog “No Virgins In This Wokcano” business has doubled…you can have anything you want. You want I put you on salary.”

Marcus has a pretty heavy Chinese accent so the last time he offered to put me on salary I thought he said celery, so I declined thinking it was some kind of new diet. Anyway, I couldn’t really take money from a friend for writing unless it was a lot of money.

“No salary just sushi.”

“I have them make special Downtown Oliver Brown roll for your friend.”

“Good idea he’ll like that.”

A few minutes later I walked out of the restaurant and handed Stretch a to go from Wokcano.

“Three Downtown Oliver Brown Rolls, how am I going to eat all of this?” Stretch said happy at the sight of such good food. And believe me Wokcano makes some good food.

“Eat what you can.”

Stretch took a bite of the delicious roll named after me. “Oh, that’s good. You know Oliver you’re all right for a Reagan Republican…Forget about the twenty you owe me.”

“What twenty?” I said, thinking about the interesting role I had just played in trickle down economics.

Stretch smiled. “Thanks for not judging me Oliver, you’re a good friend.”

“Man’s got to eat. And besides I’m not exactly in a position to be judgmental.”

“You know Oliver, you’d make some girl a nice husband. Whatever happened to that girl Mona?”

“She married the guy after me.”

“I liked that one.”

Mona was a Victoria Secret Model that could cook. “I liked her too Stretch. Listen, I have to run or I’m going to be late to David’s party.”

“Take care of yourself, Oliver.”

“You too Stretch.”

Sometimes non-downtowners have trouble understanding my relationship with the less fortunate in the neighborhood, but they’re my neighbors same as my friends in shiny glass towers and I make it work. Am I an enabler? I don’t think so.

Soon I would be at 1100 Wilshire celebrating David Kean’s fortieth birthday party. A corner unit with a nice view and plenty of food—David’s a good cook. David was a big time decorator that became a realtor extraordinaire. It’s attending this type of swanky Downtown party that some people say makes me not gritty enough, but hey in the morning I have same hangover as everyone else…And I take some comfort in that.

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