The drug dealers around the corner work long hours, rain, snow or shine. Sometimes they purposely look away when I walk by. Sometimes they say hello/hi/good morning or “Do you have a light, ma’am?”, to which I respond, “No! I don’t smoke. And you shouldn’t either!”. Sometimes they look like hardened criminals with their lower orbital tattoos. Sometimes they look pitifully vulnerable sipping on a Capri Sun. If you’re sipping on a Capri Sun, I’m gonna have a hard time taking you seriously. Victor is one of the local dealers. I met him a year and a half ago.
Last last summer
Victor: Heeeey, dentist!
[Why do people always wait until you walk past them to holler? So non-confrontational! …like this angry monologue I am having in my head right now… I turn around.]
V: Are you a dentist?
Me: Yeah. Are you my patient?
V: You’re my little brother’s dentist.
Me: How come you don’t get your teeth checked too?
V: I don’t have insurance.
Me: We take people without insurance. What’s your little brother’s name?
V: [Little brother’s name.]
Me: Oooh yeaaah. He hasn’t been in for a long time. Tell him he’s due!
[Multiple hi/bye exchanges during the fall]
The following spring
Me: HEY! Where have you been?! I thought you were DEAD!!! [hoping to embarrass him in front of his boys]
V: Nah. I’ve been workin. [Gives me a look like he’s embarrassed. Success!]
Me: Really? Do you want some animal crackers? [Extend a giant bag of animal crackers, while I stuff my face.]
V: Nah. Maybe you shouldn’t eat those if you’re a dentist?
Me: Perhaps. See ya!
[Multiple hi/bye exchanges]
Later that spring
Me: Hey! Long time no see.
V: Yeah, I’ve been working.
Me: Riiiight. Where?
Me: Uhh…. you’re not like a dancer are you? [Penthouse is a gentleman’s club in an adjacent neighbourhood. Quickly regret asking that question; didn’t really want to know.]
V: Naahhh. I serve food.
Me: Are you sure you wanna support that kind of industry?
Later that summer
V: Hey! I need a tooth pulled.
Me: For real? Lemme see!
V: [Points to broken molar] Here!
Me: Ouchies! You gotta come and register. By the way, what’s your name?
[Multiple hi/bye exchanges]
Christmas eve on my way home from work
Me: Hey Victor. How are you?
V: Good. You?
Me: I’m good. Wait, just kidding, I’m kinda sick. [Keeling over]
V: Oh shoot. I’ll probably be sick soon too. [Points to his meager hoodie in too cold for just a hoodie weather]
Me: Well, what are ya doin’ out here? Duh.
V: [Shamefully] I’m being a bad boy.
Me: Ok, stay outta trouble, please!
Me: Merry Christmas! and Merry Christmas to your family!
It took about a year to exchange names. And it took a year and a half for him to admit to me, albeit implicitly, his activities on the corner. I was tempted to feel depressed over that last exchange. What’s Victor’s problem?! If he knows what he’s doing is bad, then he should stop! The Lord gently reminded me that He is patient with all of us. That was the first time he actually expressed some sense of regret about his poor decision making. Like he admitted wrong. Like he needs. And with that posture, hope begins.