Dude tells me to call him Dude. It may be his actual name but I can’t be certain. The word dude constitutes about fifty percent of his spoken vocabulary. Dude is wearing a shirt that says Stoned with a picture of rocks on it, like no duh. Having a conversation with Dude is like speaking to an echo. There is a five second delay between the question and response, and usually he just repeats the question back with a slightly altered emphasis. Dude may have hearing loss or terminal brain damage or both, his synapses clogged with resin and his ears stuffed with gummi bears.
“Well, Dude,” I tell him, “you can’t loiter here,” and he gives me a blank stare punctuated by squints and blinks. It takes a few seconds for things to filter into his auditory process, draining slowly between the charcoal and other crispy obstructions in his brain.
“Dude, I never litter.” He looks at the ground around him to confirm his own report. There is a backpack at his feet, and a sign scrawled on cardboard that reads Need Money 4 Weed. Tied to the backpack is a tiny puppy that looks like it might actually be a fluffy, battery operated toy. “Those butts aren’t mine, dude,” he says. “I don’t smoke that poison, dude.”
“Loiter,” I repeat, more slowly, like I’m teaching English to a first grader. “LOY-ter.” I point behind him to the sign posted on the wall that reads No Loitering. Never mind the fact that he is begging for money in front of the cannabis club so he can buy pot. Never mind the fact that he is like a poster child for the war on drugs. If anyone doubting the legitimacy of the medical marijuana movement were to drive by, they would immediately see him and have all their doubts confirmed. “If you are not a customer you’ve got to beat it,” I tell him, hooking my thumb toward the busy intersection behind us. “You can’t just sit here in front of the club.”
“Dude. I got a script, dude. I’m a customer, or I will be soon.” His left eye is twitching as he speaks, or is he trying to wink at me? “I got back problems,” he says.
"Yeah, you and every other stoner in California. Either you leave or I’m calling the cops,” I tell him. Of course I’m bluffing. I’m not gonna call the cops, but I’m hoping he’s paranoid enough to believe me. He just stands there and stares like I’m speaking a language he doesn’t understand.
“Either you leave or I’m calling the cops.” he says.
“I’m gonna call the cops on you, Dude.”
“You’re gonna call the cops on me?”
“Did I stutter?”
“Did you stutter?”
“What the fuck’s wrong with you, Dude?”
He shrugs his shoulders and looks down at his backpack defeated, and his ratty blonde dreadlocks fall into his face like a basket of tangled yarn dumped onto his head. He reaches down and stuffs the sign into his backpack, and then picks the backpack up in one hand and the terminally cute puppy in the other. When he is holding the puppy he seems less deplorable somehow. People might be more inclined to give the big furball money because they feel sorry for the little furball.
Then another guy walks up, another possible vagrant with dirty clothes and questionable decision making skills. His fuzzy afro is so lofty it looks like an optical illusion, and his shirt says the word Gonzo beneath a picture of a long nosed muppet. “Dude,” he says, “I scored some AK-47 and some Bubba Kush. Let’s go.”
Dude’s face lights up. He practically opens his eyes.
“Not here,” I tell them, and they both look about suspiciously like they might be under surveillance.
“We can go to my van,” Gonzo says.
“Dude, that’s epic,” says Dude.
“Can I join you guys?” I ask.
Turns out I’ve got back problems too.