“Don’t you put those ashes on the floor,” Gary said.
“Well what do you want me to do with them?” Lane asked.
This was just about a year ago inside Glitters, Gary’s head shop/art gallery/novelty shop that’s been at the corner of Elm and Washington about as long as Lane’s been living on the streets, which is to say a long time.
Lane had been in jail for the last couple days and Gary was trying, unsuccessfully, to get the story out of him when he noticed the long cigarette ash forming between Lane’s fingers. He slid a green ashtray in Lane’s direction.
“I’m gonna steal that green ashtray one of these days,” Lane said. “I like it. Because it’s green.”
“How did you get out?”
“It was $200,” Lane said.
“Yeah, but who paid?”
He just looked at Gary, swaying slightly, his cigarette ash growing longer and more perilous.
Lane’s a notorious figure in Greensboro. You know the guy.
“He’s the only character left downtown,” Gary said, describing the whiskery presence in flamboyant, castoff clothes that Lane says are cheaper to buy from Goodwill than to wash and wear again. He favors overcoats and chapeaux, pointy shoes when he can get them, and dramatic pieces of flair, like a sash or something.
“It’s amazing,” Gary says. “He looks pretty good, no matter what he’s got on. Any type of hat on him looks good.”
Gary’s been providing Lane with shelter from the indifferent storm for decades now. They’re friends. Gary looks out for Lane, makes sure he’s staying warm and gets enough to eat, keeps an eye on his money.
Lane gets a monthly stipend, “through the VA or whatever,” Gary explained, “but it’s gone in two days. I don’t know…. He’s 82 years old. He doesn’t bum money — he borrows. But he usually pays people back. But he still owes me $130 from two months ago.”
Lane stood by the counter, smoking his cigarette, just a couple months before Gary ceased all smoking inside the building. A few months later, Lane would get hit by an eastbound Amtrak train at the South Elm Street crossing.
He shook that off, too, just like he would a couple nights in jail or a few cigarette ashes dropped on the floor. “Minor injuries,” the police report said.
He’s out there still, a prince of the city in pauper’s garb, hard as leather yet frail as vintage lace, keeping on through another cold winter, looking for a place to ash his smoke.