Day at the Welfare Office

By Tony Nesca

Goddamn wind tore at my skin like razorsharp do-nothing smiles we stood in line at the welfare office January winter screaming down our necks all of us shuffling our feet shoulders bunched weak smiles in the morning night, yeah, morning night 7 AM dark sky cars racing by throwing mud and grease and shit in our direction that damn snow piled three feet high on either side of us

sidewalk covered in ice man we was wondering, we was wondering, where in the holy all-mighty purpose did we fuck up so immensely ugly and pointless to end up here cuz the slow-easy movement, the killing-field assassins are all around us and the mojo gone distant guy beside me lights smoke smiles I smile back he’s got beef-jerky hands shaking last night’s drunk off takes a bite of something warm,

“hey man” he offers me a bite,

“sure” I say “what the hell now, right?”

“ain’t nothing worse buddy, you okay?”

“I is alright…”

“so what’s your story, where you live?”

“taking care of my mom right now, staying with her”

“alright man, alright…what you doing here then?”

“dying slowly, like everyone else, right?…everything cool with you?”

“nah, feeling shitty man, we’re all feelingshitty, ya dig?”

“yeah, alright”

“minus fucking 30 out here, you’d think those fucking jive assholes would let us in…lookit them, you can see them walking around in there!…OPEN A FUCKING DOOR FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!!”

Somewhere up the line few guys started arguing about something stupid, Indian fellow front teeth missing, white guy black eye and booze on his breath racing all the way down the line right up to us, and it continues, it continues in the face of all that’s holy and sacred and almighty Zeus shrugs his shoulders and weeps and the wind picks up something fierce tearing at our skin, sucking

on our bone marrow freezing our booze shriveled minds and for a damn second, I shit you not, it felt like I was going to die, goddamn I thought, I’m going to die right fucking here on the street in front of the welfare office, hmmmmm – I shook my fist at the sky, bowed my head and waited but death didn’t come only more pricks and needles of ice and wind stabbing away at my very existence and I grit my teeth, fuck it man, you ain’t taking me like this right here right now, you ain’t sucking it out of me baby, not now you ain’t,

“GODDAMN!” I shouted, “FUCK ME!”

Another voice joined in,


The front door opened like a gift from The God of Thunder himself Jesus Christ and Buddha too but listen it was golden crisps and shit-stained wonder-babies, it was justice smiling grimly at the final sunrise, it was us hobos proudly defeated moving forward one more step, toothless love she all around we marched in there shit and snow and grime on our boots faces frozen in silent laughter

nothing on our minds but the holiest of holies and my thoughts went back to my bed all toasty and heaven-warm perhaps a woman beside me thighs wrapped tightly around my head hot and juicy mine for the taking, mine alone while outside -30 weather snowstorm blew the blues from one corner of the city to the other and people stood in line at the welfare office, and they picked their noses at bus-stops, and they froze their precious dicks off as their cars wouldn’t start and a smile

spreads on my face as her legs squeeze squeeze squeeze, uggggggggggggggg, so here we go man bright room with that usual welfare-cop hand on his holster waving us in looking worse than any welfare bum I’d ever seen, I smiled, he didn’t wince lines on hisface like hell for leather and again we stand in line a steady perdition of wanton music all of us feeling alone and shitty, native chick

stands behind me nice and tall and juicy and nasty-looking grin I smile again for some ridiculous reason, she smiles back looking superior and full of meaning combat boots caked in snow and mud, winter jacket ripped at the seams, my own jacket a thin sad and moldy thing with masking tape holding it together, native girl looking suddenly like tears might come running down those high

cheekbones me feeling her sadness and anger and my own dissatisfaction with all things blue and easy and fuck it all to hell, I tap her on the shoulder gently and respectfully, she smiles weakly, I glance over at the cop he’s grinning from ear to ear like he somehow finds happiness in our misery down-out-luck, greasy bastard…so the shit’s taken care of I now have a seat keeping my eyes firmly on the native girl’s plentiful hips just across from me, tough looking guys on either side of her, long black ponytails huge motherfuckers looking happy like they don’t give a shit, well alright brothers, give it to me hard and fast cuz I ain’t got time for your easy melancholy, ya hear me?

And the incessant arguing coming from the booths lined up at the front of the room a constant stream of misery as welfare clerks denied and welfare recipients demanded and pleaded I closed my eyes and laid my head back and I saw my youth in Italy living in the Italian alps and the green and brown and red as the bush and the blue sky mountain caps surrounded us the village down below peach trees in backyard, wow man, what the hell, what the hell? I remembered the old men playing cards on the front stoop of the coffee-bar at all times of the morning noon or night drinking wine and arguing and laughing and dying, I remembered the soccer games with my school buddies on

Saturday afternoons mountain shadow hanging over us eventuallyending up in a rock fight then our mothers having to patch us up after, I remembered my beautiful neighbor called Fiorenza young thing my age just turned 15 my puberty in full bloom and watching her suntan in her

bikini-red backyard then going to the village swimming pool and watching those long fat thighs move one way then the other, and I remembered my great grandmother going for walks with me through the foothills and the woods just behind our villa all the bullshit stories I would tell her weaving one strand of crap with another as we laughed and enjoyed the sun, and my mother with her gentle and affectionate nature calling all us boys in for noon snack-time as we chomped down on the Nutella sandwiches, what a blast man, what an easy memory, nothing but do-nothing days and the mountain sunshine and Fiorenza’s bikini-red…guy a few seats down started heaving and vomited all over the floor, beside him young black kid shakes the blue-morning shake, Asian middle-aged woman down the aisle opens her purse, mumbles, closes it, then repeats, then cries softly, damn it all anyway man, cop starts screaming at someone to get in line this glowing sadness too much to bear I closed my eyes seeing my childhood in Winnipeg running the tree-lined streets a

canopy of green hanging over us in the eternal shade, and my friends from all races African, Indian, Aboriginal, Asian and tons of Italians great childhood man, and everything green and brown and easy sunshine mornings in the freshly cut grass…fucking hell couple cops come into the

place and drag someone out of there and he didn’t make it easy man, he stomped and spit and cursed and dragged his feet and everything STOPPED… stopped…then started again all voices ringing at the same time wrapped in their own world, their own inanities and insignificance and personal tiny triumphs that would one day shake the universe to its very foundations, yeah I said,

YES, YES to it all, to every last miserable drop, to all the welfare mornings, to all the broke-ass park bench ruminations, to all the mad-bad women chucking ashtrays at my marijuana meanderings, my name came up on the speaker just loud enough to embarrass me if I were so inclined which I was not, I talked to the clown behind the glass, nothing to it once you actually came up to bat, name, I.D., a few questions and start swinging boy,

“you been looking for a job son?”

“yes sir, I have indeed”

“made any money on the side we should know of?”

“why, that would be illegal sir?”

“you’re something, ain’t ya?…alright mr. ziggy, come back in thirty days, in the meantime fill out this form listing all the jobs you’ve been applying for and blah blah blah blah blah (incessant drone in my ear) blah blah blah shit shit…”

then with welfare scraps in my pocket I made my way to the front door, saw the wind blowing snow across the street, saw a few toothless bastards laughing sadly, saw an old fucker piss his pants, and I say YES, YES to the old back alley wanderings, to the wonderstruck mind-blown lost living, to the

small and meek and booze drenched lost causes, to my Italian childhood and all the faces I left behind, saw that young Native girl move past me, she smiled and frowned and smiled again and I knew that the hopeless star-struck adventure had just begun as I buttoned my coat, laughed sadly moving into the snow-blind reality…

Tony Nesca was born in Torino, Italy in 1965 and moved to Canada at the age of three. He was raised in Winnipeg but relocated back to Italy several times until finally settling in Winnipeg in 1980. He has published six chapbooks of stories and poems (which he used to sell straight out of his knapsack at local dives and bookstores), six novels, five books of poetry, one short story collection, and has been an active contributor to the underground lit scene for twenty years, being published in innumerable magazines both online and in print. He currently resides in Winnipeg.

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