I sat under a tree with him in an empty field across from the hangout where dozens of us smoked dope weekend nights. New Year’s Eve 1969, and it was Florida cold. Everyone knew Atheist dealt heroin. Once, I watched him hit up my best friend, who turned blue as a balloon. Most of the kids in the car ran off. But Atheist knew what to do. Hit him up with speed. He saved my best friend’s life. When the cops came to Atheist’s door, he climbed out through his window. They’ll never take me alive, he said that night under the tree, sounding like James Cagney. He grinned. The cops found his stash under a rock near the turnpike bridge. Somebody was a narc, he said. We slept under the tree until dawn. Woke up, walked home. Never saw him again except on the news one night. They cuffed him, put him in the back of a patrol car. I received letters saying: Greetings From the Penthouse, and he told me about life in prison. Some mean fuckers in here, he said. Smiley faces or LOL hadn’t been invented yet, but I could see him grinning. Eventually the letters stopped. Like most friends I knew back then, I lost track of him.
Fifty years go by when one night I see him in a local TV commercial. Fucking Atheist! His shoulder-length hair red and wild as ever. He’s wearing a fucking tie! Curtains Galore! Huge sale! he grins. I pick up my phone to dial the number on the screen.