Ian Mueller :: Unseeing ::


Southern Legitimacy Statement: Yeah, I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, when I was four. My Midwestern cousins used to tease me about my Southern accent but then I made them listen to Walter Edgar’s Journal and when anyone hears that man speak they can’t deny the beauty of the South. I spent summers at the Outer Banks, learned to drive on Appalachian highways, and almost drowned at Folly Beach trying to surf the edge of a hurricane.


Everyone at the College of Charleston knew of Tin-Tin. He would snap his fingers with flawless rhythm, performing the same song which began I was standin on the corner doin’ no harm, along came the Man who grabbed my arm. Then he concluded with a decrescendo of snaps and repetition of the chorus, now fallback, fallback, fallback, chanting and backing away with small steps from his audience and crouching ever lower to the ground as if taking a bow, until he whispered the final fallback, upon which he would spring forward with this grin that was a mask in my mind and say to his audience now you wouldn’t mind given’ ol’ Tin-Tin a dollar or two so I can buy myself an ice, cold, beeruh, mmm-hmm, ahhh, his head wagging back and forth, mouth open as if already relishing the Genesee Black malt liquor. 

He was a small black man with small dark eyes, a creased face greyed by whiskers, and unruly hair that curled out from underneath his black woolen hat until he disappeared to jail before reappearing clean shaven. Although that’s what people said about his periodic absences from the neighborhood of Elliotborough, where he slept in an alley near our house or occasionally on our porch. I never asked him where he went when he disappeared. 

On Sunday evenings Tin-Tin would come by and take out our trash, my roommate James would give him a Newport and I would smoke a Turkish Gold and we would sit and smoke and drink beer together. We didn’t give him money. Just the cigarette, a beer from our fridge if he didn’t have the money for his preferred Genesee tall boy, and a place to drink that beer without worry of harassment by the police. But he kept coming over more and more often, scaring girls at parties or sleeping on the hard wooden bench we had built from scrap we found in one of the many alleys around Charleston which have since been disappeared by luxury apartments and boutique hotels. 

One day someone broke into our house and stole James’ Xbox and his weed. James insisted it had to have been Tin-Tin. He had heard that the cops say that’s Tin-Tin’s schtick, befriending naive college students then robbing them. I don’t know, I said, but I don’t want him around here anyway. The next time he came by we told him he couldn’t come on our porch anymore and that we would take the trash out ourselves. He looked past James at me and we stared at each other and I thought about the creases around his sad, bright eyes and what those eyes had seen. He said okay then and when we would see him on the street rapping or else doin’ no harm we would glance at him and he would glance at us and we would pretend not to see each other.