Once you’re buried, how do you dig yourself up?
A. In order for me to see myself as homeless, I have to see myself cut off from everyone I know, all my family, all my friends, all my acquaintances, even. How would this happen? How could this happen?
B. Maybe if I became addicted to heroin, stole from everyone to feed my habit, and violently rejected all offers of help. I can’t afford my rent anymore, and no one will let me stay with them because they know I’ll simply steal and sell, an endless cycle, starting with the small stuff they won’t notice. Jewelry, extra silverware, clothes buried in the back of the closet, all the knickknacks packed away in boxes, all of the unmissable. Then a computer, a television, desperation growing, and I know it’s the end of my staying there but who cares? That’s in the future. This is the present and the present is all that matters. The present is where you live.
C. I worked for a weekend at The Daily Grind. Friends of mine worked there much longer, and I’d often stop back on my way from a soccer game to clean up on a meal and some free mimosas. I was usually unbothered, but one day a man sat next to me. He had a bag that he placed beside him. As usual, I wasn’t all that friendly – not unfriendly, but wary. First question always: What does this person want from me? Apparently, he wanted to talk.
D. He was older, in his fifties or sixties. His face was worn. He talked about his daughter and how they were no longer talking. He talked about how he collected cans in Montrose and walked all the way up to the Heights to turn them in for money. He talked about how he’d found a day planner – still in the packaging – and how he was looking to sell it. He asked if I wanted to buy it. I had no use for a day planner. But couldn’t I buy it as a gift? I knew no one who needed a day planner. Couldn’t I just buy it? He needed the money. I had no use for it. But he needed the money? But I didn’t need what he was selling. He didn’t want to ask for money. He wasn’t asking for money. He was selling a product.
E. When I work the door at Poison Girl I often stand outside the door rather than inside. The standing keeps me awake when I’m exhausted and the night air and the street sounds keep my mind occupied, however lightly. A few homeless guys stake out the front of the bar to ask for money. As long as they aren’t abusive or aggressive, I leave them be.
F. They own the street more than I do.
G. There was a man who came regularly for a long stretch of months, always around the same time at night, dressed in clean but battered clothes, a backpack over his shoulder. I’ll call him Merlin. At some point he was in the military, though I don’t know when. He was always lucid, never drunk or high. He was polite and aware and, perhaps, this was his downfall.
H. Merlin asked for money. Sometimes he had things to sell – an extra backpack, an unneeded jacket – but they were never things I needed to buy. Occasionally he asked for water or food, and I’d give a plastic cup of water or goldfish. He was trying to collect money to stay at the homeless shelter which cost eight dollars a night. If he collected enough money, he’d get a meal beforehand. If he didn’t get the money before midnight, he’d be sleeping on the street.
I. I tried to treat him as a regular person, a patron who just happened to prefer standing outside to being in the bar. But I don’t generally give money out to people I don’t really know, and at some point in our conversation money always came up. Often, I gave it to him.
J. But once that transaction has been made, our relationship changes. I’m always the benefactor and he’s the benefactee. How can we treat each other as equals? He has to worry about pissing me off because I’m one of his sources of money.
K. I began to avoid him. I’d see him coming down the street and stay inside. It wasn’t giving away money that I wanted to avoid so much as the discomfort, the calcification of our interaction. Eventually, he would leave.
L. Eventually, he came around here no more.
Throw a shovel on the grave. The tools are there, but it’s hard to reach them through six feet of dirt.