Excerpt from THE WORLD IS MY HOME; LIFE AS A FREE RANGE HUMAN

Chapter 25

Flier!  Flier!

The Lord will provide.  That has become an increasingly guiding maxim of mine over the last several years.  Whenever I need spiritual sustenance, food, cigs, or alcohol, I have come to take it for granted that these needs will be mysteriously met.  Since lost and found items constitute a zero sum game, these miracles must presumably come as a loss to another, but I’ll leave the accounting to the Almighty.  Another theological ambiguity is that when God provides the type of manna that will hasten my demise, I must question whether He/She/It truly likes me or not.     

For example, I once was sitting in my room, getting shit-faced and having an irresistible craving for weed.  My neighbor knocked on my door and offered me a jay, something he had never done before.  He even left me to smoke it at my own leisure, meaning I wasn’t obligated to hang out with him.  Two days later, I was a quarter shy of a pack of tobacco, but determined to get a pack and arrive back in time to watch Jeopardy!  I took it for granted that I would come across the necessary coinage on the two block walk to the store.  Sure enough, I managed to find a misplaced quarter outside my neighbor’s door.     

Although coming into some money is always a good and necessary thing, I really needed it recently.  It was long past time to find a job and I needed a haircut to increase the likelihood of that happening.  I had no batteries to power either my headset radio or the one at the tent.  Living there in cold silence sucks as much as you’d imagine it would.     

Last week, two guys in a van approached some of us at the breakfast meal site about a work opportunity.  He needed people to pass out fliers, and I guess a bunch of homeless people were bona fide experts at all things passing out.  The job would last for at least three days and possibly three days the following week.  He said nothing about what the fliers were about.  It was up to me to determine that they were for a computer sale at a hotel.     

I would not necessarily identify myself as either introverted or extroverted.  I am capable of extreme forms of each behavior, an oscillation that I do not interpret as bipolarity.  When the “professional” protocol of a particular job demands it, I can easily put on the outgoing facade at the drop of a hat.  I suppose I should also learn the art of affecting an introverted demeanor when a genuinely professional job calls for it, but it’s much easier to feign exuberance than to stifle it.     

More so than even my abbreviated stint as a carny, where people expect to be hawked at, a shy manner would not cut it when hassling people who are simply going about their daily business.  In fact, the task so greatly resembled panhandling that I thought of changing my sales line to, “Big computer sale Friday at the Sheraton and could you please spare a dollar?”       

I think the only time I accept any such literature is when it’s religious in nature, if only because I respect the intentions of the distributors.  In the future, though, I will accept anything that is offered me, even if it’s an ironic tract about the importance of saving trees.  Sometimes, humanitarian compassion must trump environmentalism.  Unlike trees and landfills, at least the person who has one less handout to give away can feel some gratitude toward me.     

Truly, it’s the apathetic people who just take a flier and keep on moving that make this job easier.  Our boss gave us absolutely no information about what we were plugging.  It wouldn’t have surprised me to find out that one of the guys was trying to get rid of Chinese food menus.  It was up to us to discern that the advertised computer sale featured Netbooks and may or may not have had other items.  When I was asked questions by the kinds of people who might actually buy one, the best I could do was point and say, “Yeah, one of these.  In various colors, as you can see.”  I have no interest in computers and thus no inkling about the technical capacity of a Netbook.  Frankly, it sounded made up to me.     

These were the types of customers who would annoy the hell out of me as a waiter, and then I the cooks as I relayed the inquiry.  “Is the salmon farm-raised?”  I don’t know, what do you want to hear?  Which is better?  “Is the marinara sauce homemade?”  Lady, this is a restaurant.  We’re legally forbidden from bringing food from home to sell.  “What was the name of the cow that was made into my hamburger?”  Actually, it came from three cows.  Bessie, Wilma, and Linda all lived happily on the same farm as Gus the Salmon.     

*          *         *

Having gotten paid at the end of each shift, you can easily figure out what I did with my pay.  By the third day, slugging from my “water” bottle at my post on the corner, it became increasingly difficult to deliver my spiel.  I shortened it to “Computer sale today,” and even that was too polysyllabic for my liking.  I think my boss was hip to my condition, but, like so many other bosses from my past, he turned a blind eye because he regarded me as one of his best guys.     

Over the next couple days, I rode out this revelry to its predictable result.  By the time my money ran out today, I had gotten the batteries but my hair was still too long.  I also had the shakes.  I was able to hit Miguel up for two bucks, thus allowing me to get a 40.  But by this point, it wasn’t enough.  I went down to the river to roll a cigarette and to figure out what to do next.  Would I have to panhandle a couple more bucks?     

I was even out of matches.  I asked an older guy sitting on a bench if he had a light.  He said he didn’t smoke, but asked if I wanted a little vodka.  I almost laughed at the perfect timing.  I also wondered to myself why every alcoholic I know drinks vodka, but I guess it’s for the same reason I do:  It’s the cheapest drunk.  We finished off his pint, and he said he was about to go get a fifth.  He invited me to help drink it.  Like a Tennessee Williams character, I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.     

Mark told me to call him by his nickname, “Dog,” but “not in the nigger way.”  I told him I could not, with a straight face, refer to anyone as “Dog,” let alone an elder.  Apart from my gratitude, I also picked up on a certain negativity from Mark.  He was a Vietnam vet who seemed to be angry at the world, especially foreigners and minorities.  This is easy to say in retrospect, but it seemed like my intuition was telling me that something bad was going to happen.     

We got our fifth and ended up hanging out near the farmer’s market.  It was closed today, but it still seemed like an unwise place to drink openly.  An older black lady, Evelyn, who already knew Mark, came over and partook of the bottle.  Mark’s bigotry was apparently overridden by his sex drive, as it became apparent that he was interested in her.     

She told me she had gotten out of the hospital the day before, where she had been treated for an asthma attack.  She still wore the ID bracelet they had given her and I spotted her full name.  She seemed like a nice lady, but she had the ever-alluring figure of a crackhead, weighing little more than a hundred pounds.  Based on some things she said, by the time we got halfway done with the bottle I realized she was a bullshitter.     

I then remembered seeing her once before.  She was one of the people who used a debilitating substance with a distinctive effect.  I wasn’t sure what exactly it was, but I always referred to it as the “freeze drug.”  Unlike alcohol, which when used in excess will lead one to fall over and pass out, abuse of this drug resulted in bypassing the middle phase.  Rather, the person gets kind of stuck in the middle of whatever they were doing.  They just close their eyes, cling to something and sway, oblivious to the world. 

I wondered how these people did things like cross the street and even eat.  If architects and structural engineers could harness this ability of the drug’s users to wobble without falling, earthquake fatalities could be virtually eliminated.  The freeze drug users display the opposite tendencies of the hyperactive rockers.  This label has nothing to do with music, but rather refers to people that rapidly sway back and forth.  Seated, they look like they’re in a rocking chair.  Standing, they look like they’re about to run a race.

I had seen Evelyn in this state while she was walking up the steps at one of the meal sites, clutching the handrail with her eyes closed.  She seemed more coherent this time, and it didn’t take the three of us long to deplete two-thirds of the bottle.  She and I had each already used the bathroom at the nearby bookstore, less than a block away.  However, Evelyn said she had to go again and was just going to go between some nearby cars.  I advised her not to, but she said she couldn’t hold it.  She asked me to watch her back.     

I didn’t do so hot at that assignment.  How do you watch someone’s back in such a situation without violating their privacy?  Mark and I got back to talking between ourselves, uninterrupted by Evelyn.  After about five minutes, I asked where she had run off to.  Hopefully, she had taken my advice and had found herself an indoor bathroom.  I was worried she wouldn’t return, because she had left her purse and another bag with us.     

Suddenly, an ambulance showed up behind and to the right of us.  The EMTs were looking at the ground.  As we went over to look, we saw that Evelyn had passed out in between the cars with her pants down.  A gawker, perhaps whoever had called 911, questioned, “She ain’t dead, is she?  Look at the blood!”     

I went back to our bench to get her stuff to give to the ambulance personnel.  I also told them about her recent asthma attack.  They asked if she had taken any drugs.  “She said she didn’t do drugs, but I don’t believe her.  She was drunk but didn’t seem too bad.”     

When I returned to the bench, Mark was gone.  I guess he’d assumed the cops would be there and he wanted no part of that.  His sense of self-preservation was telling him, “Go, Dog, go!”  It always amazed me when veterans acted like such pussies.  Fortunately, I had the remainder of the bottle stashed under my jacket, and Mark had abandoned it.

*              *              *

After looking in vain for Mark near where we had met along the river, I decided I should check up on Evelyn.  I would feel better if I knew she was okay, and if she had keeled over they would probably want to talk to someone who was with her.  Since I had for whatever reason paid attention to her hospital bracelet, I knew her last name.      

I went to one of the city’s two hospitals and they said that she wasn’t there.  After a long walk to the other one, past where we were when she had collapsed, they told me they don’t even handle emergencies.  However, someone at the desk made a call to a buddy at the first hospital, asking if they had brought in any dopeheads.  He hung up and told me she was in fact there, and that I should ask for Andre.       

Granted that I had to make my way back that way anyway, but I was kind of pissed about this long excursion.  I didn’t really give a fuck anymore, but figured I may as well finish my moral mission at that point.  I then remembered that I still had a bus pass in my wallet that I had been saving for a special occasion.  There was a bus stop right across from the hospital.     

A smoker for nearly 20 years, I am well familiar with the damage that smoking can inflict on clothing.  My skateboarding experience has instilled in me a nonchalance concerning pain such as bodily burns, but a noticeable burn hole in clothing renders it unfit to wear in polite society.     

When I awoke this morning, feeling quite rough and worn out, I had spaced out while smoking a hand-rolled cigarette.  These can lose their cherries quite easily, especially when you roll as shoddily as me.  I didn’t realize it until the smell hit me, but I had burned a sizable hole at the bottom of my pants leg.     

While waiting for the bus, I had to abruptly ditch my cigarette as the bus pulled up.  As I was taking a site near the back of the sparsely occupied bus, I noticed the smell of smoke.  This could be alarming from a safety point of view, but I assumed the driver was in control of things.  Then, I looked down to realize I had again ignited my pants, about four inches away from the original larger hole.  I quickly tamped it out with my fingers, but it was too late.     

The driver abruptly pulled over and ordered me off the bus because I was smoking.  “But I’m not smoking…”  Literally speaking, that was untrue.     

“There’s the door.”     

“But my pants…”     

He cut me off with a decisive hand gesture.  “Sir, if you don’t leave, you’ll be banned from the city busses.”     

With my intoxication and exhaustion, I just resigned myself to the fact that I’d used a pass worth $1.65 to go a block and a half.  I should have tried to at least recoup my fare, but then I thought about the shame involved with appearing on a poster featuring “Mass Transit’s Most Unwanted.”  Right alongside Peter the Pisser.  I said nothing further and departed.     

I got back to the original hospital and found out that Evelyn had been identified as “Female Patient 79.”  Apparently, I was smart enough to notice her name on the hospital bracelet, but the workers there weren’t.  I thought they’d be savvier about something like that, but what do I know?     

She must have still been alive, because they said I could see her in 45 minutes when the doctor was finished with her.  Knowing that this meant three hours in hospital terms, I just left a note for her.     

Evelyn:

Glad to hear you’re alive.  I was worried.  Hey, I’ve done the same thing before.  If they put you on Librium or Ativan, take it for a couple days and don’t drink while taking it.  I’ll keep you in my prayers.     

With love,     

Brian (the dark-skinned guy with the beard)     

Part of that statement was a lie.  I may have passed out at inopportune times and places, but I always managed to keep my pants on.  Even when they were on fire.

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