The memories of my first job have faded so much that I now doubt whether I’ve ever been employed. How to live without an income is a question of urban survival, especially for those of us who have special needs (i.e. alcoholism). The first time, I slept in the park, but some street kids showed me an abandoned mill they had held up in. “The cops always check the park,” one of them told me, “Stay in a dark place when you sleep at night.” From those humble beginnings, I’ve changed and evolved so much. Instead of defining myself as a human being based on what I have been through, I’ve based it on what I can and will do. I drank Bacardi in a Pasadena restaurant and smashed a window with a chair. When I passed through Las Vegas, I somehow gained $10,000 in four hours and lost it over the next six days. There’s a warrant for my arrest in Austin, Texas for Riotous and Destructive Behavior, but every cop so far has been too lazy to fill out the extradition papers. I stopped a rape in Nashville and was rewarded enough alcohol to require a hospitalization. I was the man with a blank future. My name is Daniel. If you ask my friends, they’d say I was the Beatnik drifter. Homeless, alive, and free.
Beep… Beep… Beep…
My eyes burst open to the light. I’ll never get used to that sound. I swat the alarm clock and roll over. My eyes slowly open again. It’s 8:30. I have to get to work in a hour half. I’m already dressed. And, making the bed was as easy as getting out of a sleeping bag. Surveying the scene, I discover three more bodies on the ground. There was Z, a twenty four year old, who had a friend tattoo a Z on his forehead when he was sixteen. The tragedy left him scarred and with a name he’d never lose. Donny slept in the corner, his head propped up against the wall. He had no shirt on and there was an empty beer bottle sticking out of his fly — someone was making mischief last night. And, our third contender, Rochelle, remained curled up in a ball on a chair. She had a small enough figure that she could make it a comfortable position. Small clips of metal pierced her face. Two rings were connected with a chain; and there was enough of a draft in the squat that you could hear the links make their clinking noise.
I headed down the stairs, discovering several empty beer bottles along the way. Turning to the main exit of our squat, I discover my friend Buck. Somehow, he managed to fall asleep sitting up in a chair. There was a half filled whiskey bottle held against his belly, and behind that there was hard-chunked vomit on his leather jacket. I take one second to light a cigarette. With the click of the Zippo, his mouth opens and I hear, “You’re not a punk any more.”
“Would a punk put a cigarette out on your face?” “Yeah, but you’re not a punk, so I have nothing to worry about,” he smiled, shwilling from his whiskey bottle, then putting it on the ground.
We had this debate last night. “You lose the grit and pain of being a true street kid when you start waking up in the morning to shuffle shit for some shitfucking capitalist pig-” “It’s a fuckin’ family owned store,” I said, shwilling my malt liquor extra hard.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said, as his face emerges from a shot of hard alcohol, “You’re working for the man.”
“He’s right,” Donny said, “You’re not a punk any more.”
This god of squatters stood there, clad in the armaments of a punk: spikes and chains. For some reason, he had a polka-dotted scarf around his neck. He found it on the ground earlier that day, and has developed the ill habit of wearing it.”
Fuck you both,” I notice Z spray painting the wall with an anarchy symbol, “Having a job doesn’t change me. I sleep in a squat, like everyone else.”
Now I’m rubbing my head in the morning, thinking about an eight hour shift, and this prick sitting in my squat just said that I wasn’t a punk in his sleep. I don’t care about names and phrases any more. Gutter punk, street urchin, runaway kid, I don’t care. I’m homeless. There’s a weird smell in this abandoned building. Coil springs pierce the one mattress I have. The wallpaper is melting. Both floors are covered in garbage: wrappers, newspapers, vomit, beer cans, abandoned clothing. Home sweet home. And this is the place that we’ve decided to live. No, this is the only place we could live. I have to make excuses to no one.
I forgot again this morning. The front door does not latch shut. That was probably the constant beating I heard last night. It didn’t keep me up — enough alcohol kills all consciousness. I walk out of the abandoned/reclaimed home, only to notice a mailman walking by. He gives me an odd look, almost unsure that anyone would have any legitimate excuse for walking out of an empty building at eight AM. There’s no need for anyone to be so naive. Being homeless doesn’t make you inhuman, but many people would believe that.
It’s early. Very early. Seven AM. The birds just started their first round of mating calls. The true alcoholics are just getting to bed now. Somewhere in this state, a group of high schoolers are just coming down from their psilocybin mushroom trip. I can feel all the working class, single moms just arriving at work, an hour and a half after waking up — I’m watching their soft exhale of stress and hope. On my way to work, there was a particularly unhealthy smell rising from the concrete. It could be a hallucination caused by a night of heavy drinking and only five hours of sleep. Regardless, I can just shrug it off.
Kleineman’s Restaurant. I arrive five minutes early for my shift. “Hey, my boy, Danny…”
Mr. Kleineman greets me, “Didn’t you get my message?” “What message?” I asked, and then with a cracked smile, “And on what phone, answering machine, or e-mail?” “I told all my other employees to tell you that we don’t need you today,” he said, shrugging, “You got the day off.”
“But, but…. I got up early and came here, like I was scheduled, and I never heard from anyone else,” I said. The struggle was more painful due to the sleep-deprivation and hangover.”
I know, but we already have a dishwasher,” he said, “Come back tomorrow. I’ll have work for you, then.”
“Can I at least get two fifty for the bus fair of getting here?” I asked. My anxiety and agitation had made me more aggressive and assertive. He certainly gave me the money. There was no other choice. When he handed the money to me, it was almost as though he was giving it to a homeless bum who was panhandling on the side of the highway. I am homeless, but it’s not quite my identifying factor in my relationship with my boss.
Two blocks south, seven blocks east, cut through the park, and you’re in the best place to get your alcohol supplies. I’ve got two fifty. Just about enough for a forty.”
Can I help you find anything?” the manager asks, pretending not to be watching me — or maybe that’s just my unfounded suspicion that all old people distrust the young.”
You don’t have any Old English?” I asked.
“No, but we have Steel Reserve and Colt 49, if you drink malt liquor,” he said.
“I wish you had some OE,” I respond, looking through the racks, and discovering, to my surprise, a bottle of “Blue Mad Dog, the best fruit flavored alcoholic beverage you’ll find, clearly the envy of wine and champagne everywhere,” her hair was being whipped by the midnight air coming off the waterfront, “This shit is chemically perfected for that sweet taste of cirrhosis.”
Irene. A beautiful girl that I used to know… a girl I used to love. We’d bark at the moon together, and giggle when everyone pointed and laughed.
My hands caress her stomach as I close my eyes, nearing her face, “Booze is booze. What’s the difference between flavorings?” “Because this represents our culture, the culture of the wino!” she triumphantly holds bottle in the air. I fall on her shoulder, slowly drifting in to sleep.
“So, you be getting the Mad Dog?” the manager asks me with his broken Indian accent. I’m softly awakened from daydream to my present reality: the scene right before I make an ass out of myself due to alcohol excess. I nod my head in response to his question.
Walking down the street with the bottle of Mad Dog, I start to think that I’m not representing the culture of the wino; I am simply living a memory. This one’s for her.
“What happened?” a slightly animating Buck opens his eyes to the day, “Did the Capitalist system fall apart and they sent you home?” He struggled to obtain a bare grasp of reality. I walked passed him, heading on up the stairs. “Alcohol in the morning?” he references my Mad Dog with a smile, “I guess maybe you really are punk.”
“Would you please cut the shit with the high school routine?” I replied cheerfully, “I’ve had my fair share of being ostracized for being different. I imagine all you –” “Is that what you think we were doing?” Buck asked, “You’re my brother no matter what, but that means I have to give you shit no matter what. Why did you take this job any way? We were enough money spanging.”
I shwilled, and passed him the bottle. “Maybe it’s not about the money,” I said, “For my entire life on the streets, I haven’t advanced one bit. I aged quickly and built memories fast, but everything I got I’ve lost. Photographs of squatmates, letters from dead friends, all of the tickets I got in LA for marijuana… Everything, I lost it all. I just wanted to do something good for myself for once.”
He passed the bottle back to me. I let the alcohol sting treat this horrible misery. “If I was a businessman making three hundred thousand a year, I’d still only want to get tanked with you,” his words are poetry.”
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