Copyright © 2004 All Rights Reserved
I'm not living anywhere special. Here and there. I like to be vague. My life's a mess and I don't need a magnifying glass. In certain cities they're a tad uptight. The chicks walk by thinking they're models and the way they look at me you'd think I was wearing a button that says 'models suck'. If they deign to pass me they hunch their shoulders and look straight ahead.
Sometimes I yell out-- Say hello to Calvin Klein for me or else it's say hi to Sandy Dalal, or whoever's the hot designer of the moment. The east coast makes people uptight. It's the high cost of living and too much time spent inside crowded gyms and office buildings.
I'm loose; international white trash I am, a vagabond of these uncharted spaces.
You might see me on a street corner, and think it's random, but I can assure you it's not. The need to make money often distracts me; so anyone coming at me has the potential to push me ahead, be it an inch or a mile. You find that there are certain ways to squeeze something out of the people passing by. For one thing you've got to have your finger on the city's pulse. If it's 10:25 am, where are the people? Or, say 6:30 on a Thursday evening, where is the scene happening so that a fellow can scrape together a dollar? When you see me chewing a piece of dried bagel off Lafayette and Astor you can be sure that my mind is in a state of distress thinking about where to lay my head tonight.
It's important to take a shower once in a while. People are repelled by smells. Once they catch a whiff of you in your entire unadulterated splendor, they'll do anything to avoid you. It’s not good for your self-esteem.
I don't go wild with deodorant, but some kind of wild-boy-gone-native look sometimes appeals to the strong fashion sense one finds on the street. They dig it if you're glammed out in GI Joe gear; combat boots, fatigues, a nice haircut; they love a rough, fresh scrubbed look, accompanied by hungry-dog eyes. When I'm standing there with my little cup I naturally get to thinking. Like, am I ever going to get out of this, or will I simply descend into some heavy drug-abusing spiral; destroying every opportunity I have...
It doesn't hurt to put on a little show. They, (the folks who keep you in cold cash) want to be flattered; that's the main thing, so flatter them. Tell the chicks they look cute; tell the dudes their suits look fly, tell them all to go make a killing. There’re a lot of freaks out here. People walking around with plastic bags on their feet and cardboard on their heads.
There was one the other day, a decent looking guy, white, in definite need of a serious shower. He carried a large cardboard sign with too much text on it--all written in really small letters, three by four feet. It had a hole in the middle for his hands and he used different colored inks to emphasize certain words. I don't know what it said; obviously it was his life story. I was too tired to be bothered, and so was everyone else. He was posted in front of a Starbucks, a high volume area where the homeless are frequent. There was some other guy with an Aids sign sitting, looking cute but wasted on another corner.
Everyone has their respective spot, some with dogs. Sometimes respectable looking men come and open up their trench coats just for me, to reveal a dick half-caught in the zipper of a pants suit. There are people with creepy smiles or eyes that look like they got caught in oncoming headlights, and sleazy harridans who look like they've been on the street forever. Too many to mention, though don’t tell the Mayor. Some have homes. Others become a part of the scenery, before disappearing, never to be seen again. Sometimes you hear the gossip (‘X’ O.'ded). Most of the time you hear nothing.
If you've ever wanted a little theatrical training and an audience, here it is. The crowd’s mostly bored, well-fed people on their way to work. They don't want to be reminded too often of the harsh realities. So you get to milk the stares just to see a bit of white. Then the green. Then the backs of them. But these freaks, I've got stories on top of stories. Not worth going into, of course. The truth is homeless people are a bit of a joke. Everyone knows that. Listen to the way they talk:
‘ain't much happenin' cept those muthafuckin' pigs been up my ass all day'
'Yeah, man, me too...'
‘Up’ my ass? We’ll get to that later.
'Pigs', 'man', 'fuck', 'Jesus'.
And God. God is thanked on the street often. Because a lot worse could be going down. As for yours truly I don't personally go in for the church scene unless there's hot soup at the altar.
Some people’d like to take you home. Dudes, mostly. People I’d call questionable even on my most optimistic day.
Thanks but I’m kinda busy, I say. Does it look like I'm looking to pick up a disease on top of regular starvation? I know a few of the men who openly prowl the streets looking for 'fresh' meat. They give a young guy some bills just to have his tool in their mouths. Turn me into a queer if I'm not too careful.
There's Lucy on the corner (not in the sky with diamonds); I haven't seen her in a coon’s age. Who knows where she’s been. I often see her lost in a throng of people during late afternoon. She always looks pathetic shuffling to and fro in slippers with these grey-brown splotches on her face. And rotted teeth. Not that she smiles too much. She wears a little Porkpie hat, totally out of place in the West Village. She's thin and probably not a day past 30. She mumbles shit to passersby but I don't think they hear her. She gazes down at the ground avoiding eye contact. It's obvious she's a junkie. Nothing else can explain so marginal an existence. She avoids my face. She probably thinks I'll nab her pathetic pennies.
Asking for change is low enough. It's one of those things you pretend isn't happening when it. is ‘I’m not asking for money I’m just trying to survive.’
You try not to get the telephoto view of you standing in dirty clothes asking a well-dressed dude going into a restaurant for change. Of course, the lower you go, the more you realize that self-consciousness is a luxury.
I write poetry when I'm standing in wet doorways. In the morning my mind's breezing. The drugs, I guess. I do some. It's either that or I have to eat something.
I've been at this, who knows, maybe a year now. A day’s a year and a month’s a minute. A long time, which has become a kind of non-time, in the face of a blurred youth (which was never very happy to begin with). A blight. Oops, I’m waxing poetical…
People talk about hope, about making it; shit, you embrace a heroin high and you don't need to think about what opportunities you’re wasting. For you there's only one side and that makes life on the street about one thing only: feed the need.
Those who aren't into drugs heavily (like myself) feel dumb, and I'll explain. You're too wide-awake, too aware of what's going on. You need to dose yourself or manipulate your consciousness. Because repeatedly you find yourself thinking the same negative thoughts. To be chasing a drug high while stealing packets of sugar from a Diner might seem downright innovative when you get down to it. It gives you something to focus on. But you never want to be in the middle of that shit, trust me.
A drug high’s 90 minutes in a day consisting of 90 times 24 that. (I don’t have a pen on me).
That's why I’m relatively clean; it's only the minor stuff that gets in the way of my having a normal life, a real job, a place to sleep. Not to say that I'm against getting stoned while standing in the biting cold, it being 8:30 on a Sunday morning. Not to mention that I never pop the cap on a 40 ounce before 5.
What keeps me from having a Mc job, a Mc Life, etc.? look I can’t bother to explain; a real eccentric type my daddy once called me (it was his sister who coined the phrase. He, being unoriginal, adopted it.) That's all you're going to hear about my family tree. Because it's not much of a tree. And the fruit that's on it, well, it fell off. I'm not much of a family man, in case you can't tell. Fuck the-kids-the-white-picket-fence scenario. Of course eventually, when your legs start to get a little wobbly, and your kneecaps too sore from the ground you've been sleeping on, sometimes you go soft in the head and start thinking bucolic dreams, you know, deliver me from this life I’ve chosen...
It seems that when you haven't got a future, the past is all you have and the present is all you can see. Real Zen, that's me.
Bed-street-grave, with nary a time for a wave.
I don't like coming off sounding so completely jaded when I'm practically still a kid. How young? Well let it suffice to say that I barely have a beard and my genitals are crawling with lice. Which isn't important. I write down various phrases that come into my head. Sometimes I try to turn them into songs,. Maybe I can make them pay. The feelings have to come over me, to have any meaning-- out of the clear blue; they usually do, with melodies attached and everything. It seems like I'm remanufacturing ideas and experiences from other times, other places, and shit, they are sweet.
All that comes into my head now are snatches of some dumb song.
So hold onto the one's who really care
in the end they'll be the only one's there
when you get old and start losing your hair ...
The words I write mean something, because nothing else does. Sometimes a cup of coffee means something. Sometimes finding a toilet at the right moment means something.
Sometimes when one of those johns I meet (public toilet, private transaction), gives me a warm hug--that means something, too.
But it usually doesn't mean much.
Sometimes I realize that hanging onto a few bills wouldn't hurt. It gets me confused and I decide I’ll never go against my principles no matter how hungry and dejected I get.
But when a rich john takes me on a tour of his swank Hotel room, I always have to swallow my saliva. I'm like--it's quite a display you have here. And I'm never the same afterwards. Then I have to leave.
The guy I met in this bathroom the other day got to talking; when he had my underwear down around my knees (I was wearing underwear that day) and one hand around both my ankles, and his face set deep into my bum. He said I had something there and that I 'shouldn't waste it'. The words 'Don't throw it all away'... 'Don't be a fool'... echoed in the empty stall and I got to thinking. Not like my ass was some kind of precious jewel or anything. It was just that I realized that I might not know who I was. Maybe I was someone else, someone yet to be discovered. You get filthy, you share your treasured possessions with strangers and they give you advice.
I know it doesn’t add up. You’re supposed to get advice from guidance counselors, not cocksuckers.
I told him what to do with his dollars and sense and to mind his business.
‘Just eat my ass’.
--Then let me be off, like a butterfly drifting over fields of poppies and poppy-addicts lying in pissed-on doorways.
Hey, he said, I'm only trying to help
Are you trying to tell me you want to give me a scholarship to Harvard?
No, he said.
So case closed.
He had a large nose, a mustache, and he wasn't that old; he was packed between the thighs. I am by nature tall and due to my circumstances slight of build. He had a football player's build but wore one of those Wall Street suits. Custom-made shoes. He smelled of After shave, but it was smelling salts I needed. He left a razor burn on my ass. Nothing more to say. Came in a hurry.
Then ran to catch his train.
It’s been nice doing business with you!
I stood there, dazed, rooted to the spot like a tree. It's the way things are. Things happen, yet I'm staring off in the distance watching imaginary clouds on the horizon of my mind.
People go on living. I go on fazed, unfazed, usually plain tired. I sat against a urinal; my pants pulled up, zipped but unbuttoned. Some schmuck came in, gave me the once over, silently accusing me with his eyes.
'I'm no whore', I said.
He chuckled as he turned his back to me.
I was lost in thought thinking how everything goes over you and you don't even need to be there to let it happen.
The guy who'd had his way with me was probably on his way to Hoboken by now running back to his wife, the poor bitch.
I'll tell you how it feels--being an open wound for all the world to see.
If your head's on right it can be exhibitionistic, like look--touch the wound. But it sucks mostly. People staring at you, poking their noses in at you just when you want a little private space. Makes me realize exactly how Princess Diana felt—with those sleazy people poking at her every minute of her life.
Now she’s dead, and may she rest in peace.
Sometimes I’d like to grab other's attention, to get something while I can. That's why I let it happen. Eventually though, it's all quick fixes. Quick fixes and stares. and no girl friend, no dog’s head to pat. Just strangers, giving you the world in their eyes for a second before they snatch it back and your brain twitches into bon voyage mode.
What was he like? What was I like? Earthbound, heart pounding, something rising deep inside, something quivering, something depleted.
I finally left the bathroom, in search of a bite. I was inside Grand Central Terminal where the air is like the Natural History Museum--stagnant, with the smell of too many bodies and no open windows amid the exhaust of trains from smelly tracks. Tracks as old as my grandmother, maybe with shit lodged in them from the 1950's.
Two young chicks, who seemed homeless from the looks of it, but who might also be slumming, are leaning against a nearby wall. Two young hicks, who could get into a lot of trouble if they didn't look both ways before crossing the street. Awfully young and too inexperienced to know much.
I decide to walk over; because the vibe is wanton, who-gives-a-fuck. One is smoking, too dumb to know that you’re not supposed to smoke here. The other's got a wad of gum wedged between her teeth; both have too much skin showing and are wearing these trip-hop clothes that make certain jail bait look as good as candy.
They both wear too much lipstick and can’t hide the vulgar attitude that obviously landed them here.
Maybe it's the sullen looks on their faces but I don't have the nerve to hit them up for anything too big. A cigarette maybe, money for a make believe phone call—who knows, a Quaalude. Nothing doing. One of them stares at me with eyes big as grapefruits. Brown eyes; and breasts as small as plums.
I walk by like I'm on display, strutting in what I like to call my free-man stride. The one with the moon eyes is leaning against the wall. They're talking about something. I insinuate myself in amongst their midst as benignly as a fly. Hi, I say, noncommittal. You from around here?
Catch the redeye from Harrisburg? They both have attitude and become visibly snottier.
Must think they're from a higher altitude.
Upwardly mobile, and too good for the likes of me.
You're not allowed to smoke in here, I say. In case you’re interested.
One gives me a look of righteous indignation, perhaps fury. What’s up with her?
She's cute, but bitchy like a cat you've thrown off a roof.
Just a suggestion, I say but maybe you can spare me one?
One what? she spits.
A ciggy. She gave her friend a look and the looks they exchange are meant to strangle. No innocence here, no matter where they hailed from. This was no Come-join-me-in-my-sleeping-bag camaraderie; just fuck you, we're outta here if you take another step closer.
Was I too scruffy looking? Did my breath smell of dick?
I'm Harris, I said. The one with the gum glanced down at her wrist as if looking for the time. There was nothing there. They both carried bags. One a duffel, the other, one of those Jan sport strap-ons with the straps hanging everywhere. As mentioned they looked as if freshly sprung from Girl Scout camp and not meant to be out on the streets. I thought I might give them a primer on what could happen.
Hey girls, I said, can I tell you something?
I leaned in--
--Watch your asses.
They looked at me as if I were a moron.
--I know what I'm talking about.
They exchanged looks again. Get lost, the one chewing the gum said.
I am lost, I said; I held my hands out from my body. Man, there's nobody could be more lost than me. They exchanged glances again.
Grapefruit eyes extinguished her cigarette, reached into her jacket pocket and took out another one. Then she lit it.
We’re stingy, I see, I said; but it ain’t gonna work here…
Well? I asked, don't believe in charity? She couldn't bother to answer.
You're cute, I said, but your attitude is on a one-way collision with the world.
They stared confusedly at me.
Why don't you fuck off? The aggressive, plum-breasted, cutie said. I
believed I would and was about to.
They'll get enough of the city, eventually.
Go back to Harrisburg, that's my advice, I said over my shoulder as I departed.
She gave me the finger.
Hostility is a greeting in these places.
Couldn't even give me the time of day, those two nubile Venuses from nowhere. Couldn't cut the mustard with ‘ol little brother can you spare a dime. Hungry and in need of a fix I approach a respectable looking lady busily going through her bag.
Hey Lady, I say... M’am…
Her head shot up with a jolt, her startled eyes met mine.
--I was just wondering if you could spare some change... She faced the other way shaking her head. I had to hustle up something before I starved.
I slid past the naked eye of a policeman feeling as conspicuous as a rat.
Approaching the turnstiles I realized this wasn't the best place to hop them. I could see an undercover cop 10 yards away... Yeah, they like to believe you can’t see them.
I changed my mind and walked out into the bright light of day. Got to thinking how the inside of that girl's mouth, the one with the red lipstick would taste pretty good.
Eyes good enough to lick, too.
Later finds me on a bus riding uptown. The park can do a person good. You can sleep under the trees. Even the garbage cans prove a fruitful undertaking. I manage to shake down another gent in the park ‘toilets’. They lay cash on you if you let them cop a feel, among other things. I'm almost ready for one of them to take me home.
The few bucks he lays on me sets me up enough for a fast food lunch and maybe even dinner at an all night Diner. I got one of those fresh value meals at Subway for $4.49, plus tax, $4.84.
I found my sea legs eventually. On a park bench. I stretched out and I said, ok, I can’t take it anymore. I’m joining the land of the lost. I fell asleep with an airlines blanket over my head.
The remainder of this story remains to be seen. I’ll send you a postcard when I emigrate to someplace where money (who knows, maybe even love), grows on trees.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Van Scott is a native New Yorker of Irish/Italian extraction who holds an M.A. in Philosophy from NYU. His work has appeared in Modern Words, SpoonFedAmerika.com, Harrington Gay Men's Fiction Quarterly, VelvetMafia.com, Friction, Best Gay Erotic Fiction, and OpenWideMagazine.co.uk, a U.K. based online journal.