Monday, July 12, 2010

A Few Paths I've Crossed

I once met a man who had lost his legs in what he called a fishing accident. His legs were crushed by another boat as he hung for his life off the side of his ship after nearly being thrown by a giant wave into the violent abyss that roared beneath him. We were at a bus stop downtown and he invited my friend and me to his apartment to smoke a joint and eat dinner. He would have gone hungry to keep our bellies full if it had been necessary.

My friend and I were homeless at the time. More so, mobile with a different kind of mobile home. The mobility lived in our sneakers and home was your couch or your floor or maybe your parents bed if they were out of town. We almost always found a place to sleep, my friend and I. We didn't even have to ask several people. In fact, most people who would have us over at all already assumed we'd be staying for the night.

I had a pretty girlfriend who would have snuck me into her parent's house every night, but I tried to limit stays at her house to a few times a week, since we would usually get caught in the morning. Her step dad hated my guts. One time he told me he was going to get his gun and that when he came back I had better be gone. He didn't come back. He didn't even know where his rusty gun was. We did. We used to play with it. The gun was actually hidden under my girlfriend's bed while he stormed off to fetch it. He didn't worry me. My girl and I were sixteen and in love, or so we thought and he was no more than a source of annoyance who had a habit of making hallow threats. He probably still can't find his gun. Maybe he never even looked for it.

I washed dishes at a hole in the wall "home style" restaurant. The food was deep fried and delicious but there was never more than a single table or two occupied. The host ended up being a good friend. He would sneak shots of whiskey to me during my shift and sometimes when the bosses left early, we would smoke a joint in the back alley by the trash bins. My girlfriend's house was only a few blocks away and sometimes she would walk over and smoke with us and wait in the empty dining room for me to finish my shift. On Friday nights after work the three of us would walk twenty blocks to the host's house, stopping at the lucky mart for a twenty-four case of beer. We'd drink and laugh and order pizza and I would sleep in an empty room across the hall from the host's on a half-inflated blow out mattress with my girlfriend for company.

One night the host had ten or fifteen people over to barbecue. A few hours into the gathering after most were one too many beers full, the host in a drunken rage broke his hand on a windshield as the driver pulled off barely escaping what had started out as a mellow party and ended in chaos justified by reasons not accounted for. A few minutes later as the few people left over sat around the host's bedroom, passing a joint and watching him nurse his swelling hand, four police officers walked into the room with their guns drawn and told the host to put his hands behind his back and the rest of us to exit the premises. That's the last time I saw my friend, the host. His roommate said he had had warrants out for his arrest for years. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that the police raided the house on that particular night. I spoke with him a few times on the phone. He said he was happy and that he hoped he could turn his life around some day.

Sometimes I'd stay with a kid I'd met in middle school. His mother had smoked crack while she was pregnant and he had been born nervous and manic and addicted to drugs. He stayed with his foster dad in a giant house in a nice part of the city. His foster dad had grown sick of the kid's behavior long ago, but instead of trying to "discipline" him, which seemed impossible, he would keep the fridge and garage constantly stalked with frozen food, soda, ice cream and would supply the kid with a carton of Newport cigarettes every week. The entire house pretty much belonged to the kid, a giant playground except for a room in a remote corner of the top floor where his foster dad lived safely sealed behind a door thicker than the one to the vault at your neighborhood bank and with more locks, alarms, and safety measures. I would almost never see the foster dad. I would walk through this house and be amazed at how many man-sized holes covered the walls. Some of them actually had the perfect shape of a human body as if some mysterious wall people had detached themselves from their native habitat leaving only their hollow shape as evidence to their existence.

The kid sought constant attention and he was overly hospitable. He would feed anyone who would keep him company and give us cigarette packs and there were several rooms to sleep in if it got late. Sometimes I would wonder what would happen to the kid when his foster dad passed away or decided he wanted his house back. It wasn't the kid's fault, the way he was. He had a good heart, but was doomed for failure in terms of any productive role in society from the moment he took his first painful breath of air, shrieking and clawing at the strange emptiness, already feeling the loneliness and urgent neediness that would galvanize his simple ambitions and conduct his torn relationships. A future of yesterdays and constant setbacks. A revolving door of sort of friends to pat him on the back and ask for a cigarette, then a light and thank him for the dinner and for his hospitality at such an odd hour.

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