And then the cops came. Because they had to come and do the things they have to do. Actually, they were trying to be nice about this.
I just settled in by my reserved rear table at Wendy’s, as I did every day when the library closed either at six or nine in the evening. It was just past six, I already had my computer set up and waited for the boot when the alpha cop walked in. Casual, easy going. He was a normal looking guy with no threat in his posture. But I knew what was coming; it had to come one day and this was the day. I met him halfway in the room and called my line: “you are aware that you can’t do your business in the restaurant”? He knew. “So, would you mind coming outside for a moment, we’d like to talk to you” – said Alpha. I didn’t mind. And I knew that something has come to an end.
But this “me” is now a real-life victim of a disgusting, disturbing, unacceptable condition, homelessness. It’s so ugly, that most of us simply pretend that it either doesn’t exist, it’s fairly easy to solve and that the sufferer himself is to blame. Brothers and sisters, be good and well-behaved to never encounter this “nonexistent” phenomenon (say, by some accident out of your control), because the reality will hit you like a ton of bricks. Like a landslide that covers you and you can’t ever get out from under it without an army of volunteers, bulldozers, medical personnel, a K-9 contingent and troops of paramilitary.
So, I fell from grace. My fall caused a landslide that covered me. And now all I can do is hope for that “army” of help to arrive. Otherwise I will remain buried under the ruble.
The diamonds in the window were breathtakingly beautiful. It was Christmas time. The girl was about 14 years old, a tiny heap of bones and skin. She appeared to be black. Actually, grey. She lay with her back popped against the foot wall of Tiffany’s. She was literally, practically naked. She wasn’t selling her body. She wasn’t panhandling. She was freezing to death. It was below zero; I was cold in my winter coat. Just her sight made my teeth rattle. The well-heeled, beautiful throng of diamond-shoppers quietly walked around her. I’m sure she was insane. How did she get there? I didn’t wait for the police or ambulance to arrive. Because they do arrive. Eventually. Then it all begins all over again.
That was the first night I slept in the woods. Just a little stretch of trees and shrubs that surround my home that I was evicted from earlier that day. Evicted upon my own decision but assisted by the sheriff, nevertheless. Just to be on the safe side.
It was still summer, a sweltering day even. How much of a shock I was in I don’t quite remember, but I knew it was coming and I knew how, more or less. Now, thinking about sleeping in the wilderness, within the sight of my bedroom a previous night, and doing it, is two different things. I was somewhat prepared for it, and the night was warm and sweet, but, having only some blankets to use, all kinds of stuff will be there, like roots and twigs and branches that weren’t supposed to be there, morning dew and bugs and noises and whatnot. Still, when I got up around seven (a time of the day I’ve only known before from having worked through it), I felt bright eyed and bushy tailed. So to speak. Strange, for sure, a little dirty and crumpled, but not depressed or even down. Actually quite upbeat, like entering a new, free and thrilling phase of my life. I pulled myself together quickly and at eight I was walking across main square of the fancy little New Jersey town which was still my hometown and where I felt safe and was known by the people whom I knew and such. But this time I crossed the well-trodden public spaces like a tourist. Or a vagabond.
This was not the first time for feeling like this. The other time I was twenty-three. I was now seventy. That other adventure, fifty years ago was also a shock-treatment. I was in the Italian city of Trieste, having just crossed a couple of international borders illegally, by the means of hitchhiking, having arrived in Trieste with a great deal of luck, and having slept in the city’s public park. All of these for the first time ever in my life. And, come early morning rise, along with numerous other hippie travelers and the kind assistance of the Carabinieri (Italian constables), I was, too, worn, cold and sore, but up-and-going, heading to an unforeseen, but expected and planned new stretch of my life. As a matter of fact I had the sensation of thrill as I headed towards the first entrance of the Autostrada. But that one was the thrill of life. This was the thrill of death.
Never thought that such a thing – being subconsciously thrilled by impending death – existed, or that it would be so strong. So strong as to carry me through the next couple of weeks I can safely call absurd. It was absurd beyond belief and I went through it with the lightness of hitchhiking through Europe at the age of twenty-three. That time it must’ve been the other leading thrill of life: freedom. Back then, it was the first time I felt free, unhindered by everyday chores and duties, not even a baggage of the past (albeit quite a bit of physical baggage, which was no problem then – but it was now). Now I had the same similar feeling of freedom, no more every day grinding routine, no more… no more nothing. I was free again of all constrains. At seventy. And I walked sprightly. There was no doubt in my mind that I would prevail at the end of those weeks ahead and I’ll have the glory of triumph. Or a very different kind of glory, but glory, nevertheless. And this gave me strength, drive and purpose; a direct, shining path that guided me.
Those first weeks of my sojourn, at the end of a hot, sweet summer stay in my memory as something pleasant. How unreal and weird the whole scenario was is hard to describe, but it was barely there for me to touch, just to lend spice and an intangible dimension to the experience. And the memory of that experience is anchored by the town library. Which served as my home, my hope and my base of life for the next couple of weeks.
It took me a few more days of alternately sleeping in the woods, then for a few days on a couch of a friend (who was my First Angel), then boldly settling in to spend the nights in an abandoned hole-in-the-wall storage cubicle actually beneath – and belonging to – the building of my former residence. It started to work well; nobody seemed to notice my late night arrivals and early morning departures from my “Hotel Cubicle”, which I made cozy-comfy by collected various blankets and stuff. It was pitch black dark inside. If I lay diagonally, I fit in exactly, from head to toe. It was good. I worked out how to keep basic hygiene and stuff, and at eight every morning I quietly – but firmly, like someone who belonged there – walked out and into my now very livable, and extremely strange, new life. Which had a well-defined purpose and a determination to match. I lived it and I was going to come out on top, however unbelievable.So, the Library, oh, sweet library was home during the day, every day, but Sunday. It was easy for me to feel like home in there. To top it, in a few days, somehow I ended up having an upstairs room all to myself. I could set up my computer, my things like it was home, or better. And interference was almost nonexistent. My work-drive was at its peak. I completed the large unfinished tasks, wrote blog-pages and music at a record pace. I was sure I was winning. That it was a lost game didn’t even enter my mind. I was obsessed with purpose and driven by blind faith. And behind it all was the Thrill of Death.
For it was lurking behind every completed song, website page, camera-shoot, and the rose garden surrounding the library where I used to work after earlier closing hours. There was still decent wifi reception out there, in the garden, on the bench. I remember the garden, the bushes and the flowers around the library. I feel practically homesick for them.
Because one day it came to an abrupt end. I knew it would come, I just ignored it. But the police didn’t. Actually, as always, a string of small events, and the passage of time, lead to a cusp, a point when a good going has to stop and things have to be upended. So, the cops came and evicted me, the second time. Well, not from the apartment but from the premises. They could’ve arrested me on a number of accounts, but didn’t. Just wanted me off the property. That done, I was standing there on a corner, in the darkness, in no one’s land. It all came to an end just a tiny bit early. And then the whole picture has changed, like the fortunes of war do. One day you are winning, the other day you are dead. The thrill was gone. Only death remained. I could smell its stench from now on.