Out in the Streets
It was past midnight and I was by myself when he approached me. He said he was homeless but didn’t look it. He looked like a college student, corn-fed, clean cut.
“You sleeping here?”
I was sitting cross-legged in a storefront on Congress. It wasn’t the sort of place I’d sleep. Few people passed by after dark, but it was the sort of place a cop was sure to look. Protection of commerce and such. I’d find someplace to sleep out of sight, but I didn’t say that. I shrugged.
“I’ve got blankets,” he said. “Come with me, we can crash by the river.”
I didn’t want to go, I was fine by myself, but he persisted.
“We’ll keep the rats off each other. Nothing else, I swear.”
I picked up my backpack and followed him. On Second Street he took some blankets from a VW Bug, the serial killer’s favorite car. If he had a car why was he sleeping on the street? If I had a car I’d live in it; if I had a car I wouldn’t be homeless.
He pocketed the keys and headed across First Street towards the Colorado River. I could smell it just ahead, the salty stink of fish and algae. I could hear the water but I couldn’t see it ahead in the darkness. As he led me past a waterfront hotel he pointed to a fire hydrant.
If I fell my head would hit it.
“A woman got killed there.”
I couldn’t tell if he was just talking or making a prediction. I followed him anyway. When was the last time I’d talked to anyone?
We stopped on the grass fifty feet from the water’s edge. He made a pallet with the blankets save one to cover us. We slept back-to-back, then side-by-side, and he was no trouble, just like he promised.
In the morning I hurried to leave. He asked me to stay, to keep one another company, but I didn’t want to.
“I can’t,” I said. Somehow, I couldn’t.
I sat in empty storefronts at night, smoked, and watched the crowd. One night a fortuneteller set up shop next to me. She was a slight, aging queen, missing most of her teeth, her cheeks sunken. Her thin hair was held with a scarf pirate-style. She laid tarot cards out on a cloth.
Three young women stopped for a reading. All three had brown hair, two long, one short, like the Roches. Just like with the Roches, the one with short hair caught my eye.
The card reader's voice rose now and then. He regaled them with faggotry.
“When I was in San Francisco sucking cock for twenty dollars…”
The women were captivated. Afterwards, when they’d paid and stood to leave, the one with short hair walked over to me.
“Are you okay?”
She'd crouched in front of me.
Yeah, I said.
“Are you sure?”
“What are you doing here?”
I told her part of the story. I was sixteen and had nowhere to go. She wrote her number on a scrap of paper and gave it to me. She said to call if I needed anything. For the longest time, I didn’t call. When I finally did, she didn’t answer.
I decided to try a lesbian bar. Maybe someone would take me home for the night. The doorman looked like he might card me but I walked past without giving him a glance. Inside, two women in cowboy hats and boots played pool. The few tables were empty. I sat at the bar and ordered a beer. As soon as I did the woman to my left struck up a conversation.
She said her friends called her Cotton; she was towheaded, her blonde hair nearly white. She was a ringer for the coach at my Catholic junior high school. While she talked a cover band played “Fire” on the patio, a wall of stone behind them.
After a few drinks Cotton suggested we move to another bar. I felt woozy as I followed her out and climbed onto the back of her motorcycle. At a red light, I leaned and she barked.
“Sit up straight.”
When we got to the bar she has a shot of peppermint schnapps, then said she needed to move her bike. I waited longer than needed to know she wasn’t coming back.
I didn't usually sleep in the same place twice. One car was the exception. In an underground garage I found a forest-green Jaguar, unlocked, keys in the ignition. I let myself into the front seat. Hand on the keys, I turned the engine over, then quickly off. I didn't want to draw attention. I slept in the driver’s seat, comfortable behind the locked door, and left before sunrise.
The next night the car was in the same spot, unlocked, again with the keys in the ignition. I climbed into the driver's seat, careful not to disturb anything, hoping my presence wouldn’t be noticed. Again I left before daylight, afraid of being caught.
I thought about stealing the car and driving to New York but it was too much of a gamble. Odds were against me driving cross-country in a stolen Jaguar without getting caught. I worried about jail but I worried more about being sent home. I was content, for the moment, to stay where I was.