A Home to Crouch In
You and me - both 17 - crouching in our home -
a water well pump house with an electrical outlet
to power the stolen turntable
to spin our shoplifted albums.
We had just listened to Down Under
and then you left Kentucky forever.
'Bumfuck Kentucky!' you called it as you stood up
and flipped your duffel bag over your shoulder.
You waved goodbye and I said 'See you later!'
because I thought we would see each other again.
Soon afterward AIDS got you.
The Office of the Unclaimed Dead
in the city of San Francisco cremated you
and buried you at sea.
(Nowadays it's considered impolite to say 'AIDS' -
and there is no more Office of the Unclaimed Dead -
now it's the Medical Examiner's Office.)
(Not that you'd care.)
About a year after you left - sometime in 1984 -
somewhere between Slab City and the Pacific Ocean -
I lost the Polaroid picture of you - shirtless
and holding a Polaroid picture of me.
There's not a single memento of our time together.
Curt - you'd never believe I'm holding down a job these days
and paying rent on time - almost like a bourgeois.
I have a bed to sleep in now - but at 52 years old
I have to stretch out in the morning
as if I'd slept in a tiny tarpapered pump house.
I still pop pills and drink -
all alone inside the four rented walls of an apartment.
If you were here with me now - we could sit on a sofa -
not forced to crouch knee to knee while passing a bottle
over a yellow humming water pump.
'We aren't runaways - we're rejects - nobody wants us.'
That's what you always said.
You're still right and correct after all these years.
Can You Go Back Home Again?
'Where are you from originally?'
It's a question often asked in California -
sometimes used as a conversation starter.
If the conversation flows - it'll sometimes be
followed up with - 'Do you ever go back home?'
I'm not even sure how I got here.
California was never a destination for me -
I just ended up here like a piece of litter
blown into a chain link fence.
A few years after I had left my old Kentucky home
(a rented camping trailer in a pensioners backyard)
I took a road trip in a car that I had bought with
an enlisted sailor's pay.
I pretended that I was not going to return to that place
where my fellow vagrants and truants hung out
and plotted. They wouldn't be there anyway.
Would the arcade even still be there after two years?
It was - and I strode up to the token machine -
stuck in my bill and got a handful of tokens.
Putting in a paper bill made me feel rich and successful -
very different from the days of old when I
exchanged the occasional quarter for a token.
A game of Sinistar - a game of Pole Position -
and I had convinced myself that the old gang
was gone and had moved on with their lives.
One of the loiterers outside the arcade followed me -
calling me by name as I headed back to my car.
'Hey Hugh. I thought you said you was never coming back.'
I didn't recognize him. He must have been one of those
who crashed at my trailer - smoked my dope -
drank my beer - 'borrowed' my music in the party blitz
I had in the days leading up to my departure.
'Yeah. Just passing through.' I said - trying to place him.
'It's good to see you.' he told me.
In the awkward chit chat that followed he certainly noticed
that I did not remember him and he let me off the hook with a
'Well - it was nice to see you. Take care.'
When people ask me if I've ever been back home
I always lie and say no.
Sitting Still - Waiting
Outside the back gate in the sun-scorched stinking alley -
he sat there in his wheelchair - blanket over his thighs - 90+ degrees.
An orange plastic dinner plate on the stained concrete beside him -
topped with some sort of wheat bread sandwich -
left by one of the neighbors to make themselves feel good and charitable.
A lot of these homeless guys steal wheelchairs
from the hospital ERs to be used panhandling props
and to deter the cops from arresting them.
(Handicapped people require special handling for arrests.)
You can see the fakers as they propel themselves
along with their feet.
But this guy looked unable to walk.
He sat there for two days without moving.
His graying short cropped afro told me
he was too old to give a shit anymore.
He was content to sit there under a hot sun
as long as it meant he would not be bothered.
He asked me this morning if I had a light -
displaying a cigarette with a raised hand.
'No - sorry' I said. There was a Bic somewhere
in my apartment but I didn't want to go back and get it.
Someone must have told him to move -
the next day he was 100 feet over - under a stairwell.
It was still on the sunny side of the smelly alley.
He still had the blanket over his skinny legs.
He said nothing as I passed by on my way to the liquor store.
He said nothing when I passed by again with my wine box.
He sits in the alley all day and night -
under the hot killing August sun and then the moon -
accompanied only by insects and the stench of urine.
Life at the Weekend
No need to tie a double knot in my shoelaces -
it's just across the street and I'll be right back.
The plastic pouch of beef jerky is buy one - get one.
Then I grab a clear plastic clamshell of salad - expired two days -
with a slice of boiled egg on top.
I snag a long whip of Slim Jim on my way to the beer cooler.
The beer will be laced with no-name whiskey
sometime later in the midnight hour.
All of it enjoyed in the dim yellow light
of a tiny apartment - alone on a Friday night.
One block over they are dressed to the nines
in a five star restaurant/live entertainment venue
sipping fifteen dollar martinis.
One block over the other way they are seated on the concrete walk
hiding behind an overstuffed shopping cart - handing a half pint around -
vodka passing directly to bloodstream through empty stomachs.
Behind my bedroom in the alley a group of three plot
a shoplifting run on the liquor store - unaware
that the parking lot overhang acts as an amphitheater
propagating their whispered intentions
and boasts of past successes.
All of us loving life at the weekend.