News, Views, Happiness Pursued

Transience

Chapters 6 & 7 from Book IV from an epic memoir about homeless existence in Maine

by | Jan 13, 2022

illustrations/Katy Finch

Chapter Six: Disturbance in the Force

“Only the facts are real and important for us. And good boots are scarce.” 
— Erich Maria Remarque, ​All Quiet on the Western Front

Sitting in the warmth of the morning sun with Joe Blaze on the State Pier, I removed my size 13 Red Wings, revealing the worst case of trench foot I had ever witnessed. The nurses at the health center had been similarly shocked — they’d asked to photograph my feet for a medical record. I’d agreed, but told them I didn’t want my identity attached to the photos.

“Whatever you do,” Blaze said, “don’t go near One City Center.” 

“Why?” I asked. 

He told me a disturbing saga: I’d beaten up some random guy who ran his mouth at me. I had no memory of any of Joe’s story, which ended with me slamming the guy onto a wooden bench in Monument Square. While he was unconscious, Trake ran his pockets and tossed his wallet to Joe, who rifled the purse for a meager four bucks. The cops had shown up and issued me a ​Criminal Trespass Order​ from the address of One City Center. That covered an entire block in the heart of town. This was upsetting, but also a relief. The events could have been construed as robbery, a mugging. That’s how I interpreted the story, and I was the main character.

Then the Milestone Home Team, ​Chase and Courtney, showed up at the pier and shared another tale of terror from that forgotten night, also starring me. Apparently I assaulted two Milestone employees and was no longer allowed “within a block of the building” on India Street. I had become hostile because I was sick of being sick and tired of being a drunk. I wanted to be admitted to detox but, once again, Milestone was unwilling to help.

“Wow,” Chase said. “Your feet are pretty fucked up, huh?” 

“Yeah, it’s bad,” I admitted. 

“I’m gonna go see if I can find you some shoes.”  

Chase and Courtney returned in less than half an hour with a second- or thirdhand pair of Nikes, a couple pairs of socks, baby powder and lotion. They had retrieved the goods from Milestone. From now on, the Home Team van would be my only connection to the organization formerly known as the Arnie Hanson Center. I had committed a drunken act beyond what’s tolerable at the only place where the drunkest of the drunk found sanctuary and salvation.

I went to my first AA meetings when I was 14 years old. My attendance was mandated by a court decree, part of my sentence for a marijuana possession charge. I recall being in those meetings with all these fat, old drunks spooling off drunkalogue after drunkalogue about sleeping in the streets, pissing themselves, shitting themselves, assaulting loved ones, driving cars into houses. I also recall thinking it was all a bunch of bullshit, and that even if it wasn’t, it didn’t apply to me. I hadn’t done any of that stuff and would never get involved in such ridiculousness. 

Every bit of it was applicable now. I had done everything those old drunks had been bullshitting about. It wasn’t bullshit. It was real. 

Joe Blaze gave my boots a proper pirate’s burial, tossing them into Portland Harbor. I donned my new clown shoes, ​which were a blessing, and we went right on drinking.

•••

It was morning and I’d awoken in unfamiliar surroundings. I stood up and looked around, attempting to gain my bearings. I needed to make a move. I figured if I’d gotten so drunk that I couldn’t remember where I was, I probably would have travelled downhill, the path of least resistance. So I walked up the hill. 

I realized fairly quickly that I was going the wrong way. This was Oak Street, and the hill I was climbing was leading me away from the Resource Center. I had to go to the bathroom, badly. So I turned around. 

As I headed for the Block, I suddenly became aware that I wasn’t going to make it. I ditched behind a bush to evacuate my bowels. I had no control over my bodily functions. As I was squatting and dumping my load, I pissed all over my pants and into my new Nikes. 

Bowels and bladder empty, I fastened my piss-soaked pants back up and headed for the health center, which receives a small amount of donated clothing that they keep on hand for incidents like this, which are not uncommon amongst people who don’t have bathrooms. It wasn’t a comfort to know this, but it was a relief — I wasn’t the only one who’d ever done this, and I wouldn’t have to keep wearing my urine-drenched trousers. My sneakers were full of piss, though, and my feet were already fucked up with what Trake called jungle rot. This was just gas on the fire.

As I exited the health center I looked across the street just in time to see Gavin smash Foxy’s guitar. It was at least the sixth guitar of his I’d seen destroyed this way. Foxy was still sporting 15 staples in his scalp, holding his skull together after an injury incurred the last time a guitar was broken over his head — Crazy Donny had suspected Foxy was cheating him while they were working the Point together, and let him know the hard way it wasn’t going down like that.

“Gavin!” I yelled. “What the fuck, man?” 

“He’s a thief!” Gavin shouted. 

“But you don’t smash the guitar!”  

“He’s stolen from everyone in the Crew,” Gavin countered, “even you!” 

“Yeah, but now the Crew only has one guitar,” I reasoned.

“That’s all we need,” he said. “You’re the only one who can play, anyway.”

I wasn’t going to argue with him, but Handsome Bob can keep a pretty good rhythm.

Foxy never said a word, about any of it.

I continued down the street and found Joe Blaze. As we were passing a bottle of gin I noticed his pinky finger was crooked, misshapen by an obviously broken bone. I asked about his injury.

“You don’t remember?” he asked. 

“Remember what?” I didn’t remember anything. I hadn’t even attempted to recall the day before. It had become an exercise in futility. When you’re in a blackout, it’s just missing time. You can’t get it back. There’s no point wasting more time trying to sort it out.

“You tried to throw Ronnie Williams off the roof of the parking garage,” said Blaze.

As soon as Joe said that, I remembered going up to the roof. It had been Ronnie, Benny, Joe and me. I recalled threatening to throw Benny off the roof, though that didn’t seem like something I’d really intended to do. Benny always pissed me off; I was repeatedly making threats like that to him. But Ronnie Williams never caused me any grief. It would be like hurting a child. 

Blaze told the rest of the tale of my animate shell’s actions atop the parking garage. He said I’d been crying, saying I didn’t want to live anymore. Ronnie had tried to console me, to comfort me. In response to his kindness, I tried to throw him off the roof. I’d broken Joe’s finger when he intervened to save his friend’s life. Ronnie was like a son to Blaze. Joe had been in prison for years with Ronnie Williams’ father, Ronnie Sr., and Ronnie Jr. was like a brother to me. If I would hurt him, who wouldn’t I hurt? Would I harm my own children?

I pondered profoundly the Beast I had become.

•••

I came out of another blackout standing in the Cumberland County Jail. I was in booking. “Why am I here?” I asked. “Why was I arrested?” The panic in my head at that moment cannot be described. I would have believed anything they told me, no matter how irrational it seemed.

“Why do you think you’re here?” the officer asked.

I didn’t want to say what my fear was saying, so I picked the most likely crime, one I could cope with mentally. “Drinking in public?” I volunteered.

“Pretty good guess,” he said. 

I was relieved it wasn’t murder. 

“You have an awful lot of stuff in your pockets,” the CO said, staring in dread at the pile of property now needing to be labeled and stored.

“I’m homeless,” I explained. 

“You don’t smell homeless,” he said. This echoed the observation Laura Beam, the girl from Molly’s store in the Old Port, had made. What the two of them were really saying was that I didn’t smell human, because being human doesn’t smell nice. That’s why so many people spend so much time and money trying to cover it up. It’s better to smell like Teen Spirit than to smell like a teenage human. Raise your hand if you’re Sure.

When I got to court I discovered there was another charge, ​Criminal Mischief.​ Allegedly, I’d snatched my bottle back from the clutches of the cop who had taken it from me. When I was asked what plea I would enter, I spoke to the judge on my own behalf, ignoring the advice of the Lawyer of the Day assigned to defend me. 

“Your Honor,” I began, “I can’t enter a plea of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ with confidence. I don’t remember what happened. I have a serious problem with alcohol. I’m supposed to be going to St. Mary’s in Lewiston, because I’m not allowed in Milestone anymore. I have a ride set up for Monday morning.”

To my utter astonishment, the D.A. spoke up and reduced his offer. He had initially asked for 28 days. The Lawyer of the Day had come back with a deal: 14 days in jail. In light of my comments, the D.A. dropped that to 72 hours so I would be out in time to go to detox. 

Come Monday, my ride fell through and I remained in Portland. This was very worrisome. I didn’t want to find myself in front of either this judge or the D.A. again anytime soon.

Chapter Seven: Help on the Way

“Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.”
— Bill W., The Big Book

I was sick again. I’d made enough for a bottle the night before, but not early enough to purchase one. It had been several hours without a drink and I was detoxing pretty badly. ​

Jeremy had volunteered to run for the bottle. He had to go to Monument Square because none of us were allowed in the liquor store on Commercial Street anymore. It was raining and I was under an overhang outside the ferry terminal’s parking garage. I was with Rick, a.k.a. Shirpa, waiting for Jeremy to return with my medical fix, the infamous eight-dollar liter of gin. We were just sitting there, quietly, when a familiar voice called out: “Is that Kenny?”

It was Officer Kiddy. I turned away, like a child hiding beneath the covers to fend off monsters. But vampires will still bite you from behind. It’s no use turning your back.

“Yeah, that’s Kenny Wayne right there!” Rick shouted back at him, gesturing in my direction. 

What a dumbass. Shirpa can be smart at times — he’s not stupid — but he is a dumbass. Now that my covers had been torn off, I had to face my nightmare.

“Officer Kiddy,” I said, as meekly and respectfully as I could manage, “I know I’m not supposed to be here. I just got under the roof to get out of the rain. It’s not raining very hard right now and if you’d let me, I’d gladly leave.”

“That’s not why I’m here,” Kiddy responded.

This could be a ​good​ thing, I thought, or it could be a really bad thing. Once again, there was missing time. Hours upon hours were void, much of the past few days. I could have done anything​.

“Do you remember the last time you saw me?” Kiddy asked. 

I had been asked that question by Officer Penis once. This time, I couldn’t recall. But there had been police involvement for one reason or another. “No, sir,” I said. 

“You were unconscious when we responded to a call at Monument Square. We administered ​Narcan.​ ”

“I haven’t used dope in years,” I protested.

“You came to with the ​Narcan​ and your pupils were pinned. That’s a pretty good indicator that you ​had used​ opioids.”

I couldn’t argue. My blackout periods were getting longer, and during those times I had done things very contrary to what I normally consider right, including things far worse than shooting dope — things that can lead to prison time.

“You told me you wanted help,” Kiddy continued. “Do you still feel the same way?”

Officer Kiddy was here to ​help​ me? I already had help on the way: Jeremy would be back at any moment.

“I have a man here who can help you if you want help,” Kiddy told me. “But you have to want it.”

Just then, Jeremy returned. He walked right past me, toward Rick. Help wasn’t on the way, it had arrived. I was half a pint from healthy, and now I had my bottle; it was in Jeremy’s backpack. 

But there was a guy parked in front of the terminal offering a different kind of help. He was sitting in an unmarked cruiser, but he didn’t look like a cop. And Kiddy — who rarely, if ever, strayed from a strict adherence to, and enforcement of, the law — didn’t ​sound​ like a cop to me on this morning. He’d caught me red-handed, violating a ​Criminal Trespass Order​. He could have just arrested me and I’d be detoxing at CCJ. 

I looked at Jeremy and Shirpa, and at the backpack containing the bottle. It would make me feel better, ​until it was gone,​ and then the sickness would hit again.

“Guys,” I said to my pals, “I have to do this. I have​ to accept their help. You can have that” — that being the bottle of gin; I didn’t want to be more specific, lest I turn the heat on them. 

Then Shirpa asked a question: “Officer Kiddy, can Kenny Wayne just take ​onelast drink before he goes?” Like I said, Rick really can be a dumbass.

The guy in the cruiser — I think they called his position something like ​outreach officer — was in civilian clothes, with longish hair and a reasonable and caring demeanor, one that seemed to express genuine concern. He could see how sick I was. He drove me to Mercy, on State Street, explaining on the way that they had to admit me, by Law. They never had before, so I still had doubts. 

The outreach officer, Phillip, sat with me at the hospital for hours. The nurses were very kind and I was seen by a doctor. He was cordial, but not really friendly. He decided I was not sick enough to be admitted for treatment. 

Phillip was angry. The head nurse had also been visibly disturbed by the doctor’s decision. Back in the vehicle, Phillip put it more bluntly. “That nurse was ​pissed​,” he said, adding “​furious” to emphasize both her and his disgust about my predicament. “If you had insurance,” he went on, “they would have taken you. It’s because you’re poor.”

Another way of wording that could have been, ​Because I ​needed​ help, I couldn’t get it.​ The hospitals are businesses. They don’t give help away unless they’re forced to do so. And that was what Phillip now planned to do — he was going to try to force them to help me. Before we’d even left Mercy he’d contacted people to work towards that end.

“What now?” Phillip asked. “Where should I drop you off?” That was it; he could do no more that day. Help was ​not​ on the way. I had left the only help available back at the terminal with Jeremy and Shirpa.

“Bring me back to where you found me,” I offered. “Maybe there’s something in the bottle I left for those guys. If not, maybe I can get arrested and detox in jail.” Officer Penis would soon be on duty, so while I meant that last part as a joke, every joke is rooted in reality. I chuckled at my comment, but he didn’t. Phillip was obviously a decent guy. I already knew Kiddy was decent, too, but I hadn’t known how much so before that day.

As we were passing the Point I spotted Jeremy, Rick and Joe Blaze sitting on the bench. I knew the bottle was gone — several hours had passed — but I had to check it out. “Stop right here,” I almost shouted. 

I got out of the cruiser. “Thank you for your help,” I said, and went to find real, actual help, help that comes far cheaper than insurance and doctor’s bills. But this kind of help is more costly in the long run.

The bottle ​of gin was​ gone, but Joe Blaze had some money, and this time Shirpa would run.

“Should I grab another liter?” asked Shirp.

“Better make it a half gallon,” Joe answered. “‘Half measures availed us nothing.’”

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Chapters 14 and 15 from Book IV of an epic memoir about homeless existence in Maine

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