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Transience

Chapters from an epic memoir about homeless existence in Maine; Book III, Ch. 11, 12 & 13

by | Jul 18, 2021

illustrations/Katy Finch

 

Chapter Eleven: Another Visit

“I am frightened: I dare think this way no more.”
Erich Maria Remarque, ​All Quiet on the Western Front

I couldn’t breathe and I was scared. I was sitting at Buoy Park, feeling like I was dying. I asked someone to call an ambulance for me. Never in my life had I ever done that. In fact, I owe money for a few ambulance rides I refused to accept. They still bill you, whether you take the ride or not. This time I wanted help.

I was brought to Maine Medical Center, which is evidence of how sick I was. I would have chosen Mercy had I been focused. Not because either is better than the other, but because it’s an easier walk. My entire life was downhill from Mercy.

The hospital diagnosed me with “chronic bronchitis” and prescribed an inhaler, which they distributed directly from their pharmacy. The doctor stressed its monetary value as he handed it to me. I asked him if by “chronic” he meant I would always have breathing trouble and he said, ​“’Probably, yes.’​“

In the novel ​Of Human Bondage,​ Maugham referred to this as ​winter cough​ and wrote of how impoverished citizens at the turn of the 19th century in England frequently contracted this sickness. It never goes away completely, but it’s far worse in the depths of winter. And with that awareness, I was ready to go back to the Port … and the depths of the hard Maine winter.

When I was signing out of the institution they informed me my “friend” was waiting for me in the visitors lobby. I’d been the only one in the ambulance and had also been alone in the park — I’d asked some random person to call for me. I had no idea who could be waiting.

It was Trake.

We hugged, and he told me how some Old Port transient or other had seen me loaded into the rescue vehicle. Mark had come to make sure I was alright. I wasn’t, but I was good enough to go.

When we got to the foot of Bramhall Street, which is all downhill, I had to rest before we could continue onto Congress, which is all uphill. I had a mostly full half-gallon of gin in my bag and Trake had a fruity. We had a drink while we rested and then began the next leg of our journey. We hadn’t gotten very far when we came across a rescue party headed for MMC: Joe Blaze, the Griz, Foxy, Ronnie Williams, Billy Nebraska and Handsome Bob. I was already free, but I was flattered. They had another liter of gin, a liter of bourbon, and beers. It was a party now, a celebration of Life. I was still alive.

We sat down at a picnic table at what used to be a gas station. I don’t know what it is now. This wasn’t my neck of the neighborhood, but I guess they must serve food of some sort. The temperature was barely in the teens and they weren’t open, so we had our own picnic party. We passed around the bottles, the boys spun the beers, and we had a blast — until Joe Blaze mistook something Nebraska said and punched him in the eye. Blaze thought Nebraska called him the ​C-word​, and I don’t mean ​Christ. That’s the last thing I remember about our picnic.

The next thing I remember is coming out of a blackout while walking down the street by myself — no idea where I was or how I’d gotten there. I looked around, but didn’t recognize my surroundings. There was someone prepping their car for travel, scraping ice off the windows and such.

“Where am I?” I asked him.

“Park Street,” he said.

“Park ​Ave.​?”

“No. Park ​Street.​ ”

It wasn’t registering with me.

“Alright,” I said, “let’s shorten the conversation. Which way to Commercial Street?”

“Down the hill,” he said, practically breaking out with laughter. He was obviously amused. “Just keep walking the way you were.”

So I did. I was exhausted and extremely drunk. I came to an intersection and, fully tired of the trek, tossed my bag over a guardrail. I went to sleep in a frozen snowbank behind it with my head on my bag. 

I woke up to the sounds of the morning commute on the other side of the steel rail. When I realized it was the next day, I got up and over the barrier, into the street. I looked around to get my bearings. Circle K was nearly a stone’s throw away. I had been maybe fifty meters from Commercial Street, sleeping in a frozen snowbank in seven degrees Fahrenheit. I could have died.

That really got me thinking about my drinking. I knew I had a problem and one way or another it was going to kill me. I checked my bag for the bottle of gin. It was there. I immediately took a shot. I had to, I was sick. If it was going to kill me anyway, I didn’t want to die from withdrawal.

I lost that inhaler, too, without ever having used it.

 

Chapter Twelve: The Library Police Man

“Since when have we become so familiar? I don’t remember that we ever slept in the gutter together.”
— Remarque, ​All Quiet on the Western Front

I went into the library to utilize the facilities. I wasn’t allowed to take books out, but I was still allowed to deposit materials. As I passed the computer area I noticed the Griz, wearing headphones and clicking a mouse. He appears too archaic to be tech savvy, but he actually checks his Facebook every once in awhile and he gets his Van Halen fix. Due to the suspension of my precious library card, I wasn’t allowed to use the computers anymore either. I just proceeded to the restroom, chuckling to myself about the Griz and his virtual escapades. Bears have come a long way, baby.

As I was making my deposit, I felt a hand on my shoulder. “I need you to come with me,” the voice attached to the hand said.

It was a cop. Well, not a real cop. It was a Library Policeman.

This is the biggest joke of all when it comes to cops. This guy walks around with a navy-blue, polyester jersey on that reads “CONSTABLE” in big, white, block letters (​that look like they should read “COACH” and have a sweaty gym whistle swinging in front of them) while sporting a black utility belt (​with so many holsters it looks like he got it at a garage sale in the Bat Cave) mounted over a pair of denim Dickie’s (​tight enough that they probably raise his voice an octave and short enough to stay dry should the creek rise), all topped off with a bad haircut and a thick Eastern European accent. This guy travelled across the Great Atlantic Ocean to dress up like this?

“Mind if I finish peeing?” I asked, “or did you come in here to shake it off for me?”

I had to shake myself​ o​ff — suddenly wondering, how much shaking is too much shaking? — and he led me to the security office. The walk to the office took longer than a walk out of the building would have. Now he was interfering with my busy schedule. My gin awaited me. Well, the liter was actually in my coat pocket, but it was longing for my lustrous lips. The desire was burning my very bosom as the bottle pressed against my breast. It was a carnal attraction.

“I brought you in here because you smell strongly of alcohol,” he said.

I couldn’t precisely place the accent, and began hoping it wasn’t Russian. I don’t hate the Russians or perceive them as a dirty lot. To the contrary, I’d hate to think a Russian could become this undignified. In literature, the People translate into such proud and powerful alcoholic personalities. This guy looked like a low-budget delivery boy presenting a singing telegram to a homeless Tolstoy about vodka being bad for him. And in a library, of all places.

“I’m not surprised,” I said. “Alcohol is about all I eat.”

“There’s no drinking in the library.” (If there ​was​ drinking in the library, they wouldn’t serve me anyway. Like I said, they took my card away.)

“I’m not drinking in the library,” I specified. “I’m drinking outside, where I live.”

“I have to give you this paper.” He handed me the sheet. It was a piece of white paper — not to be confused with a White Paper; he’d need a real cop for that —​ a list of potential library infractions. It was the Law of the Library.

As I was looking at the paper, more in disbelief than study, the Griz entered the security office — in fully engaged ​Griz Mode.​ I’m not sure what he said. The only two words that made any sense were “Kenny Wayne,​”​ and they probably only made sense to me.

I bid farewell to the “constable” and quickly departed, gathering up the Griz so he didn’t get in trouble on my account. Bears and Beasts must be brothers, because we always had each other’s back.

Ironically enough, while I have a full recollection of the incident, the computer-age caveman was apparently in full blackout mode, as well as full Griz Mode. He later had no memory of his attempted heroism. It meant more to me that way. At his most primal level, the Griz stood up for his friend.

 

Chapter Thirteen: Breaking the Beast

“I’ll be the ground when your knees are shaky. I’ll be the sound when you need a song. May knock me down, but they’ll never break me. Love’s made me too damn strong.”
— Kenny Wayne, ​“I’ll Be Around”

I had gone beyond All the Way. I had just killed a triple burger with a massive array of fixings, complete with famous Five Guys fries. I was still on their patio. I had just made a discovery.

Leaning on the metal railing that runs along the sidewalk bordering the patio while finger-picking my guitar, I found the vibration carried through the steel, acting as a natural source of amplification. As a homeless acoustic-guitar player who prefers finger-picking, this was an important discovery. Finger-picking doesn’t project well without amplification. But here, leaning on this railing, you could hear the nuances characteristic of the style.

As a couple pretty girls approached, I offered to play for them “the prettiest song you’ve never heard. It’s not as pretty as you two, but I wrote it myself.”

They stopped to find out if I was full of shit or not. It was about the moment they were realizing I probably wasn’t full of shit, that ​this motley-looking pirate had actually written a song that was really quite beautiful​, that I spied from the corner of my eye a uniform.

It was Officer Penis. I was suddenly on the spot. He had told me the next time he found me on Beat 2, I was going to jail. I decided to try and serenade him.

“Officer Penis, you and I may have gotten off on the wrong foot. Would you allow me to play you a song I wrote myself that might express better who I am?”

Tall, dark and mean, he replied, “Do I ​look​ like a music aficionado to you?”

No. No, he didn’t. I was impressed with his vocabulary, but I wanted to say, No, you look like another A word. I didn’t. I had learned not to be a wise ass to this guy. And I figured I was probably going to jail anyway. My body was getting pretty beat up by the savagery employed during the process of breaking an animal like me. They were winning. They were breaking me. I was no longer speaking my mind. I was biting the bit and holding my tongue.

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

I was pretty drunk that night, but I remembered. It was a painful experience that hadn’t gone away mentally or physically. It’s hard to forget about things like that. ​Normal people would likely seek therapy and medication, maybe even develop psychological disorders, such as PTSD. I just remembered.

“That was the night at the terminal, right? The night I was getting my face smashed into the frozen snow bank.”

“That’s right,” he said. “You ​do​ remember.”

“Yeah. I remember,” I said, sullenly.

“This is your last warning. Don’t let me find you in the Old Port again.” There was no breaking this guy. I’d never shake off the first impression he had of me.

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