News, Views, Happiness Pursued

Transience: Book II

Chapters from an epic memoir about homeless existence in Maine

by | Dec 16, 2020

“The Cut.” photo/Joanne Arnold

Chapter 13: Free Lunch

“…like a blow from the paw of a raging beast of prey.”
Erich Maria Remarque, ​All Quiet on the Western Front

Blaze and Grey Wolf were sitting in the Cut with me. We were nursing a liter of gin, quietly minding our own business. We were trying to make the liter last until after supper, and hoping something would happen so we wouldn’t ​have to​ make it last. But by late afternoon it looked like I’d need to go to work early. My method works best on other drinkers, so I spanged in the Old Port during prime time, when the bars were full of ​employable​ drunks, active and functioning​ alcoholics. Going to work before nine o’clock just didn’t pay as well.

Benny popped into the alley with a couple guys we didn’t know. We were pleased to make their acquaintance — they had two half-gallons of vodka and two half-gallons of Jim Beam, and they were treating. They also had a debit card (probably not theirs) and told us they were buying lunch.

CJ, Amanda and Charlie showed up just in time to place an order. One of the guys went to Molly’s and returned with ten sandwiches, including a pastrami and Swiss with extra mustard for yours truly. I realized I wasn’t going to be going to work after all.

We were sitting there drinking, fast and heavily, eating our free lunch, when another guy walked into the Cut. This was a guy who never brought anything to the table. The only things he ever had were either ours or stolen, or both. He sat down in front of us, directly across from Joe Blaze, the only one still eating.

“Can I get a bite off that?” he asked, reaching for Joe’s sandwich.

With sandwich still in hand, Joe punched him in the face. Then he threw the sandwich on the ground. The seagulls went crazy trying to get the discarded food. The only traces left about a minute later were the pieces of green pepper.

“I’ll share it with the birds before I let you have it!” Blaze roared. The thief could see the truth of this with his own eyes, one of which was now draining blood and tears mingled with salad dressing.

We were getting pretty drunk pretty fast. Joe asked Grey Wolf if he had any ​Seroquel.​ These were the necessary Be Nice Pills. I had a hunch Joe may have been running low. In fact, he’d run out and couldn’t get more until Monday. This was Saturday. Neither Grey Wolf, nor myself, ​nor the rest of society, particularly the bloody eyed thief, wants to spend two days with Joe Blaze when he’s not being nice.

So Grey Wolf, ​who had also run out of Seroquel but had a prescription waiting on Congress Street,​ went to get the Be Nice Pills while the rest of us kept drinking. He wasn’t gone long and, upon his return, he gave Joe what he’d need to stay nice through the weekend.

As time passed, people began to drop off. After a couple hours the only ones still moving were Joe Blaze, Jim Beam and myself. Everyone else was out cold. I got up to take a piss. I could have walked to the ferry terminal, but I didn’t. I took a short path leading to a parking lot where I could go behind a shed, probably less than fifty meters from where Joe was still sitting. When I returned, company had arrived: police.

“What’s going on,” I said, more a greeting than a question.

“Trying to get your buddies up,” was the response. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” I replied.

“Are you gonna tell me you didn’t just take a piss back there?” a cop asked.

“Well, I’m ​not​ gonna tell you I ​did​.” I’d learned my lesson before.

“You and Joe need to get out of the alley,” the cop told me. “We have the rescue team on the way.”

“Rescue team?”

I couldn’t imagine why. And then he told me. “Your Indian friend is dead.”

I looked at Grey Wolf. He didn’t ​look​ dead. … Well, I guess he ​kinda​ did. His eyes were shut and he was smiling, hands folded on his stomach, fingers laced together. But he was sitting upright.

Joe and I immediately left the Cut.

Grey Wolf hadn’t been dead. He was brought to the hospital that night but he’s alive today, as far as I know. I don’t know why the cops said he was dead. Maybe they thought he was, or maybe they wanted to skew numbers for one reason or another. This I leave to the consideration of the reader, but when you base a society entirely on money, almost nothing is done earnestly or honestly.

 

Chapter 14: Partners in Crime

“I need a partner in crime / a lookout who can kill some time / and anyone who ever gets in the way.”
— Kenny Wayne, ​“Partner in Crime”

It was just Joe Blaze with me in the Cut this day. We’d killed a half-gallon of gin already, but it was early. We decided we better get another handle. Joe hadn’t been allowed in the liquor store, ​or pretty much anywhere with a doorknob, for quite some time. So I headed down Commercial Street to give it my best shot. I was extremely intoxicated but believed I could complete the trip.

I staggered the couple blocks and ​almost​ made it. About three doors from the store I collapsed, fell headlong on the sidewalk, a full face-plant right on Commercial Street in the middle of a sunny afternoon. There were retiree couples romantically holding hands and parents protectively clutching the hands of little children, stepping over and around the massive frame obstructing their Sunday strolls. I knew I should get up, but I couldn’t. I was immobilized. I was all done.

When I came-to the first time, I was sitting on a chair in the Milestone wet shelter. I realized where I was and quickly made a break for the door. Alas, I was still too inebriated for an escape and collapsed on a cot in the corner by the exit.

When I woke up the second time, I saw Bunk. I told him I had a pocketful of money and was going to get more booze. Well, Bunk was definitely down for a drink or few and helped me make my escape. I was totally free to leave, but bringing me to a shelter in those days was like throwing a cat into a bathtub — a very large, drunken cat. I’d only stay until I was sober enough to get back to drinking.

In the first part of our adventure, we procured alcohol at Rite Aid, which closed at eight o’clock, so it was still early, but too late for the liquor store. It was full dark, but in Maine there’s a lot of darkness.

From there we went to the ferry terminal. While I was mixing Sidewalk Slammers (​the only mixed drink I’ll drink, the Slammer is two-thirds Daddy and one-third “fruity”*; both of those nasty beverages become somewhat more palatable in this concoction) a shadow blocked my light. I looked up and there was a Native American woman standing there, staring down at us.

“You guys wanna just sit there and freeze all night or you wanna come with me?” she said.

I was going with or without Bunk, because she was right, it was really cold. It turned out Bunk knew the crazy lady. Her name was Anita. When I think back now, it seems odd that I ​didn’t​ know her. We’d been in the same Little City with the same small circle of drunks for awhile, and later became very familiar.

Bunk and I rode around Portland all night with Anita and her brother, Peter, mixing Sidewalk Slammers and arguing over what would play on the radio. That debate doesn’t end, because Anita listens to crap. (She’ll tell you I listen to crap, but don’t listen to her. She’s full of crap.)

Anyways, she dropped Bunk and me off at the Condo around three in the morning. We called it ​“the Condo”​ because for us it was upscale living. It was a parking garage. If you took the elevator to the top floor and were out by six in the morning, you were golden. At 5 a.m. we were at Big Apple and then headed to the Cut to watch the sunrise.

Tammy and the Griz showed up and we were all drinking and laughing and talking. It was nice and mellow. We were so lost in conversation that nobody noticed when the cops walked into the alley. I was waving my beer around like the flag in front of a cavalry charge. Of course it was an officer who knew me. It would’ve been hard to find a Portland cop who didn’t in those days.

“Meade, you’re not gonna arrest me, are you?” I asked.

“Let me explain how I see it,” Meade said. “Two days ago we pulled through here and your Indian friend was dead. Yesterday I had to scrape you off the sidewalk on Commercial Street in front of families and little children. Today I find you at eight-thirty in the morning with a bag full of high gravity. As I see it, if I leave you to your own devices I’ll have a problem by this afternoon.”

Well, I’d never had a cop take time to explain to me why I was being arrested, and he made some good points. You only get three strikes, and there’s no crying in baseball. So I got up and let him cuff me. He was decent enough to ask his partner for a second pair of handcuffs to link to his own. That way they were longer and not so apt to injure me. My right shoulder will probably never heal due to abuse from less honorable cops.

“You’re about the biggest son of a bitch I ever put cuffs on,” Meade observed.

“Yeah, it’s a good thing I’m being cooperative,” I said. (It’s good to make mention of such things, just to maintain an alpha mentality on the way to jail.)

When I arrived at the Cumberland County correctional facility, better known as CCJ, Anita was in the intake cage. They sent her up to Penobscot County on warrants. I wouldn’t see her again for quite some time. She’s like a sister to me now. I call her my “partner in crime​” and have a song of that title with the line, “I need a partner in crime,”​ which sounds like “​Anita, partner in crime​.” Probably not lyrical genius, but cute enough to joke around.

 

Chapter 15: A Rough Night  

“… overwhelmed by this wave that bears us along, that fills us with ferocity, turns us into thugs, and murderers, into God only knows what devils…”
— Remarque, ​All Quiet on the Western Front

What a miserable night. I couldn’t understand how it can rain when it’s so damn cold. The weather seemed to violate natural laws. The temperature was several degrees below what is known to be the freezing point of liquid water, and yet we were getting wet. That can be a death sentence in the hard Maine winter.

I had spent the afternoon at the Clip, a health center across from the Resource Center, known these days as the Preble Street Learning Collaborative, where a worker had shaved off every bit of hair on my head. I also shaved my face and doused heavily in permethrin to delouse. I was able to acquire new clothes and a new hat, but the gear was not as warm as what I had been wearing. Between that and the lack of fur, I was freezing.

Joe Blaze and I had been forced to take cover under the overhang at the terminal. The precipitation started somewhat suddenly and this was our nearest refuge. I knew I was restricted from the place, but I didn’t care. The risk of detainment seemed trumped by the risk of death. The stakes were high, but I had to stay dry, or at least try not to get any wetter. We went right to sleep. I did anyway. I was drunk and tired as hell.

A million miles away from the spot where I lay sleeping — and probably snoring very loudly; I have a disreputable snore — I began to notice I was being nudged by Joe Blaze. “Kenny,” he was saying, “Kenny… come on… wake up.”

When my consciousness fell back to Earth, I realized I’d been handcuffed. Joe’s not that kinda guy, so I knew there must be cops and that I was under arrest. Oh, well,​ I thought, in my frazzled frame of mind. ​At least it’s dry in the jail.

I got up and began to walk toward the paddy wagon, being led willingly, in complete compliance, with a cop on either side of me. As we approached the transport, suddenly and without warning or provocation, they slammed my face into a frozen snowbank.

Our image of snow is usually one of soft, fluffy flakes, each with its own unique design, a marvel of crystallization. It’s really quite beautiful when perceived this way. This was not that kind of snow. Well, maybe under a microscope it may have been, but I was getting a close-up view without the benefit of magnification, and it hurt, a lot.

I was instantly enraged. “I ​was​ going nicely,” I screamed at them. “Now​ you’re gonna have to work!” And they did have to work.

I don’t recall everything in their official narratives, but I do remember one thing in the arrest report. It stated that they were unable to take pictures of my injuries through the caged door of the wagon, and were unable to open the door to take photos due to my aggressive hostility. The report never mentioned how or why I should have been injured in the first place. I guess it must have been a rough night’s sleep.

 

[footnote] *Any of a number of cheap, fruit-flavored malt liquors.

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