I wonder what Roy’s going to think tomorrow when someone tells him I really did it? He was being sarcastic, but I wasn’t. Shit, he’s so fucking high right now that he probably won’t even remember it. What difference does it make? Either way, he wouldn’t give it a minute’s thought. Most of us never do. Remember the rule: you don’t interfere with a suicide. We know better. Believe it or not, this is pretty much how my life goes anymore. It’s true of everyone out here. When you live on the street, you don’t really have anything to do. You don’t have a routine beyond looking for dope and wandering around from place to place. You run into someone you know, you say hello and talk to them for a minute and move on. You know you might never see them again, but it doesn’t matter. We only live for a minute at a time. That’s what it’s like to be homeless. Maybe you’ve got a caper you’re going to pull, but for the most part you just spend your days and nights wasting time. Walking around. Waiting for Godot. We’re all just waiting for Godot.
Charlie made me read Waiting for Godot a long time ago. He said it was a metaphor for how we live out here. I didn’t get it at first, but I do now. We’re just like Vladimir and Estragon: wasting time with meaningless diversions while we wait for something that we don’t even know and wouldn’t recognize if it ever bothered to show up. That pretty much sums up our existence. God knows it sums up mine. I don’t think I’ve done anything productive since I got here. Of course, I didn’t do anything very productive before I got here, either. Nobody out here is looking to accomplish anything. We’re just killing time until something comes along, but we don’t know what it is, and if it does come along, we won’t know it. We’ll probably be too fucking stoned. There’s something else I learned about Waiting for Godot. I learned that it’s considered a prime example of the Theater of the Absurd. Well, if this place isn’t the Theater of the Absurd, then I don’t know what the fuck is.
Charlie said he made me read a lot of the classics because they relate to what’s happened to us. He was right. It never ceases to amaze me that I had to lose everything and wind up in hell before I got the best education of my life. I don’t think it’s done me any good, but it’s there, and it’s real. Those guys who wrote those old books sure knew what they were talking about. I sure as hell wouldn’t have seen the parallels, but Charlie always did and he made sure to point them out to me. I’ll bet no one would believe that we spent so much time reading and talking about highbrow stuff like that, but one of the things Charlie always says is that the one thing that no one can ever take away from you is an education. Out here, you’ve already lost everything else. And anything you can hold in your hand is going to be taken from you by someone who’s bigger and stronger and meaner than you are. But they can’t take your knowledge. They can’t take your understanding. It may be worthless to you, but once you learn something, it’s yours forever. And you don’t need a diploma to prove you learned anything. Charlie says there are a lot of people with diplomas who wouldn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. It’s what you really know and what you can do with it that counts. I just wish I knew what it counted for.
That’s not to say I never read anything before I got here. I did. I read a lot of things. I guess I really am my father’s daughter. I was a loner when I wasn’t drunk and a book is a halfway decent substitute for a friend. At least, that’s what I used to tell myself. But it was more than that. Even back then, I was looking for answers in them. I rarely found any. Too bad I didn’t have Charlie to point them out for me. Maybe I wouldn’t have ended up on the street? I was hoping to find out something about life so it would all make sense somehow. When I was a kid, I used to read a lot of Shakespeare. How’s that for being a fucked-up kid? Most kids read comic books; I read Shakespeare. I still remember a lot of it. Sometimes I’d trade lines from Shakespeare with Charlie. God, it amazes me how much he knows. The smartest guy I ever met is a junkie on skid row. Who would believe it? It amazes me how much Shakespeare knew, too. I think we both like Shakespeare because he understood better than anyone how people become what they are because of their circumstances. He understood how some people just have this lot in life and there’s nothing they can do about it. You can’t change what you are because what you are is often dictated by what you’re supposed to be. You can’t just reason your way out of it. If you’ve got a role in life, you’ve got to play it. If you’ve got a destiny, there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve got to play the game to the end. Macbeth didn’t want to kill King Duncan, but he did it because that’s what he was meant to do. The three witches didn’t make him do it. They just told him his destiny and he knew they were right. He didn’t do it because his psycho wife pushed him into doing it, either. He killed Duncan even though he was his friend because it was his lot in life. It was who he was meant to be – the guy who kills his friend and steals his crown even though he knows it’s wrong and in the end, it’ll destroy him. He was fucked from the moment he was born. Oh, I’m not saying he wasn’t a motherfucker for killing his friend. Far from it. What I’m saying is, he was destined to be a motherfucker. He was as guilty as sin and got what he deserved, but that was his destiny. He wasn’t in a position to just say no. None of us are. Fate chooses some of us to be evil fucking losers. It’s not an option. Just saying no doesn’t work. I know. I’m living proof. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t. And as long as it doesn’t, there’s still hope for you.
It’s still early. I hate it when it’s this early because I’m stuck over here in this sector. We all are. We can’t spread out until after nine o’clock. That’s when the stores west of here shut down for the night. We have to stay at least a block east of Meridian Avenue until then. Meridian is the busiest street around here; at least until the stores shut down. After that, it looks like something out of an apocalypse movie. There isn’t a soul in sight, but everything is still there. It’s weird. Meridian is wall-to-wall shops and bodegas and shit like that. It’s a really trashy street. The shops are a fucking joke. When I first got here and didn’t know any better, I used to go over there during the day and stare at those places. It wasn’t long before I learned that the owners don’t like homeless assholes staring through their windows like zombies. Anyway, sometimes I’d laugh my ass off when I saw some huckster trying to tell the women walking past that he could sell them a five hundred dollar designer bag for fifty bucks. Some of them were actually dumb enough to believe it. Give me a break! Even I’m not that stupid. All that shit is fake. The cops raid them from time to time and cart the fake shit away. The truth is, I’d take it even though it is fake. We all would. We’d rob those places blind after dark, except that they shut the storefronts with steel gates and these roll-down steel doors that are a royal bitch to get through. And since you’re out on a major street, the cops can see you while you’re trying to break in. If you want to get into those places, you have to tunnel in through the back alley. We do that sometimes, but it’s a lot of work for the lame-assed shit that’s in there. There are much better places to hit. And you’d better believe we know them all.
The tinfoil hat crowd wanders over there during the day, but they’re completely out of their minds, so that’s to be expected. The rest of us know better. During the day on Meridian, it’s not just the cops we have to worry about. It’s the fucking security guards. Those guys are there mainly to keep us away, and they do a really good job of it. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been worked over by those assholes. Like I said, I used to go over there a lot. What can I say? I’m a stupid fucking bitch sometimes. Those guys were fucking merciless. They used to spray me with pepper gas if they saw me looking in the windows. If I sat down on the sidewalk, they’d kick me with their steel-toed boots until I got up and moved. Sometimes I was so tired or maybe just so miserable that I couldn’t get up. I literally couldn’t stand. That’s when they really went to work on me. They’d hit me across the foot with a nightstick as hard as they could. That’s a trick they learned from the cops. The pain is so bad it’ll wake up a stone drunk. They probably broke my foot more than once. There were times when they’d hit me like that and I couldn’t walk for two weeks. My foot would swell up like a balloon. When that happens, you can get a set of crutches from the clinic for free. They might even fit you. You’re supposed to give them back when you don’t need them anymore, but no one ever does. It’s not uncommon to see someone out here on crutches. I never got them, though. I didn’t want them. If you see a guy on crutches out here, you’re looking at an easy mark. It encourages people to fuck with you. I’d rather limp. It’s safer.
Believe it or not, there are worse things than having your foot busted with a nightstick. Some of the security guards have those stun guns and they won’t hesitate to zap you with them. You don’t know what pain is until they start zapping you with those things. I fell asleep in front of one of the stores out there once and the guards decided to wake me up by electrocuting my ass. I thought I was having a heart attack! I really did. Imagine being awakened by two guys holding you down and zapping you with fifty thousand volts and you’ll understand. The first one zapped me in the thigh. Then the second guy put his foot on my back and pressed the stun gun against my ass. He held it there for about ten seconds, with me screaming the whole time. It hurt like you wouldn’t believe. It actually burned through my pants and left a mark. They thought it was hysterical. There must have been a hundred people watching, but nobody did anything. You’d think that with the way I was screaming they would’ve known something was wrong. They should’ve thought those assholes were killing me! I guess everyone thought I deserved it or something. When they were finished shocking my ass and other nearby parts I won’t mention, they made me crawl away. I had to crawl. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t even stand up. Then they took turns kicking me while I crawled down the block. Between the electric shocks and the kicks, I couldn’t stand up to save my life. It was like I had the worst fucking Charlie Horse in human history in both legs at once. Do you have any idea what it’s like to crawl along the sidewalk of a major street in broad daylight for a whole block with two assholes kicking you and a bunch of people looking at you and laughing? Trust me, you don’t want to know. I don’t know which hurt worse: the ass-kicking or the humiliation.
So anyway, I’m stuck here until nine. After that, I can really move around. Right now, I can go south for about a mile and we can go east, but that takes us back to the missions and now is when you definitely want to steer clear of the missions. They’ll lock the doors at nine o’clock, which means that right now a lot of people are learning that they won’t be getting in for the night. That makes them very unhappy. You don’t want to be around these motherfuckers when they’re unhappy. They’re likely to take their unhappiness out on you. The missions also throw the major assholes out right about this time. They kick people out for various “infractions of the rules,” or for just being assholes. That really pisses them off because these guys thought they had a cot for the night. Now they’re back out on the street and they’re not happy about it. A lot of fights are going to start over there pretty soon. I don’t want anything to do with it.
Oh, and right about now, the junkies are getting ready for the night. They don’t have to worry about not going west of Meridian because most of the best dope spots are just south of here. We can go there before Meridian shuts down. If I were still hooked, I’d be heading that way, too. You score your shit and your works and find a place to slam. It’s a nightly routine. It was my nightly routine for years. If I ended up back on the streets, it would be my routine all over again. I decided a while ago that I won’t go back to that. You know what’s weird? As glad as I am that I got off the shit, the truth is I’m not sorry I’m a junkie. I’m not sorry I got hooked. Is that fucking crazy or what? But it’s true. I honestly believe that once I ended up out here, it was the right thing to do. It made life bearable. It even gave me a purpose. Constantly searching for dope and tending to your addiction is a purpose – sort of. But I don’t want to go back to it. I stopped getting any real benefit out of it a long time ago. That’s why I didn’t go back on dope when I got out of detox. I had the celebrated “moment of clarity” where I decided that I really didn’t want to be hooked anymore. I’ve chipped ever since, but I’ve never done enough to get hooked again. Thank God the dope out here is such bullshit. If it weren’t, I’d have been hooked again with the first taste. Thank God for small favors, huh?
Yeah, there’s a weird change taking place around here right now. You have to have been out here for a while before you’re able to see it. It’s almost invisible, but it’s there. The night is really starting to take over. The denizens of the day are finding some place to crash until morning. The assholes like me are just getting into gear. In about an hour it’ll be complete. It’s a change between bad and worse. This place is hell right now, but that’s nothing compared to what’s coming. Pretty soon it’s going to be fucking evil out here. It’ll be like nothing you’ve ever imagined. Watch. You’ll see.
Heads up! We’ve got a guy up ahead who seems to be checking me out.
“Hey baby, how much?”
Oh, here we go! Remember what I said?
“Hey baby, I’m talkin’ to you! I said how much?”
“Fuck off? More like fuck on! How much for a fuck?”
“Not a damned chance. Fuck off.”
“What are you? A fuckin’ dyke?”
Jesus! Didn’t I just go through this same shit?
“I’m not a whore and I’m not a dyke and I’m sure as hell not interested. Fuck off!”
“All bitches are whores. That’s why you’re out here. Come on. How much to do me?”
Oh, I am not going to put up with this shit tonight!
“You want me to do you? Fine! I’ll do you!”
I just won’t do you the way you think! Remember when I said my knife opens fast? Watch this!
“Let’s go, motherfucker! Right now!”
Oh, that got his attention!
“Hey, bitch! Put that fuckin’ knife away!”
“Why? I thought you wanted me to do you? Come on, I’ll do you! I’ll slit your fucking throat!”
“Take it easy! I didn’t mean nothin’ by it!”
“Yeah? You could’ve fooled me!”
“Just settle down and put the fuckin’ knife away!”
“Get the fuck out of my face. Now!”
“All right! All right! Damn! Crazy bitch!”
“Yeah, you got that right! Now move!”
You’re lucky, asshole! The way I feel right now, I might have killed you! Count your lucky stars, motherfucker!
God damn it! Do you want to know what my life is like on a daily basis? There you go! I’ve been propositioned at least twice a night, every night since I fucking got here! I hate it! I usually brush it off, but God! I fucking hate it! Everybody thinks if you’re a woman out here, then you must be a whore. You’ll fuck anyone and anything for a buck. That’s not an exaggeration, either. I’ve had plenty of guys offer me a dollar to fuck them. I may be a miserable piece of shit, but I’d like to think I’m still worth more than a fucking dollar. Well, as a fuck I’m worth more than a dollar. As a person, I’m not. I’m probably not worth a nickel. Even so, I wouldn’t fuck that guy if I were a bitch in heat. Maybe you thought it was a little overboard pulling a knife on that asshole, but it wasn’t. A lot of these guys don’t take kindly to being told no. They figure a whore’s a whore and if she won’t give it up then they have a right to take it. They don’t hesitate to try. I’ve learned to tell them no and if they don’t fuck off, then I threaten them. I don’t give them a second chance. Not ever. That’s just an invitation to rape.
Maybe I’m just being a baby about it? I mean, I was propositioned plenty of times in my life before I wound up here. What woman hasn’t? Most of the time, I just laughed it off. Sometimes I said yes. Actually, I said yes plenty of times. So why does it bother me so much now? I don’t know. It just does. I know it goes with the territory, but it makes me feel like shit and I hate it. I already feel lower than dirt, but the idea that I’m just expected to be a whore at everyone’s beck and call makes it a thousand times worse. I know it shouldn’t, but it does. That asshole wasn’t far off, though. I kind of hate to admit it, but a lot of the women out here are whores. Oh, I’m not ragging on them for it. Far from it. You do what you have to do, and it’s the easiest way for a woman to make money out here. Well, it’s easy if you can call letting these pigs fuck you easy. But it’s a trick, because they think they’re making easy money when it really just makes everything worse. You see, a whore is pretty much considered the lowest of the low out here. Even crackheads are held in higher regard. As far as these assholes are concerned, a whore is less than scum. You’re nothing but a fucking sperm bank. Once you start selling your body, you’re everybody’s property. You’re theirs to do with as they please. You’ve got no right to say no. I know it shouldn’t be like that, but that’s how it works out here and in this place, some realities just trump everything else. Some asshole waves a couple of bucks in front of you and says get down on your knees and start sucking; you’ve pretty much got no right to say no. You gave up that right the first time you fucked for money. At least, that’s what everyone out here thinks. And believe me, they practice what they preach. I’ve never met a whore out here who hasn’t been raped more times than she can count. No one deserves that, but most people out here think they do. How do those women live with that? How do they live like that? It’s a wonder they don’t all kill themselves. I don’t know how anyone can live like that. I sure as hell can’t.
I wish I could tell you that I had this unshakable resolve that I’d never stoop to selling my body no matter what, but I’m afraid that isn’t the case. The truth is, there were times when I was really tempted to do it. They were usually times when I’d hit the lowest point in my life. I just felt so hopeless about everything and I’d think to myself, “Hey, everyone out here already thinks you’re a whore, so what the hell are you saving yourself for? You could really use the money, right?” Most of the time, I’d never let a thought like that make its way into my head, but there were times when I felt like it wasn’t worth fighting it anymore. Everyone already thought I was a whore. Well, not Charlie, but everyone else did. So what did I gain by holding out? Most of the time, you are what everyone thinks you are. If you say you’re “A” and everyone else thinks you’re “B,” then for all practical purposes you’re just deluding yourself, right? There were some times when I just thought to myself, “Why fight it?” God knows I could’ve used the money.
But for whatever reason, I held on. It wasn’t just that last sliver of self-respect, either. I was usually lucid enough to know what I would’ve been getting myself into if I’d done it. I’ve known plenty of women out here who were prostitutes. I guess that’s a nicer term than whore, but out here it’s the same thing. A rose by any other name. Shakespeare. Anyway, I’ve seen how they live, if you can call it living. I’ve seen what it does to them. I’ve known more than a few who ended up killing themselves, and a few who should’ve killed themselves. I’ve known a few who were killed by their customers. And those women were all a hell of a lot harder and colder than me. They were as mean as hell. They’d kill you just as soon as look at you and more than a few of them had done so. I always wondered why I didn’t end up that hard and mean, but for some reason I didn’t. I used to think that if I could be that hard, then I could handle being out here. It wouldn’t hurt so much, and I wouldn’t be scared all of the time. I tried to be that way, but I just couldn’t do it. I don’t know why. Maybe it was my upbringing? I’m capable of doing all sorts of evil shit, but I’ve never had what it takes to be that hard. That’s one of the reasons why I’m going to kill myself tonight: I don’t have what it takes to make it out here in the long run. So I never became a whore. Well, not exactly. Something did happen once. I just…I can’t tell you about it now. I know I promised to tell you everything, but this was something…it just really fucked me up. Thinking about it still tears me to pieces. I’ll tell you about it later. Before the night’s over. It’s no big deal. It was just an incredibly stupid decision I made once. It was the right thing to do and I thought I could deal with it, but…good God! How the hell did I end up like this?
Let’s move along, shall we? Bad memories. Hey, as long as I’m quoting Shakespeare, I remember he said in The Tempest that “misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” Man, did he hit the nail on the head! This place is all about misery, and it definitely acquaints you with some seriously strange bedfellows! Just pray to God that none of them ever get into bed with you! Believe me, that’s the last thing you want. But out here, even misery is never boring. That’s one thing this place isn’t: boring. Even after all these years and all of the shit that I’ve seen and done, I can’t get over this place. It just fucking blows me away. All my life, I never even dreamed that anything like this existed. I never imagined that there were people like this; let alone thought that one day I’d be rubbing elbows with them. Maybe I was always destined to end up out here, but do you think I thought about running into assholes like Mister I-want-a-fuck back there when I was ten years old and selling Girl Scout cookies? Not hardly. I used to think about my future like anyone else, but I sure as hell never saw this shit coming. If I had, I would’ve killed myself before I hit puberty. Oddly enough, in that case, I would’ve had a nice life. What was it Shakespeare said? “Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are, it might have been.” Chalk it up to a missed opportunity. Anyway, there’s just something about this fucking place that gets to me. I’ve never known anything that drew me in like this place does. I still can’t explain why. Maybe it’s the constant fear? This has got to be the most terrifying place on earth. Charlie says it’s scarier than Vietnam was. He was there, so he should know. There are places out here at night so scary that even the cops won’t go there. Not even in force. But not me. This place is my world now. It’s where I belong. It scares the hell out of me every minute of every day and yet it fits me like a glove. I’m part of it. It’s part of me. I’ve never belonged anywhere the way that I belong here. I blend in perfectly; especially at night. That ought to tell you a lot about me.
One of the first things you notice out here at night is the strangeness of the lights. Like everything else, the lighting isn’t normal. I’ve never seen lights like this anywhere else. It’s weird. It gives everything a surreal quality. It adds to the sense of disbelief. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked around and wondered if what I was seeing was real. Like when I said I thought someone was following me? The lights at night play tricks on you and you can’t tell what’s real and what’s fake. Sometimes it’s as if the lights are trying to tell me something. It takes a while for your eyes to get used to it; this unnatural light. Once they do, it’s amazing how well you can see. You can see in places nobody else can see. You can see things nobody else can see. It’s bizarre. It’s impossible, but it’s true. It’s real. And it’s like a secret: only we can do it. Even the cops can’t do it. They need their flashlights and their spotlights to see. Without them, they’re as blind as bats. Bats without the radar. You should see them stumble around in the dark. They wish they could see like we do, but they can’t. You have to live out here at night before you can do it. It comes in handy. It gives us an advantage. That’s important. Out here, you need every advantage you can get.
I’ve always liked the way this place looks at night. How’s that for crazy? But it’s true. I love it. It’s still a shithole, but it’s eerie. It’s unnatural somehow. It’s something that’s not supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be possible. It’s not supposed to exist. It’s so dark, but at the same time there’s light everywhere – if you know how to see it. Light and shadows. That’s pretty much all there is. There aren’t many colors, unless you count the blue and red lights on the cop cars and the ambulances. Well, the ambulances only have red lights. Red and white. That’s one way to tell if it’s the cops closing in on you or an ambulance. The fire trucks have red and white lights, too. But they make so much noise with their huge engines and their gigantic fucking horns that you can’t mistake them for anything else. You can literally hear them coming a mile away. So if you don’t hear the big engine or the horn, then you look for the lights. Since they both have red lights, you look for the blue. If you see the blue, then you know it’s the cops. Just remember: if you see the blue, they’re coming for you. Hey, it rhymes! Skid row nursery rhymes. To be honest, there are a lot of them out here. You’d be amazed.
Pretty much the only other color of light out here is yellow. But it’s not regular yellow. It’s city yellow. Emergency yellow. Skid row yellow. Flashing yellow lights. They’re everywhere. Yellow lights on the street barriers. Yellow lights on the garbage trucks. Yellow lights on the street sweepers. Yellow lights flashing on the traffic lights. Between red for stop and green for go. Yellow. They don’t need the red and green traffic lights out here at night. There’s almost no traffic after about eleven o’clock. Most of the traffic lights start blinking yellow around midnight. Yellow. Proceed with caution. Clear the intersection. Get clear. Maybe there’s a message there: don’t stop, and don’t go. Just get clear. Get out of the way. Get the hell out of here. Yellow. It’s always the same damned yellow. Other than that, it’s all just black and gray asphalt and concrete. It’s a strange mix. Everything sort of blends into it. Even the people. Light and shadows. The city at night is lit up and dark at the same time. A thousand shades of midnight so bright, it’s blinding. I know, I know. It’s a contradiction. Like I keep saying: our nighttime world is full of contradictions. You don’t ask why. You just deal with it. Like everything else out here.
Most of the other lights out here are streetlights. Think of them as the sun at night. Some people say the moon is the sun at night, but that doesn’t work for us. The moon doesn’t do us any good. It’s nice to look at, but we have no use for it. Without the streetlights, you couldn’t see. Well, at least the normal people couldn’t see. But we use them, too. They’re everywhere. The streets, the sidewalks, and the alleys are all bathed in the glow of streetlights. When you throw in the floodlights and the fluorescent lights from the shops and the shithole hotels, the effect is really weird. It’s very hard to describe. The light…it’s uneven. It makes you feel uneasy. It adds to the strangeness of this place. There are two kinds of streetlights out here: the old-fashioned bright white streetlights and what they call sodium lights. Can you believe I actually know about that shit? I spent so much time looking at the lights and thinking about them that one night I actually asked some guy from the power company about them and he explained it to me. I think he was hoping I’d be so impressed that I’d blow him. I didn’t, but for some reason, I’ve always remembered what he told me about the streetlights. Christ, the things you learn out here! Sodium streetlights. I don’t know what sodium has to do with streetlights. I thought sodium was salt. Isn’t it? Anyway, they give off this softer, more diffuse light. They’re supposed to make it easier to see. That’s what the guy told me. I think they make it easier to see things from a distance. At least, they seem to. They do cut down on the glare. It’s a strange effect. I can’t really describe the color of their light. It’s sort of a bronze orange. I don’t think there really is any name for it. It doesn’t need one. It’s like a lot of things out here at night: it just is.
When you’re a kid, your mother tells you that there’s nothing in the dark that isn’t there in the light. But there is. At least, there is out here. There’s more out here than you’d believe. That’s one of the first things you learn out here. God help you if you don’t learn it. Like I was saying before, things change when the sun goes down. The rules change. The people change. The city changes. Reality changes. Oh, that’s not just me being crazy. I used to think it was, but then I came to realize that it wasn’t. Reality stops being objective at night. Out here, reality and perception become one and the same. Is something real because it’s there, or because you believe it’s there? What’s the difference? You react the same way, no matter what. The effect is real even if the cause isn’t, and the effect is all that matters. This place is all about the effect. Things are as real as your mind lets them be. That’s important. That’s your Achilles’ heel. You see, out here, your mind can kill you. Literally. It doesn’t need a weapon. It is the weapon. And when you’re crazy like I am, it’s even worse. My reality isn’t like yours. Mine is very different. Who knows why? It just is. It’s different because I believe it’s different. It’s different because it affects me differently. It’s different because it is different. What does it matter? Fuck it. It’s just different, like everything else about this place.
Unless you’ve been here, you can’t imagine the effect that living out here has on you. The only way to truly understand it is to experience it for yourself. Of course, I don’t recommend that. Better to let me try to explain it to you. That way, it doesn’t get its hooks into you. And if you come here and stay for a while, it will. I guarantee it. It’s the terrible secret of this place. It’s the price of knowing what we know. It’s the price of knowing what I know. But it’s even more amazing than it is terrible. It’s fantastic. When you’re crazy, when you live in the night, when you come to this place, you learn things the rest of the world never learns. You learn secrets they don’t know. Secrets they don’t want to know. Secrets no one should ever know. But it’s so much more than that. You don’t just learn about this place. You become it. You become a part of it, like the streets and the lights and the alleys. It draws you in. You can’t help it. You open a door that should’ve stayed closed and you enter a place that no one should ever enter. And it’s only then that you learn that the door only swings one way. Once you’re in, you can’t get out. You can never go back. Never. But that’s OK. You don’t want to go back. You’re drawn to it. It electrifies you. It tells you in a million different ways that this is where you belong. This is where you belong and you know it. You believe it. You believe it because deep down, you know it’s true. It’s true like nothing in your life has ever been so true. It’s so fucking strange. You think this place belongs to you, but it doesn’t. You think you’re in control, but you’re not. You’re not the master. You’re the slave. You belong to it. It doesn’t belong to you. It changes you, but you can’t change it. But that doesn’t matter. You don’t want to change it. It’s perfect. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s terrifying, it’s rotten, and it’s pure fucking evil. There’s not a single good or decent thing anywhere. It’s worse than you could ever imagine and it all feels so right. It’s the only place where you belong anymore. It scares the hell out of you and just the thought of being here makes you sick, but deep down, you never want to leave. Not ever. Nothing else ever made you feel this way. It’s like…I don’t know; it’s like giving in to sin or something. You get hooked on it just like you get hooked on dope. And just like dope: once you’re hooked, you can’t live without it. You need it. You love it. It’s perfect.
You see things out here at night. Things you don’t see in the daylight. Weird things. Unbelievable things. You see people where there can’t possibly be any people. You see strange shapes: shades, ghosts, demons, signs from God, even signs from the devil. You name it, you’ll see it out here. I know. I’ve seen them all. Shakespeare said, “One sees more devils than vast hell could hold. That is the madman.” He was right, but not in the way he thought. I guess it goes double for the madwoman. Sometimes I wonder if I really see them or if I’m just hallucinating? Maybe they’re real. Maybe they’re not. Maybe it’s because I’m crazy. Maybe it’s the dope. Maybe it’s something beyond human understanding. Who knows? I’m not surprised, though. About seeing weird things, I mean. Hey, my brain doesn’t work right, so why should my eyes? Or my ears? There are as many strange sounds out here as there are strange sights. It all sounds so different at night. It sounds as strange as it looks. It’s unnatural. For one thing, there are no sounds of life. That’s something I’ve always missed. Life makes sounds to let you know that it’s there, but out here at night, there aren’t any of those sounds. No people living normal lives, no kids playing, no birds singing, no laughing, no music – nothing. Not even crickets. The sounds of the normal world have no place here. So what do you hear out here at night? You hear machines. Night machines. Exhaust fans. Engines. Sirens. Alarms. Police radios. Fire engine radios. Ambulance radios. Motors straining. Tires screeching. Glass breaking. Pounding, banging, crashing. Metal on concrete. Metal on metal. Metal on people. But no sounds of life. Not even crying. Most of the people out here ran out of tears a long time ago. Well, except for me. About the only sounds they make anymore are shouts and screams. Especially screams. Bloodcurdling screams. I’ve been out here a long time and I’ve never gotten used to the sound of screaming, and I’ve done a lot of screaming myself. Sometimes I think there’s no more horrible sound in the universe. I can’t stand it. Even now.
And the screams are so much worse out here at night. The screams you hear at night have such a feeling of terror in them that words can’t begin to describe it. It’s unnatural. It’s fucking unholy. And it’s everywhere. You can cover your ears and pull your coat over your head and you do everything you can to shut them out, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll still hear it. You always hear it. You can’t escape it. So much screaming. People screaming when they’re being beaten. People screaming when they’re being raped. People screaming when they’re being burned alive. People screaming when they’re being stabbed over and over. People screaming when they jump off of a roof just like I’m going to do tonight. People screaming when they’re being chased by some maniac and they’re thinking about all of the horrible things that’ll happen to them once the son of a bitch catches them. People screaming because they’re out here at night and that’s as good a reason to scream as any. God, you hear so much screaming! They scream the loudest when they’re being killed. You can always tell. There’s something about a death scream that just cuts through everything. You always hear it then. It doesn’t matter where you are. You always hear it. Always.
I can cut through that parking lot up ahead. There’s a space between the buildings that turns into an alley running east. That’ll take me to where a lot of the old-timers hang out at night. They should be settling down there by now. I hope to God Charlie’s with them.
“Hey, Miranda! What’s up?”
Stand down. No need to panic. That’s Dwight. A fellow junkie. One of our redneck junkies. You can tell by the southern accent. He’s alright. He’s probably looking for dope, but nobody sells right here. Everybody knows that, so I guess that means he’s just passing through, like me.
“Hey, Dwight. What are you up to?”
“Lookin’ to buy. You got anything?”
By that, he means to I have any to share? Yeah, why pay for it when you can mooch it for free? That’s a junkie for you.
“Nope. Sorry. I don’t even have a spike on me.”
“Damn! I was hopin’ you had some. You lookin’ to buy?”
“No, I’m just passing through. Hey, have you seen Charlie?”
“Not lately. Not for about three days, I think.”
“I’ve got to find him. Where the hell could he be?”
“Did you look over by the Tables?”
“Not yet. I’m heading over there. Hey, if you’re looking to buy, what the fuck are you doing in here? No one deals in this lot.”
“Yeah, but T.C. said one of Ricky’s guys was in here slingin’ dope. I’ve been here twenty minutes and I ain’t seen no one.”
“That’s what you get for listening to T.C. He’s a fucking idiot. Ricky’s boys don’t work this far from the Big Lot. He likes to keep an eye on them.”
“I guess he don’t want them skimmin’ the profits, huh?”
“Not unless they’ve got a death wish. Why don’t you go over there? Ricky’s got to be there. He’ll have whatever you need. He always does.”
“I don’t like to buy from Ricky.”
“No one likes to buy from Ricky. We do it because we have to.”
“God, I hate that dude! He’s fuckin’ crazy!”
Gee, I guess I should be insulted; seeing as I’m crazy myself. But in this case, I’m not. Ricky’s a full-blown psychopath and everybody knows it.
“Yeah, he’s a piece of work. Look, I think I saw Miguel wandering around a few blocks back.”
“Yee hah! The rovin’ dealer! Cool! I’ll see if I can find him. Thanks for the info, girl!”
Wait a minute! Something’s wrong. Why is he looking around like that? What’s going on?
“Oh, shit! You hear that?”
“Eye in the sky! Hide!”
Damn! I didn’t even hear it!
“The alley! Go for the dumpster! Move it, honey!”
Oh, shit! I hear it now!
“Too late! Get in the doorway! They can’t see you! Move, girl!”
“Shit! Get down! He’s coming this way!”
Eye in the sky! That’s what we call the police helicopter. Damn, he’s low! If he’s flying this low, he’s looking for something serious. They almost never fly low out here. He’ll light up the alley any second now. That goddamned searchlight sees everything. Dwight’s safe in that dumpster, but I’m still visible in this fucking doorway. If I stay pressed in here, he probably won’t be able to see me. He can’t angle the light over the tops of the buildings and light up the doorway. At least, I hope he can’t. If he sees me, he’ll call for the cop cars to block off the alley. Whatever he’s looking for, they’ll haul my ass to jail just for the hell of it. Damn! Why didn’t I run when Dwight told me to? I’d be safer in the fucking dumpster. Oh, here comes the searchlight! Come on, don’t see me! Don’t see me! Don’t see me! Just go away! Just go the fuck away and leave me alone! That’s it. Nothing to see here. Just leave already. Yes! They’re going! Thank God!
“They’re gone. Hey, Dwight! You can come out now.”
“Damn! What the fuck’s goin’ on tonight? There’s fuckin’ cops everywhere!”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve been jacked up twice already. Something’s up, but I don’t know what.”
“Shit, this is gonna fuck things up for me! Can’t score no dope with the cops on the warpath!”
“If they’re firing up the alleys, the dealers are going to go inside and wait it out. Miguel won’t be waiting to get jacked. I think you’re going to have to hit the Big Lot.”
“Fuck! I don’t want to deal with Ricky! That dude hates me!”
“Ricky hates everyone. It’s part of his charm. Listen, maybe you can get something down by the pillars. They’re dealing there again.”
“For real? When did they start that up?”
“About two weeks ago. I’ve been down there a couple of times and they’re always doing business until about ten.”
“Is their shit any good?”
“Is anybody’s? It’s good enough. You got a spike?”
“Yeah. A new one. Got it from the van this morning.”
The van is the needle exchange program. They’re a big deal out here, as you might imagine.
“Good. I don’t think anybody’s got any works down there.”
“Man, that’s a long walk for a taste.”
“Hey, the Big Lot’s closer. Of course, you’ll have to deal with Ricky.”
“No thanks! I’ll walk. You want to come with me? Keep me company?”
“Sorry. I’ve got to find Charlie. Watch yourself down there. You know what happened last month.”
“Two dudes got their asses blown off. Yeah, I’ll be careful. You do the same. Catch you later, Miranda.”
No, you won’t. But that’s OK. I don’t think you’ll miss me. It’s the way of things out here.
Charlie says if there’s one thing about this place that reminds him of Vietnam, it’s the helicopters. The cops fly over here all the time. You know it’s the cops because we’re so close to downtown that the whole place is restricted airspace. No one else is allowed to fly over here except the occasional news chopper. One of the cops told me that, so I figure it’s probably true. The helicopters make life difficult for us – as if it isn’t already difficult enough. They make it hard to hide. You can lose the cops on the ground if you know what you’re doing and you’re fast on your feet, but losing the helicopter is another story. Charlie taught me a few tricks to ditch them, and so did a couple of our more successful burglars. Still, when they light the place up, there aren’t a lot of good places to hide. And if you’re out in the open somewhere, you’re fucking toast. They just keep that spotlight on you until the cops on the ground surround you. Sometimes they box you in and set the dog on you. I’ve seen that happen a few times. I like dogs, but I don’t like police dogs. Have you ever seen a German Shepherd take a big fucking chunk out of someone’s ass? It’s not like you see in cartoons. It’s pretty fucking brutal.
The pillars are a dope spot about halfway between here and the industrial district. It’s a big warehouse that has this row of concrete pillars running along the back of it where the trucks pull in. The pillars are supposed to keep the truck drivers on crystal meth from running their trucks through the wall. It was a pretty big dope spot for a while, but a couple of people got killed there last month and the cops hit the place hard. Anybody who didn’t get hauled off to jail got their ass beaten big time. After about two weeks of that they stopped selling dope. But like everyplace else out here, the cops lost eventually interest in it. I guess the dealers thought it was safe to set up shop again. I never liked going down there. It’s a little off the beaten path, so it’s a great place to murder someone. It’s probably a good place to do a lot of other things to them, too. It’s definitely not the sort of place I want to find myself in after dark.
“You! Lady in the green coat! Stop right there!”
Spotlight! Cops! God damn it! I hate that shit! They fucking blind you with those things! I guess that fucking helicopter saw me after all. What the hell is going on with the cops tonight?
“Hey, it’s crazy Miranda!”
“Yeah, it’s me! Who the fuck are you?”
I can’t see them with that fucking light in my face, but I can hear them. I figure they’re about ten yards away. Shit! I should’ve stayed in the fucking alley!
“Is that how you say hello to me?”
“Who’s me? Can you get that thing out of my eyes?”
“What’s the matter, honey? You forget me already?”
Oh, God! It’s fucking Hoekstra! This could get ugly real fast!
“Hey, Officer Hoekstra. I haven’t seen you in a while.”
He was probably suspended again. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Fucking maniac!
“You gonna dance for me tonight, honey?”
“Come on, honey! I want to see you dance!”
“How about tomorrow, OK?”
“How about now, bitch? I want to see you dance!”
“Give me a break, OK? Just this once?”
“Well, I guess I’m going to have to come over there and convince you, then!”
Oh, shit! He’s coming over here! I do not want to deal with this maniac tonight! See how he’s got a big smile on his face? Trust me, it isn’t a friendly smile. It never is. And there’s nothing friendly about that nightstick in his hand!
“I said I want to see you dance! Now!”
The last thing I want is for him to come over here. I’d better give him a show. I know what he wants. Throw my head back, stick my arms out to my sides, and start spinning around. It’s kind of a trademark of mine. I’ll explain later.
“You mean like this?”
Give him a show, Miranda. Whatever you do, don’t set this fucking lunatic off!
“There you go! You see that, partner? What did I tell you? That’s Miranda’s Dance!”
“Shit! She’s as crazy as you said, boss!”
“You better fucking believe it! Hey, baby! You want to come over here and give us a lap dance?”
Just ignore him and kept spinning. Keep spinning and pray to God he goes away!
“Hey, we’ll get you a pole! You can give us a real dance, baby! Take it off!”
Great! His fucking partner’s just as bad as he is! Don’t say anything. Let him have his fun. Just keep it up until he gets back in the car and drives away.
“You ever do a pole dance, baby? I’ll bet you’re a natural!”
I don’t recognize the other guy’s voice. Come on! Please, just go away! Just leave me alone! Please!
“Come on, honey! You can do better than that! Make it interesting!”
“Partner, we got a call.”
“Oops! Sorry, baby! We’ll have to take a rain check on that lap dance! See you later!”
Just wait for them to drive away. Don’t stop. Keep spinning. Don’t open your eyes until you’re sure they’re gone. I hear the car pulling away. Good! They’re out of here. I can stop.
“Fucking assholes! I hope someone shoots you both!”
Yeah, no way would I ever get that lucky! But I can dream, can’t I?
Well, that was fun! Yeah, right! I just love performing for asshole cops! You’re no doubt wondering what that was all about. It’s kind of a thing with me. You see, Miranda’s Dance is something a lot of people out here know about. It’s one of the many crazy habits I’ve got. Actually, it’s something I’ve been doing since I was about eight years old. When I was little, for no reason at all, I’d close my eyes, tilt my head back, put my arms out to my sides and start spinning around and around until I got so dizzy I couldn’t stand up anymore. I’d keep it up until I fell down. It used to drive my parents nuts. The neighbors would see me doing it and tell my mom that there was something very wrong with me. She’d just laugh it off and say “Oh, that’s just Miranda’s Dance.” After a while, everybody just accepted it. I was this strange kid who for no reason would suddenly close her eyes, throw her head back, stick her arms out and just start spinning around until she keeled over. And for some reason, I never stopped doing it. I mean, I stopped the spinning until I keeled over part, but I still did the dance. I don’t know why I started doing it and I sure as hell don’t know why I kept it up over the years. I just did. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me.
Anyway, when I ended up out here, I started doing it a lot. I was so far gone mentally that it just seemed like a good thing to do. I think maybe I was hoping that it would make my mind go blank. Sometimes it did, but only for a second or two. But that was worth it. One or two seconds where I could blank out the whole fucking world was worth it. Constantly moving and going nowhere. Turning and turning and hoping that somehow I’d just disappear. I guess it means a lot of things to me. For some reason, it tends to attract a crowd around here. A lot of people saw me doing it and pretty soon word got around. People asked me what the hell I was doing and I just told them it was Miranda’s Dance. And I still do it. Just close my eyes and spin and spin and try to forget. Try to forget who I am and what I am and everything that’s happened to me. Just spin. Dance. Let go. Disappear. Forget. Just give me that one moment away from everything. One moment where I’m eight years old again and none of this ever happened. I guess that’s why I still do it. I just want to be eight years old again, even if it’s only for a second. Sounds crazy, huh? Miranda’s Dance. The last vestige of the old me. It’s not much of a dance, but it’ll do. Besides, when you’re destined to dance through life alone, spinning yourself into unconsciousness is as good as any. And since I’m the only one who does it, it’s kind of the only thing I’ve got that’s really mine.