Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Sixteen

My head’s still spinning from that shit. I haven’t been that scared in a long time. You probably think I’m a complete fucking idiot for not making that call. It just means you don’t understand what ending up on skid row does to you. The truth is, I realized a long time ago that calling home was something I could never do. Oh, I’ve thought about calling my mom and dad about a million times since I got here. A couple of times I even thought I’d worked up the nerve to do it. But I never did. One time I thought I was going to do it and then right before I was ready to go through with it, I saw my face in a mirror. I saw what I looked like. It was like everything I’d been through out here was written on my face, plain as day. That’s all it took. It convinced me not to do it. You see, there’s just no way I could ever face them. Not after this. I couldn’t let them see me like this and I couldn’t ever let them know the truth. Too much has happened. I couldn’t live with myself if they knew what’s happened to me and all of the horrible fucking things I’ve done. I don’t think they could stand it. I really don’t. They’re good people, but like everyone else, they’ve got limits. As far as they know, I’m still their daughter. I’m still the same girl they knew and loved. Sure, I was messed up back then. I was nothing to be proud of. But I wasn’t like I am now. I wasn’t rotten. I wasn’t despicable. I wasn’t evil. Not like I am now. If my family saw me now, they’d be afraid of me. If they saw me coming up the front walk, they’d probably bolt the door and call the fucking cops. They’d say, “Who are you and what did you do to our daughter?” It would be like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or something. That’s understandable. They don’t know about this place. They don’t know about the things that happen here. They don’t know about the things we do. They don’t know about the things that I’ve done. They don’t know what I’ve become. And I want to keep it that way. There’s no way in hell I’d bring this shit back home with me. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t poison them like that. I’d throw myself in front of the first speeding car that came along before I did that to them. No fucking way. That would be worse than a million deaths. I think I’d rather burn in hell. It would be easier. And I honestly believe that if I did that to them, then I’d burn in hell for sure. That’s got to be an unforgivable sin.

It feels like it’s been a million years since I last saw my home. I was twenty when I left home for good. I honestly can’t remember the date or anything. God, I sure didn’t last long on my own before everything went to shit. That figures. By the time I left, living at home was a lot like living inside my own head. Inside the house, everything was familiar. It was just the way it was when I was growing up. It was almost as if time stood still, and I wanted it to stand still. But outside, the whole world was different. Everyone I knew growing up was already gone. People had moved away and new people had moved into their old houses. It was really sad. It wasn’t my neighborhood anymore. I didn’t belong there anymore. There was no place for me. Living at home was like living in a make-believe world. The problem was, the more comfortable you feel there, the more you know you can’t stay there any longer. Eventually, I realized that I just had to get out. I felt like I didn’t belong in my house anymore, either. One day I looked around and I realized that my allotted time had come to an end. I wonder if it’s like that for everyone? It was a strange feeling. It’s like being in a theater long after the show’s over and the lights have come on. You don’t belong there anymore. The show’s over. You should’ve left with everyone else. But you didn’t, and so there you are: all alone. Everyone else has moved on. They all got on with their lives. You’re the only one who didn’t. And unlike a theater, you can never come back to see the show again because it’s over for good. Now it’s time for a new show; for a new audience. Thomas Wolfe said you can never go home again, and he was right. You can’t. That’s true for some of us more than it is for others. It’s especially true for me. I mean, how could I face my family after everything that’s happened? What you’ve seen tonight doesn’t even scratch the surface. God, how could they face me? How could they even look at me if they knew the truth? How could I look at them? No, I can’t do it. I can’t. This is how it’s got to be. Too much shit has happened for me to ever go home again, but sometimes I still think about it. You know what the worst part is? Jefferson was right: even after all of the bullshit I put my parents through over the years, I know they’d take me back in a heartbeat, just like the prodigal son. The prodigal daughter. Their only daughter. Somehow, knowing that makes me feel even worse. It’s like…it wasn’t enough to just fuck them over after all they did for me. No, I had to stick a fucking knife in their backs and twist it. How did they ever end up with a piece of shit like me? I’m so sorry, mom. I’m so sorry, dad. I don’t deserve to be your daughter. Wherever you are, I hope you’re all right. And to whatever degree I’m capable, I still love you.

Give me a minute, OK? I need to collect myself. Would you look at me? I’m shaking. I’m fucking shaking! Fuck! That whole thing back there really got to me bad. I didn’t see it coming, so I wasn’t ready for it and it really knocked me for a loop. I should’ve known better. I usually keep my guard up so shit like that doesn’t happen. But why the hell did it hit me like that? Why am I shaking? Am I having a fucking anxiety attack? Why can’t I think straight? God, what is wrong with me tonight? I’m getting all these weird feelings. Why? This wasn’t supposed to happen. I had everything about this night planned down to the last detail. But nothing’s gone right. Why do I always fuck things up? Why can’t anything ever work for me? I just want to die. I just want to die in peace. I want to say goodbye to Charlie and take one last look at this fucking place and just finish it. Now Charlie’s in a hospital and I can’t see him and the whole fucking night’s turned to shit and I feel like I’m going to fall apart at the seams! Why is it turning out like this? Why do you hate me so much, God? Look what you’re doing to me! You put Charlie in the hospital and you fucking torture me with that shit back there! Why? On the last night of my life? Haven’t I suffered enough? Can’t you just let me die in fucking peace?

I really need you to understand why I’m doing it this way. I mean, I could go home, right? Even after all of this, I could start running and keep running until I get to my front door. I could leave it all behind me. No problem, right? Yeah, this is where you say things like there’s still hope and don’t give up. Hang in there, Miranda. It’ll get better. You’ll see. Life is always worth living. Well, save your breath. I’ve heard it all before. I know you probably believe that shit, but I also know that it isn’t true. I know it as sure as I know the sun will rise. It’s never going to work for me. Life, I mean. I know it all too well. I used to hope it wasn’t true, but it isn’t a question of hoping anymore. I’m past that. I’ve seen the truth. I accept it. You can’t win a war against your own mind. It’s too powerful. The mind, I mean. They say that the mind is the most powerful weapon on earth. For whatever reason, that powerful weapon – which was supposed to be an ally – became my enemy. Life is never going to be worth living no matter how hard I pray or how much I hope or how long I live. It just didn’t work out, that’s all. God heard my prayers and the answer was no. Shit happens. Accept it. Well, I do. So all that’s left for me to do now is to finish it.

You’re probably wondering how someone who’s only thirty-two comes to believe that her life is over. Well, it’s easy to do, but it’s kind of hard to explain. Think of it this way: it’s like when the person you’re hopelessly in love with tells you to meet them at the train station at noon. You get there early and you’re full of anticipation and excitement because the one person who’s the center of your whole universe and makes your life worthwhile is coming to be with you. You’re right where you’re supposed to be. It’s all noisy and full of people and you’re thrilled to be there. You count the minutes until noon and each minute feels like an hour. You’re thinking, “As soon as he gets here, it’s all going to be perfect.” You just know it. Finally, noon comes around and he isn’t there. The train arrived right on time, but he isn’t here. You don’t understand it. Where is he? He said he’d be here at noon. It’s noon. He’s not here. Something’s wrong. So you wait. You try to brush it off. You tell yourself that people are late sometimes. It’s no big deal. He’ll be here. So you wait. You wait and you look at your watch and you see that it’s half past noon. You start to worry, but you keep waiting. You tell yourself that sometimes people are late. Then he’s a half hour late. Then he’s an hour late. Then two hours late. Then three. Now you’re really scared. What happened? What went wrong? Where is he? Eventually you look at your watch and it’s midnight and he still hasn’t shown up. There’s no word, no explanation, nothing. Then a few more hours go by. Now you’re really freaking out. You know damned well that people aren’t that late. But you keep waiting. And some time after that, it hits you. You realize it’s the middle of the night and you’re all alone. You look around and the train station is dark and cold and empty, except for you. You’re all alone. Everyone else is gone. It’s quiet. There’s no sound. It’s so big in there and it’s just you. Everything is hard and cold and it hurts. The floors, the walls, the ceiling – they’re all made of stone. Even the chairs hurt to sit in. And there you are. You’re all alone and you’re cold and tired and heartbroken. It hurts so much; you start to cry. You try to stop, but you can’t stop and the harder you try, the worse it gets. Then your thoughts start to race. You wonder what went wrong. Why didn’t he show? Where is he? Doesn’t he love you? Is it your fault? Was it something you did? Something you didn’t do? You don’t understand why this is happening. The train station is so big and empty that every little sound echoes like thunder. And that’s when you realize that the only sounds you hear anymore are your own sounds. The sound of your tears hitting the floor. The sound of your heart breaking. The sound of you dying inside. You’re all alone and all of those sounds that would normally be drowned out by all of the things in a normal life are so loud that they overwhelm you. It’s like they’re screaming at you. It’s like they’re laughing at you. And then you realize the terrible truth: it’s all over. He isn’t coming. Waiting any longer would be useless. You could wait there until sunrise and he still wouldn’t show. The “why” isn’t important. It’s not going to happen. It’s just the way it is.

Finally, there’s nothing else you can do except get up and leave. And believe me, it’s not easy. Walking out of that train station is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. God knows it was for me. Remember: the guy that didn’t show up in this story is just a metaphor for your life. There’s always another guy out there, or so my mom used to tell me when my schoolgirl crushes ended in disaster. But you only get one life. You only get one shot at life. It was my life that didn’t show up. Think about that for a minute: it’s your life and your life isn’t coming. That’s when you realize that this misery you’ve got is all you’re ever going to get, and it sure as hell isn’t worth sticking around for. All of your dreams are gone. You know you’re going to be that lonely, scared, heartbroken girl in that cold and empty train station all alone past midnight forever. You know you’re destined to fail. You’re destined to lose. You’re not going to make it. The sound of your heart breaking is more than you can bear, and from that moment on, you’re destined to hear it every minute of every day for the rest of your life. So that’s when you finally accept it: it’s all over. You lost. Life’s a game and you lost. You lost and now the only thing left to do is to get up and walk out of that train station, and you’re afraid to because you know walking out of there is the last thing you’ll ever do. It’s the last act of your so-called life. But your life is at an end, and you know it, so you get up and start walking. That’s how it happens. That’s how you give up on living. That’s how you rationally decide to kill yourself. Believe me, one night in that train station will do it.

Still, I think about home a lot. Home. The house where I grew up. I wonder if my parents still live there? Maybe they moved? It’s been a long time. I wonder if they’re still there? To be honest, I’ve been thinking about my family a lot lately. Rapidly impending death will do that to you. Do they ever think about me? Do they still worry about me? I imagine they do, but I could be wrong. Maybe they finally just wrote me off? God knows they should. But deep down, I know they didn’t. Not my parents. Not in a million years. When I was a kid, whenever I used to go out at night they’d leave a light on for me so it wouldn’t be dark when I got home. Do they still leave a light on for me, just in case I ever come home? I’d like to think they do. Sometimes I wonder about the last time they saw me. Did they know when they were looking at me that it was the last time they’d ever see me? That it was the last time they’d ever see their only daughter? Did they know that things had reached a point where it was hopeless and I knew that I was going to end up like this? Did they know that from that moment on, I’d always be more dead than alive? Probably not. If they had, then they wouldn’t have let me out of their sight. They’d have chained me to the kitchen sink or something. They’d have done anything to save me. But I didn’t tell them, and that’s really the only way they could’ve known. They couldn’t see it for themselves. Parents are like that. Well, the good ones are. They can’t comprehend the idea that their children are beyond hope. There’s something about being a parent that won’t let you accept that. Your kids can never be hopeless. Sure, some people are hopeless. That’s a fact. But not your kid. That’s impossible. You just can’t accept that. But sometimes they are, and no matter how much you love them, you can’t help them. That probably made my parents feel almost as bad as I do. I never really thought about that before. I can’t imagine what they must’ve been thinking. What they must’ve been going through. I’m sorry I put them through that. I hope they can forgive me someday. I hope they can forgive me for not reaching out to them. And I hope they can forgive me for killing myself.

I hope they didn’t sell the house. That house is the only link I still have to our old neighborhood, even if it exists only in my head. Hey, that’s where most of my life has existed for the last few years. Besides, I’d hate to think that someone else might be living in our house. As far as I’m concerned, it’ll always be our house. My house. Looking back, it was a great place to be a kid; if only I could’ve appreciated it then. One thing I’ve learned over the years: when you’re a kid, you don’t have any idea of just how good you’ve got it. That’s certainly true of me. Our house was a great place. It wasn’t big, but it was all we ever needed. We lived in a nice neighborhood with a lot of really tall trees. It was almost like living in a forest. Well, as close as you could come to living in a forest and still live in the suburbs. I remember the streets didn’t have any curbs. Don’t ask me why, but that kind of stuck in my head. I think it gave my old neighborhood a quality that I can’t really explain. It wasn’t rural, but it seemed more like a place for people to live than a city. It was like the people who built the neighborhood thought of the people and the homes first, and the streets second. That’s how neighborhoods should be. I know it sounds ridiculous to pay so much attention to something so trivial, but hey, I’m crazy, remember? The streets didn’t have any curbs and I liked them that way.

I’d like to think that the whole neighborhood is still the same, but it’s not. I know it’s not. It changed a long time ago. It changed even before I left. For one thing, everyone I knew is gone. Like I said, all of the kids I grew up with moved away before I left home and it was really depressing to walk by their houses and know they didn’t live there anymore. All of the houses looked the same, but that just made it worse. They looked the same as they did when I was little and I spent as much time in them as I did in my own house. When you’re a kid, you always feel as welcome in your friends’ houses as you do in your own. By the time I was about sixteen, that feeling started to disappear. And after everyone was gone, it was downright painful. They still looked inviting, but they weren’t. A lot of times, I didn’t know who was living in them anymore. It made me realize that my neighborhood wasn’t the same and neither was I. I wasn’t a kid anymore. God, how I wished I still was. Youth really is wasted on the young. It’s pretty fucked up when you think about it: when you’re a kid you spend all of your time wishing you were an adult, and then when you grow up, you wish you were a kid again. Why is that? Didn’t you ever wonder?

It wasn’t always that way. Why did kids suddenly stop wanting to be kids? Something changed in America. I think it was in the sixties. Not that I was around then, but I know that before then, things were different. You were allowed to be a kid. No one expected you to act like an adult by the time you were twelve. Something changed that. Suddenly, you were ridiculed if you were a kid and you behaved like one. You had to be cool, and being a kid wasn’t cool. Cool meant trying to be an adult. It meant growing up fast. Too fast. Kids were embarrassed to be kids. They tried to compensate by drinking and smoking and getting laid and doing drugs and ragging on anything that had to do with being a kid. It’s been that way ever since. I know. I’m living proof. My friends and I couldn’t wait to grow up. God, if we only knew then what we know now! The more I think about it, the more I believe that childhood is one of God’s greatest gifts. I wish I knew it back then. But hey, how could I? I was just a kid. I didn’t know any better than the next fucking kid. And it’s too late now. Jesus, what a fucking waste! Anyway, I hope our house is still there and it’s still exactly like I remember it. And I hope mom and dad still leave a light on for me. Just in case.

OK, I need to get going. I can’t sit here and feel sorry for myself. I’ve done enough of that for ten lifetimes. So this night didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. Big deal. Nothing ever did for me. Why should tonight be any different? Come on, there’s plenty more to see. Hey, one thing about this place: there’s always something to see. When you live in the ultimate freak show, there’s seldom a dull moment. Most of the time you have to work at getting away from the excitement. Why would you want to get away from it? Because out here, it can hurt you. Sometimes it can kill you. You need to remember that. When you live out here at night, excitement is usually a disaster that happens to someone else. When it happens to you, it’s anything but exciting.

Oh, here we go! This is going to be good for a laugh. Actually, there’s nothing funny about it, but we laugh at a lot of shit that really isn’t funny. Living on the street really warps your sense of humor. Anyway, see those people crowded together over there on the sidewalk? You’re about to witness a grand tradition out here. It’s sort of like our version of bread and circuses, minus the bread, of course. It’s one of our national pastimes. Come on, I’ll show you. Just whatever you do, hang on to your wallet and don’t believe a fucking word you hear!

OK, watch the asshole standing behind the cardboard box. The one with the cards. No, it’s not a card game. Not hardly. Listen to what he says. You’re watching a goddamned crime in progress.

“Check it out! Check it out! Come on, people! It’s easy! Anyone can play! Anyone can win! Just follow the lovely lady! Find the lady and you’re a winner!”

“Yo! I got a dollar!”

“Make your bet, brother! Make your bet! Find the lady and you’re a winner!”

Yeah, right! More like find the lady and you’re a fucking miracle worker! This is one of the biggest fucking scams out here. It’s the infamous Three Card Monte. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s pretty legendary. And it’s everywhere out here – night and day. It never stops. The guy tossing the cards is a fucking crook, and the people gathered around him are a bunch of fucking suckers. They’re about to get fleeced. Just watch.

“Come on, people! It’s easy! Anyone can do it! Put your money down! Dollar bet! Dollar bet! Find the lady! Win some money! Everyone needs money! You can’t win if you don’t play!”

Yeah, right! Don’t believe a fucking word of it! This shit is more magic trick than card game. You see, the Monte’s a scam where a guy starts tossing around these three cards on a table. We don’t have a lot of tables out here, so they use a big cardboard box. See how the cards are bent in the middle so they’re folded like little Boy Scout tents? That’s so the crook can palm them more easily. One of those cards is a queen. She’s the lady. Find the lady means guess which one of the three cards is the queen. He tosses the three cards from side to side and when he stops, you put your money down and you guess which one is the queen. Sounds easy, right? Bullshit! It’s a total fucking rip off! Those idiots you see crowding around and putting dollar bets on the box? They’re not gambling. They’re being fucking robbed.

“There you go, brother! See? It’s easy! Anyone can do it! You just follow the lady! Follow the lady!”

After almost seven years out here, I know the routine in my sleep. Watch: he’s going to lift up the card that’s the queen and show it to everyone. Isn’t that nice of him?

“Here she is! Here’s the lady! You just follow the lady! Follow the lady and you win! Nothing to it! Nothing to it at all!”

Yeah, right! That’s how he baits the hook. OK, now watch him close. He’ll throw those cards around a couple of times and the queen will be right where you think it is. Hell, he’ll even turn it over to show you how right you are. That’s how he reels you in.

“That one! Right there! Yo, dealer! Right there! She’s the one!”

“Right you are, brother! Pay the winner! You see? You see? Here she is! No problem! It’s easy! Place your bets! Dollar bet! Dollar bet to win!”

All right, here comes the scam. Watch closely. Everyone’s going to bet on the same card because it’s easy to follow the queen. He’ll only throw the cards like three or four times and then have everyone make their choice. It all looks so easy, doesn’t it? Bullshit! Just keep watching. And there it is!

“Oh, too bad! No winner! Nobody got it that time! She’s over here, people! Try again! Try again! You can do it! It’s easy! Just follow the lady!”

Sure they can! OK, now watch him. He’s going to throw the cards a couple of times and the fucking queen is going to be right where you think it is. Then he’s going to turn his back for a second and when he does, some guy in the crowd is going to bend the corner of the queen to make it easy to follow. Sort of like marking it or something. Watch.

“OK, people! Just hang on for a second! I gotta get something over here. Don’t touch the cards, now!”

Did you see it? Did you see that big guy bend the corner of the queen? OK, now watch what happens. He’s going to bet on the bent card twice. And he’ll win both times. Watch.

“Winner! You won, my brother! Take your money. You see? Anyone can do it! It’s easy!”

OK, watch him win one more time. Then the guy throwing the cards is suddenly going to notice the bent corner on the queen.

“You win again, brother! Damn! You’re a lucky man tonight!”

Now watch how the big guy who bent the card gets everyone to bet on that one. Hey, it’s the queen, right? It’s a lock. OK, you see how the guy throwing the cards suddenly saw the bent corner? Watch him try to smooth it out. But it won’t work. Once it’s bent, you can’t get rid of the crease. The card is marked. OK, now see how the big guy who bent the card walked away? Now watch what happens when everybody bets on the bent card.

“Oh, too bad! No winners! No winners this time! Come on, try again! Better luck next time! Anyone can do it! It’s easy! Just follow the lady!”

And there you go! God, this shit is so fucking crooked; it’s almost painful to watch!

“Hey! Here we go! Red-haired girl! Come on up and try your luck! You’re a lucky lady, ain’t you?”

Is he crazy, or just blind and stupid?

“Uh, not really. No thanks.”

“Come on, place a bet! Double your money! Ain’t nothing to it!”

By that, he means there’s nothing to ripping me off. Yeah, that part I get.

“Sorry. I don’t have any money.”

“Someone place a bet for the lady! Come on, people! Someone be a gentleman and bet a dollar for the pretty lady! How about you, brother? Make a bet for the lady!”

“That’s OK. I’ve got to get going. You guys have fun.”

“Oh, don’t go just now! Come on! Someone place a bet for the lady!”

“No, that’s OK. I think you’re doing all right by yourself.”

Talk about the Gospel Truth! He’s doing better than all right. He’ll make at least fifty bucks off of these assholes in less than twenty minutes. He doesn’t need my help to rip them off. Trust me: he’s got it all under control.

Congratulations! You’ve just witnessed the biggest fucking con game out here after Social Services: the fucking Three Card Monte! God, what a rip off! That fucking scam is a goddamned legend out here. Like I said, they play it day and night. Well, I shouldn’t say they play it because it’s not a game. Not even close. It’s a complete fucking cheat and anyone who hasn’t fried their brain to death by sniffing paint ought to know it by now. That shit is everywhere! It’s like a fucking disease. If there’s a flat surface to throw the cards on and a bunch of suckers to fleece out of their last buck; you’ll find some asshole throwing the Monte on skid row. It’s like an immutable law of physics or something: if the elements are present, the Monte is inevitable.

I’d heard about the Monte before, but I never saw it until I got here. You know how I knew that the big guy back there was going to bend the card? It’s because he’s in on it. He’s part of the scam. You see, it’s never just one guy throwing the Monte. Shit, you’d get killed doing that out here. No, it’s always a team effort. They call it a Monte gang. A Monte gang is like three or four guys, and at least one of them is always a big, tough motherfucker in case the shit gets violent. There’s the thrower, the card bender, and at least one other guy in the crowd. He’s the lookout. Remember how I told you about being a lookout? He’s not really looking for the cops. He’s there to watch the crowd to see if they’ve figured out that they’ve been fucked. Sometimes they have to fight their way out. It’s amazing it doesn’t happen more often. There sure are a lot of suckers out here. I mean, you just saw about twenty of them.

One of the weird things about it is that no matter where you go, someone’s throwing the Monte on fucking skid row. I don’t care what city you go to, there’s a group of assholes with three bent cards cheating the living shit out of a bunch of homeless motherfuckers. It’s like you can’t have skid row without that fucking rip-off. You want to know the weirdest thing about it? Everyone I’ve ever met who threw the Monte learned it in the same place: New York City. Wherever they are, they came here from New York. I’m serious. Talk to anyone who throws the Monte and they’ll tell you they learned it in New York City. Times Square. I’m not making that shit up. I’ve talked to at least a dozen Monte guys out here who came from all over the country, and they all told me they learned it in Times Square. That must be the grand college of Three Card Monte or something. It’s where all of the great card cheaters go to learn their trade. Go figure.

How do they manipulate the cards? Well, that’s kind of difficult to explain, because I don’t know how to do sleight of hand. One thing I do know is that the cards aren’t exactly what they seem to be. It looks like it’s just the three cards, but actually the dealer has more than one card in his hand. He has two cards and they look like just one. You see him pick up the queen and it looks like he’s throwing it, but he’s actually throwing the fake card on top of it. Like I said, sleight of hand. I guess a magician invented it. The dealer palms the queen or else he drops it on top of one of the other cards while everyone’s attention is diverted. Then everyone bets on the fake card and when he turns it over, it’s something different. Then there’s another trick called the Mexican Turnover. That’s where the bettors pick the right card and the thrower slips a fake card underneath it. Then when he turns it over, it’s not the queen. Well, it is, but no one can see it. Believe me, these guys are fucking pros. They’d make Houdini proud. Even if you know exactly what you’re looking for, you won’t see it happen. I know. I’ve tried lots of times. Charlie said they sometimes cut the corners off the queen to make it easier to hide the fake card. He showed me a few of the tricks once, but he’s not good enough to go out and do it himself. Besides, he doesn’t like to cheat people. Oh yeah, there’s a whole science behind this crazy fucking scam. It’s mind-boggling. And it works every goddamned time! Take it from me: even Jesus couldn’t beat the Monte.

So why did I tell you about all of that? Hey, you wanted the full skid row experience, right? Well, you can’t have that without the Monte. If you want to understand this place, you have to understand the con games. They’re a huge part of life out here. That actually makes sense, because they’re borne out of desperation. Con games and desperation go hand in hand. Desperate people do desperate things. They’ll grab at anything that’ll make their lives a little better, and who’s more desperate than the people out here? When you’re homeless, having a few bucks in your pocket can mean the whole fucking world to you. That’s what makes you gamble when you can’t afford it. The assholes know this and that’s why they’re out here cheating people. It’s like a captive audience for the cheats. The Monte is the most popular rip-off around. You wouldn’t think it’s such a big deal, but it is. It’s everywhere out here. It’s such a major fucking problem that the vice cops sometimes send undercover guys out into the crowds to bust the assholes who run the damned thing. You should see these people scatter when the cop whips out a badge. It’s like dropping a bucket of water on a bunch of fucking cockroaches. You’ll see fifty different people running in a hundred different directions at once. It’s like something out of an old slapstick comedy. People get trampled, shit goes flying everywhere, everyone’s yelling and screaming at the top of their lungs. And as long as nobody gets hit by a car, it’s fucking hilarious to watch.

Along with the undercover stings, the cops also put these flyers up all over the place in about nine different languages. They all say the same thing: “Hey, asswipe! The Monte isn’t a game! It’s a fucking scam! It’s a cheat! Don’t play the Monte, you stupid motherfucker!” But almost nobody listens. They read them, but they don’t listen. You saw it for yourself. There must’ve been twenty people there betting on that shit. Not one of them has a fucking dime to spare, but there they are, shelling out their last buck on a total con game because they’re stupid or naive or just hopelessly desperate. It’s pathetic. Sometimes you’ll actually see someone throwing the Monte right in front of one of those goddamned police flyers. And you know what? There will still be twenty or thirty people crowded around the box, throwing away their money on that stupid fucking rip-off! Can you believe it? You can’t blame this shit on the drugs. No fucking way. This is a good old-fashioned combination of sheer greed and massive stupidity. And as I recall, those aren’t confined to skid row.

There are other con games out here, too, but they’re different. They involve conning normal people. Hey, we don’t have enough money to make it worthwhile. The Monte works on the homeless because you always get twenty or thirty of them at a time. Even at a dollar a pop, those guys can rake in a hundred bucks in less than an hour on a good night. The other cons are real one-on-one things. For those, you have to hit someone with a lot of money. That’s why they play them over on Meridian Avenue. I think the most popular is one called the Jamaican Switch. Don’t ask me why it’s called that. Somehow, I don’t think it was invented in Jamaica. Anyway, it works like this: you find a person who looks really gullible and looks like they have money. Usually, you head over to Meridian or the big hotels west of there and look for a young guy in a suit. Make sure he doesn’t have a briefcase because that means he’s got somewhere to go and he won’t have time for you. He’ll just tell you to fuck off. Then you put on your best foreign accent and tell them you just got here from some other country. Most people out here say they’re from Venezuela or South Africa or who the fuck knows where else. Then you tell them some insane sob story about how for some inexplicable reason, you need a perfect stranger to hold all of your money. I’m serious. God knows why anyone would be dumb enough to believe that line of shit, but they do. They do it all the time. Anyway, that’s when you hook them. You pull this handkerchief out of your pants and unwrap it. Inside is this huge bundle of money. It’s a roll of bills as thick as a little tree trunk. Only it’s a scam. The top bill is real. You get that one by stealing it from someone else first. But the rest of the roll is just pieces of a magazine cut out to the size of money. It looks pretty fucking real. Then you tell the sucker that you don’t completely trust him or something like that. Then you hit them with the con: you tell them, “Oh, I know! Why don’t you put all of your money in the bundle with mine? Then I’ll give it to you. It’ll be safer that way!” Believe it or not, it works about fifty percent of the time. The sucker puts his money in the bundle. Now you’ve got him. You show him how to hide it in his pants. You put the bundle in your pants, show him how it hides nicely and then pull it out and give it to the guy. You arrange to meet him later. Then you part company.

The trick is that when you put the bundle with the fake bills and his real money in your pants, you pulled out an identical handkerchief with nothing but paper in it and gave it to the guy. The guy thinks you just gave him a wad of money and now he’s free to keep it and rip you off. But you’ve got the bundle with all of his money still stuck in your pants. When the sucker opens the bundle and sees he’s been had, it’s too late. You’re long gone with all of his money. The Jamaican Switch has been around for ages. Did you ever see an old movie called The Sting? They did it in that one. People probably saw it and thought it was just something in the movies, but it’s absolutely real. It happens out here damn near every fucking day. I’m telling you, just walk up and down Meridian for a few hours in the afternoon and you’ll see it. How the hell everyone in the world hasn’t figured it out yet is beyond me, but it works all the time. Christ, I can’t even count how many hysterical suckers have come running up to me, waving the bundle of paper and asking me what they should do. Why they pick me is a mystery. I guess I have a sympathetic face or something. They sure as hell don’t get a sympathetic response from me. I tell them, “Serves you right, motherfucker. Chalk it up to a bad experience. Don’t be so fucking greedy.” That’s about the best I can do for them. Of course, it’s a little late by then. The funniest thing about it is that a couple of assholes actually tried to pull that shit on me. Talk about fucking stupid! I mean, here I am living on the street, a total junkie and filthy as shit, and these stupid motherfuckers are hitting me up as if I’ve got a fucking dime to my name! That just goes to show you how dumb some of these con artists can be. If they’re that stupid, then how stupid do you have to be to fall for it? Jesus fucking Christ!

What else? Oh, people also play the shell game out here. You know, the one with the three shells and the little pea underneath it. That one must be a thousand years old. Some guy in ancient fucking Mesopotamia probably ripped off a bunch of Sumerians with that one. Think of it as the original Three-Card Monte. Nobody uses shells, though. Where the hell would you get shells out here? No, they usually use baby food lids. They’re shallow and easy to manipulate and they have these rounded edges that make it easier to slip the little pea in and out of. I guess you have to steal the baby food to get the lids. Maybe they fish them out of the garbage behind a restaurant or something. I’ve seen quite a few people get taken with that one. It’s strange because you’d think everyone would know by now that it’s a fucking rip-off. Hell, I knew it was a rip-off even before I got here. I saw that one when I was a little kid and my parents took us to a carnival. Speaking of which, you’d be amazed at some of the things I’ve learned about carnivals out here. No, we don’t have carnivals, but we have a few people who used to work in them and they tell me that everything in there is a fucking scam. That’s a shame. I thought they were fun. I guess when you’re a kid, you don’t realize that you’re being ripped off by a bunch of adults at a place that’s supposed to be a lot of fun. Childhood really is bliss.

It’s kind of infuriating when you think about it. Greed, I mean. People let greed make them stupid. There’s so much stupidity in the world. This place is proof of that. There really are a lot of stupid people out here. Maybe it goes with the territory? That could be. But these con games prove that even normal people can be pretty fucking stupid. Sometimes it’s like I can’t tolerate stupidity, but in the end, I’d rather be stupid and normal than smart, crazy and wandering the streets at night. Maybe some people are both? Stupid and crazy, I mean. That doesn’t mean they deserve to be cheated, though. The guys who run these fucking scams like to say they don’t mind cheating stupid people because stupid people don’t realize how much they’ve lost. Bullshit. Everyone who gets cheated knows exactly how much they’ve lost and they all feel as stupid and ashamed about it as anyone else. The only difference is, stupid people are easier to take advantage of and don’t think for a fucking minute that they don’t know it, too. I was really stupid when I first got here and it seemed like everyone just lined up to take advantage of me. I lost damn near everything I had within two weeks. Some of it got stolen, but I got tricked out of a lot of things, too. I can’t begin to tell you how stupid it made me feel. Fuck! I hate fucking cheats! I’ve got more respect for an armed robber than a fucking cheat! Someone sticks a fucking cannon in your face and says, “Hand over the cash or I’ll blast you!” Well, you don’t feel like a fool for doing it. But cheating people is just mean. There’s better ways to make a few bucks out here. But cheats are everywhere out here. Try as you may, you can’t avoid them. And you can’t avoid falling for them, either. Sooner or later, you’ll let your guard down and they’ll get you. They always get you. And in the end, it isn’t about being smart or dumb. It’s just about being a victim. That’s something I know a lot about. So step right up and place your bets, suckers. There’s a victim every time. Yeah, you’d better believe it.

Let’s see, where are we? Oh, this block is a major dope spot around here. A lot of shit happens here, and most of it is seriously fucked up. We’ve really covered some ground already. Christ, would you look at this place! Knowing that I’m going to die tonight really makes it all hit home. You know, “This is your life, Miranda. You went from the perfect childhood to a fucked-up adolescence to a total fucking disaster in just over thirty years. Everything in your life was leading up to this and you didn’t have a fucking clue. And now you’re going to die here. This fucking place is the last word on your life. Way to go, you stupid fucking bitch!” It really hurts. I mean, how the fuck did I miss it? How did I miss the signs? How did I not see this coming and just kill myself before I ever got here? God, if I’d only known then what I know now. I would’ve ended it before I ever made it past twenty. Think of all the pain I would’ve been spared. Think of all the pain I would’ve spared everyone else. It’s just…it’s not fair. No one should end up like this. No one deserves this. Not even the devil. I don’t care how fucked up you are; there should be a place for everyone. A decent place. You don’t need a mansion or a perfect life or anything. You don’t deserve the world on a silver platter. But you deserve the basics. You deserve to matter. Everyone should matter. That’s important. When I think about how much goes into a human life, I can’t stand the idea that so many people just fall off the face of the world and it doesn’t mean shit. It makes me want to scream! I mean, people shouldn’t be expendable. And that’s exactly what we are out here: we’re expendable. We’re disposable. We’re meaningless. We’re the ones the world can do without and it doesn’t make a fucking difference. I wish I could just accept that. I wish I could be one of those hard-as-nails motherfuckers who honestly doesn’t give a fuck about anyone or anything. I try to be. Believe me, I’ve gone out of my way to be the nastiest bitch on God’s green earth, but I can’t seem to pull it off for more than a few minutes. Then the old Miranda creeps back and I feel lower than shit because of it. Insanity won’t let the old me die. It forces the old me to torture the present me without end. It keeps just enough of the old me alive inside my head to make everything a million times worse. Like I said before, there’s nothing worse than being crazy and knowing it. There’s nothing worse than knowing just how far you’ve fallen. And there’s nothing worse than not being able to let go of it all. That’s why I can’t go back. That’s why I can’t go back to living on the streets. I had a brief respite for a while, even though I never really left. It’s weird when you think about it: sometimes that SRO felt like paradise, but other times? Sitting alone in that little room was ten times scarier than being out here. Don’t ask me why. I can’t explain it. It just was. But having a roof over my head one last time gave me just enough strength to see the truth and decide to finally finish it. I think it was God’s idea. I think God gave it to me just to help me make up my mind not to let it go on any longer. I think he wanted to show me that no matter what happens, this is where I belong. As long as I’m alive, this is it. OK, then. I got the message. God, please just give me the strength to get through this night and do what I have to do when it’s over. It’s funny, I really thought it was going to be so easy. I guess I was wrong about that, just like everything else. But I’m still going to do it. So help me God, I’m going to do it. There’s no going back. It all ends tonight.

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