Now what do we have here? No, look up. Up there, on the fire escape. Always check the high ground out here. Especially at night. So who the hell is that sitting up there? I thought I was the only one who ever went up there. It’s a bit of a climb. Most people won’t bother with it, which is why I do it. It looks like…oh, it’s Walt. Jesus, I’m running into all of the old crowd tonight! Walt’s been out here almost as long as me. He got here really young. I think he was like, maybe twenty when he wound up on skid row? Something like that. He and I are kindred spirits, of a sort. By that, I mean we both got fucked by mental illness. His is a lot worse than mine. He’s bipolar – big time! When he gets on one of his “episodes,” look out! He just loses it. That’s why he’s on the street. They kicked him out of the army for it. He didn’t know he had it when he enlisted. He said he thought there was something wrong with him, but he thought it was no big deal and that a little army discipline was just the thing for it. Poor guy. All of a sudden it kicked into overdrive and boom! He just lost it. They threw him in a hospital and the doctor said he was bipolar. Just like that. Sorry, kid. You’re fucked. You’re out of here. Kiss your life goodbye. I guess I can’t blame them. I mean, we’re talking about the fucking army. Even I know that machine guns and mental illness don’t mix. Too bad. He said he really liked it in the army. I talk to him sometimes when he’s lucid, which isn’t very often anymore. That’s a shame. He’s kind of a nice guy when he takes his medication, but he’s a fucking terror when he doesn’t. He’s not violent or anything, but he’s a fucking human train wreck. It’s like trying to stand next to a tornado or something. He loses all touch with reality. That’s what the pills are supposed to prevent. He gets his anti-psycho medicine free from the clinic. Your tax dollars at work again! Anything to keep the loonies in line, I guess. Too bad you can’t get high off of that shit. He told me those medicines have a shitload of nasty side effects and that’s why he stops taking them. Personally, I think he just looks around and says, “Why the fuck not? What the hell am I saving myself for?” I can relate to that. It’s funny. I never really thought about it before, but I can relate to Walt, too. I’m not saying I know what he’s going through, but I’ll bet we’ve both thought a lot of the same thoughts over the years. We’ve certainly traveled a lot of the same roads. You see, we were both betrayed by our own brains. I guess that makes us birds of a feather. So what the hell is he doing up there? I didn’t think he liked heights. He’s usually hanging out near the tile diner, talking to himself. He scares the living shit out of the people eating there when he does that. That’s understandable. He’s had some hellacious arguments with himself in front of that place. The owner’s chased him off with a two-by-four at least a hundred times. He’s whacked him with it, too. I’ve helped patch him up afterwards. He’s not exactly tinfoil hat brigade material, but he’s damn close. Still, this is kind of weird. He’s always a pretty animated guy, but right now, he’s not moving at all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him just sit still like that for so long. Something’s definitely wrong.
“Hey, Walt! What are you doing up there?”
He’s not answering. That’s not good. I hope it doesn’t mean he’s about to go psycho.
“Hey, Walt! Down here! It’s me, Miranda! Are you OK?”
He definitely doesn’t look right. But it’s not his medicine. Believe me, I know. If he wasn’t taking his medication, he’d be bouncing off of the fucking walls right now. No, he’s got the thousand-yard stare. That’s not like him. Something’s definitely wrong with him.
“What’s wrong, Walt? You’re not looking too good.”
“Huh? Oh, hey, Miranda. Sorry. I didn’t see you down there.”
“You look like you’re lost in space. Are you OK?”
“No, I ain’t doing too good.”
“What’s the matter?”
“What ain’t the matter?”
OK, fair enough. But I still want to know what’s got him so fucked up right now.
“Come on, Walt! What the fuck’s wrong? You know you can tell me.”
“It’s all fucked up. It’s just all fucked up.”
Great. That describes everyone and everything out here. It doesn’t exactly narrow it down.
“Hey, Walt? Drop the ladder and I’ll come up there.”
“Yeah! I fucked up my ankle. I’m not climbing up the side. Come on, drop the ladder.”
“Yeah. Sure. Whatever. Come on up.”
I hope I can climb this fucking ladder with my ankle in a brace. This probably isn’t a good idea, but it’s the last time I’ll ever see him, so why the fuck not? OK, I’m up. God, he looks worse from up close than he did from down there!
“Scoot over, Walt. I need to sit down.”
“You don’t look so good yourself, Miranda. Didn’t look like you were gonna make it for a minute.”
“Yeah, my ankle’s killing me.”
“What’s that thing on it?”
“A brace. The guys at the firehouse patched me up.”
“How’d you hurt it?”
“By being a fucking idiot. Here, help me pull this thing back up.”
“Because I don’t want anyone suddenly joining us, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, yeah. You’re always careful about that shit, aren’t you?”
I don’t like the way he sounds. His answers are really short. On or off of his medication, Walt’s usually a talker. Right now, he sounds almost like a robot. Something’s got to be wrong. Of course, with him being bipolar, you can never be sure. Oh, what’s the difference? It’s like I said before: the effect is real even if the cause isn’t. And it’s the effect that kills you, even if there is no cause.
“What’s wrong, Walt? You look like hell! Jesus, you look like you lost twenty pounds!”
“That don’t matter. The shit’s over.”
“Look, I don’t have time to play twenty questions with you. If you don’t want to tell me what’s…”
“I’m dying. That’s what’s wrong.”
OK, I didn’t see that one coming. I think he needs to go back on the medicine, if you know what I mean.
“Sure you are.”
“No, it’s true. I’m dying. It’s official.”
Oh, come on! He’s got to be kidding! Either that, or he hasn’t completely returned form one of his bipolar excursions, if you know what I mean.
“OK, fine. I’ll play along. How come you’re dying, Walt?”
“I’m sick. I got the big ‘A.’”
What? Is he fucking serious? He’s got AIDS? How? He’s not even a junkie! And I don’t imagine he gets laid very often out here.
“Are you fucking with me? Because if you are, it’s not funny!”
“I wish. But I’m not.”
Oh, my God! He’s not delusional! And he’s not making this shit up! He’s fucking serious!
“Jesus! Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. The doctor at the clinic said so. Told me this morning. He even got another doctor to look at it. He said the same thing as the first guy: I’m fucked.”
“I was getting these pains in my side, right here. Then I got pains over here, in my chest. Didn’t think much about it ’till they started getting pretty bad. I had these black and blue marks. I don’t know how, seeing as I ain’t got my ass kicked or anything. A couple weeks ago, I was at the clinic to get my pills, so I got it looked at. Didn’t think it’d be anything, but they said there was a bunch of shit going wrong all at once, and that wasn’t normal. I didn’t know what they meant. They just said it wasn’t supposed to be like that, so they took a blood test. Shit, they took a lot of tests. Then they said I needed to come back in a week or two, so I went back there today and they said it was AIDS. Terminal. Too late for the drugs. Too late for everything.”
“There’s nothing they can do?”
“Nope. They said it ain’t even HIV. It’s the full-blown AIDS. My shit ain’t working right no more. None of it. Heart, kidneys, blood, and who the fuck knows what else. There ain’t nothing they can do. I’m fucked.”
Oh, my God. Christ! How did it get him that fast? That shit is supposed to take years to kill you! And how the hell did he get it in the first place?
“How’d you…you know…how the fuck did you…”
“How’d I get it? Not in the ass, if that’s what you mean. No, it was a needle.”
“Needle? Since when the fuck are you a junkie?”
“Then what the fuck are you doing with…”
“It was meth.”
“Meth? You were shooting meth? Since when? You don’t even smoke that shit!”
“I know. The pills thrashed me out. I didn’t have the strength to do shit anymore. The meth kept me going.”
Christ! I didn’t even know he was shooting that shit! I had no idea! I guess I didn’t know a lot of things.
“What? You mean, how long have I got?”
“Yeah, did they tell you? Did they give you any idea?”
“Yeah, they told me, all right. They said I got a couple months. Maybe less; maybe more. They ain’t really sure about the ‘when.’ But they’re damn sure about the ‘what.’ That’s doctors for you.”
“Jesus, I’m sorry, Walt.”
I can’t believe I just said that. Maybe it’s just a natural reaction: something left over from my old life. The God’s honest truth is, I’m fucking jealous of him. Terminal AIDS would’ve solved all my problems by now. If you ask me, he’s the lucky one.
“So they told you this morning?”
“Yep. Bright and early.”
“And you’ve just been sitting up here since then?”
“Sitting and thinking. There’s not much else to do, is there?”
“Jesus, Walt. I don’t know what to tell you.”
“How about goodbye?”
That’s a pretty good idea. I guess calling him a lucky bastard would be inappropriate. Besides, he wouldn’t understand. To tell you the truth, I don’t even know if he’s lucid right now. Finding out you’re dying of AIDS before you’re thirty is a pretty good reason to go off of your fucking psycho medicine and just let the madness take over.
“Are you still taking your pills?”
“What? You think I’m imagining all this?”
“To be honest, I was kind of hoping you were.”
“Nope. I’m clear as a bell. Still on the pills. I figured I’d better stay clear while I think it through. I thought it might help.”
“Not really. I’m starting to think it just makes it worse.”
I can believe that. I decided not to slam one last time for the same reason. I figured I’d need a hundred percent of what’s left of my brain to handle my impending death. So far it hasn’t helped.
“Hey, Miranda? Do you believe in God?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I do.”
“I said why? Why do you believe?”
That’s a damned good question. I wish I had a damned good answer to go with it.
“I don’t know. I guess because it’s how I was raised.”
“No, not really. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to him. And even though he never answered me, I always had this feeling like he was listening. It’s a pretty strong feeling. So he has to be real in order to be listening, right?”
“But if he never answered you? Not even once?”
“Well, he’s probably got better people to talk to than me. I don’t know. I just believe there’s a lot more to it that this shit. There’s got to be something more. There’s got to be a reason, you know what I mean? All of this shit…I just…it can’t just be a fucking accident. No way. Someone’s got to be pulling the strings.”
“But you don’t know for sure, right?”
I know exactly where this is going. This is a pretty common discussion out here. You’d be amazed.
“Walt, you’re mixing up knowing and believing. You can’t believe in something you know.”
“Because once you know something; you know it. It’s not a question of faith anymore. Believing is when you don’t know or can’t know, but you believe in it anyway.”
“That don’t make sense, does it?”
“It’s not about making sense. Look around you. Does any of this shit make sense? Does it make sense that we’re sitting here in the middle of the night in the most fucked-up place on earth, talking about this existential shit?”
“I guess not.”
Well, look at that! I actually got a smile out of him! That’s something, at least. Maybe a little of Charlie’s insight can help him out? It always helped me.
“Charlie once told me that you believe what you believe whether you want to or not. He says it’s like forcing yourself to eat something you hate and like it. You can make yourself eat anything, but you can’t make yourself like it. Even if you want to like it, it doesn’t matter. You either do or you don’t. You don’t have any say in it. And there’s no rhyme or reason to the ‘why.’ Why do you like peas and hate carrots? Who knows? You just do. Logic’s got nothing to do with it.”
“You might learn to like them.”
“True, but even then, you don’t have any say in it. Maybe you will; maybe you won’t. But you can’t make it happen. You can’t force it. It’s the same with faith. You either have it or you don’t. You can’t grow it, you can’t buy it, and you can’t borrow it.”
“And you’ve got it?”
“I don’t know. I’ve got something, but sometimes I think I don’t think it’s enough to make it work. My faith’s taken a hell of a beating over the years.”
“Just like everyone else out here.”
Yeah, facing certain death makes you think about faith and God and shit like that. Hey, that’s most of what I’ve been talking about tonight. Why should Walt be any different? And I don’t think he wants to die. It must be a lot worse for him.
“Tell me about it. You know something, Walt? I really wish it was stronger. I wish I was a true believer like the holy rollers down at the revival.”
“But you’re not?”
“No. Honestly, I don’t know what the hell I believe anymore. I wish I knew for sure. I’d give anything for a burning bush or choir of angels or something. Anything. Just give me one unmistakable sign from God. Just one. I’d trade believing for knowing any day of the week. Even if that’s not what God wants.”
“He don’t want you to know?”
“No, he made that pretty clear in the bible. He doesn’t give a shit about what you know. Why should he? He knows everything. He only cares about what you believe. He doesn’t want people to know for sure. If he did, he’d let everybody know. But then what good would faith be? Anyone can know something. Not everyone has faith. Maybe that’s how God picks his people? I guess we’ll find out.”
“You think he’ll pick us?”
“I sure as hell hope so.”
“I never thought about it until today. I never gave it two seconds’ thought. Now the shit scares me.”
Yeah, I can relate, my friend. I’m scared shitless, too. Impending death has a way of doing that to you. You come to realize that there a lot more reasons why you should go to hell than to heaven. That definitely sucks.
“Miranda? Tell me it’s all going to be OK, would you?”
“I think it will. Everybody dies. Some of us sooner than others, that’s all.”
“Yeah, but what happens after that?”
“That’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question. I don’t know. I just know what I’ve heard.”
“I’m afraid of what comes next.”
“Oh, sure. I’m Catholic. I’ve heard too many stories about hell and damnation. I think about it all the time; especially since I wound up on the street. It scares the living shit out of me. Sometimes I can’t stop thinking about it.”
“So what do you do about it?”
“I hope. I pray. I wish. Sometimes I even beg. God is going to do what he’s going to do and there’s not a damned thing I can do about it. All I can do is say I’m sorry and ask for mercy. Maybe I’ll get it? Maybe I won’t? It’s his call. Someday I’ll find out which.”
“So you’re scared about it, too?”
“More than you could ever believe.”
“I guess we’ve got something else in common, then.”
“Birds of a feather, Walt.”
Now I understand why he’s up here. It’s not just that he’s depressed about getting the bad news. No, it’s a lot more than that. He’s waiting to die. Oh, it won’t happen in the next ten minutes, but he’s hoping it will. He’s up here wishing he could just rust away into nothing, just like this fire escape. I know. I’ve done it a million times myself. Too bad it doesn’t work that way.
“Hey, did they give you any medicine or anything? Something to help, at least?”
“They gave me some pills for the pain. Strong stuff, too. Not the usual chickenshit stuff.”
“Is the pain bad?”
“Sometimes, but not so much. Not yet. They said it’d get a lot worse.”
“Well, don’t sell them, OK? It sounds like you’re going to need them.”
“Do you know what you’re going to do?”
“I’m going to sit here and think.”
“For how long?”
“I don’t know. For the rest of my life?”
Yeah, I know exactly what he’s feeling. I’ve been there plenty of times myself. It’s a bad fucking place. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Oh, Jesus! He’s crying! I swear to God, I’ve never seen him cry! Not even once! He’s more scared than I thought! What the fuck do I do? I can’t cure him. I can’t help him. I don’t know what the fuck to do! I guess I should just hug him. It probably won’t do much, but what the fuck else can I do?
“It’s OK, Walt. I know it hurts. I wish there was something I could do.”
Wait a minute! Maybe there is something I can do for him? It’s not much, but it might make a big difference for him.
“Look, it’s getting really cold tonight. It’s going to get colder. Hell, it might even rain. Maybe you should find someplace to crash for the night?”
“I’m glad you asked. Hey, Walt? When’s the last time you slept in a real bed?”
“Does jail count?”
“No! I mean a real fucking bed!”
“Shit, maybe…oh, two years ago? I got a cot at the YMCA for a night. You remember that real cold spell we had?”
“I remember it. Listen, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you take these?”
“They’re the keys to my room at the SRO. It’s the one on Vester. You know that one, right?”
“Yeah, I know it.”
“Good. Now, this one opens the front door and this one opens the room. Second floor, all the way at the end on the left. Number twenty-six. Go stay there tonight. You’ll have to be out by noon tomorrow, but at least you can get a good night’s sleep. Stay the fuck out of the rain.”
“What about you? This is your place.”
“I won’t be needing it anymore.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean I won’t be needing it anymore. Don’t ask any questions. Just take it. Go. Get yourself a decent night’s sleep. At least one of us should.”
“You mean it?”
“Yeah, go on. Get out of here. Go get warm. There’s even a shower at the end of the hall if you want to get cleaned up.”
“Thanks, Miranda. That’s real nice of you.”
“You’re welcome. I’m really sorry to hear about…you know.”
“Yeah, me, too. You take care of yourself.”
“You, too. I’ll tell you what: I’ll say a prayer for you.”
“Do you think it’ll help?”
“I don’t know. But it can’t hurt.”
Hey, assuming my faith hasn’t been a big fucking mistake, I can deliver that prayer in person. Maybe that’ll have more of an effect? At least I’ll know I’ve got God’s attention. Shit, I’ll be standing right in front of him.
Christ, I’m beginning to think I should call this fucking night “The Night of a Thousand Blindsides!” I keep running into shit I never saw coming! I sure as hell didn’t see that one coming! I mean, on the one hand, it’s nothing unusual. Not hardly. There are a lot of people out here with AIDS and hepatitis and God knows what other terminal shit. All sorts of fatal diseases. Sometimes I think that on any given day, half of us are dying of something. And now Walt’s one of them. I guess he’s going through a lot of the same shit as me. He’s definitely asking the same questions. He’s wrestling with the same issues. And apparently, he’s just as scared of it as I am. God only knows how being bipolar affects how you deal with death. I wonder if he’ll stay on his pills? His bipolar pills, I mean. He might decide that if he’s dying, then what’s the fucking point? I really hope he doesn’t do that. Like I said, I’ve seen him when he’s not taking the medicine. He’s a fucking mess. I’ve seen him in alleys, screaming at the bricks. Sometimes he goes ape shit and runs up and down the street, fucking with people. He doesn’t usually hurt anyone, but he scares the shit out of them. Then the cops come and light him up good. I’ll bet he’s been shot with a fucking Taser more times than anyone on earth. He ends up in the psycho ward for a few days while they put him back on his medicine. They start with shots and transition to pills. Then they dump his ass right back here and in a month or two, the whole goddamned cycle repeats itself. Talk about being cursed! Have mercy on him, God. If you’re going to take him, please make it quick and painless. Give him a break. Let him into heaven. He was fucked over in this life. Please don’t fuck him over in the next. He’s earned it. We’ve all earned it, haven’t we? It’s like Charlie says: we’ve earned a ticket to heaven because we’ve done our time in hell. That’s true, isn’t it? I mean, a few years in this shit ought to be worth a ticket to heaven. It’s the ultimate penance. Don’t you think so?
You want to hear something really crazy? In my entire life, I’ve never thought about what it would be like to face death and not want to die. It’s true. I don’t know if I’ve ever said to myself, “I want to live.” I’ve wanted to be dead since I was fifteen. Maybe even before that, but by then, I was certain. That’s when I started to realize that I wasn’t going to get any better and I’d probably get a lot worse. But knowing you’re going to die when you don’t want to? Holy Jesus! I never really thought about that. What does that even feel like? Walt must be going out of his fucking mind! He’s only about…what? Twenty-seven? At most? That’s pretty damned young. And now he’s got AIDS. Christ! Hasn’t he been fucked over enough? First he’s bipolar, then they kick him out of the army, which is the only thing he ever wanted to do. Then he’s out on the fucking street, he’s living on skid fucking row, and now this shit! If it were me, I’d be down on my knees, thanking God for giving me a guaranteed way out. But Walt’s not me. He doesn’t want to die. Think of what he must be going through. He must think God hates him more than anyone in the world. I know what that’s like. There’ve been times when I was pretty sure God hated me that much. But right now, Walt must think it’s a fucking lock. I completely understand why he’s been sitting up there since he got the news. When life breaks you, you can’t do anything. It literally immobilizes you. It paralyzes you. You just plop your ass down somewhere and you don’t move. It’s like you’re not even sure if you can move. That part of your brain just stops taking calls for a while. Shit, you might not even move if it starts raining! I honestly think he might’ve stayed up there until he dropped dead. I would have, if I were in his place. That’s why I gave him the room. He needed a break and it was the best I could do. Hey, I’m not using it. It’s just sitting there. Somebody ought to enjoy it tonight, right? Walt just took a major fucking hit, and having a fucked-up brain makes it a whole lot worse. He deserves a night out of the shit. Besides, I was kind of hedging my bets. I was thinking that maybe giving him my room will buy me a few points with God? It’s selfish, but who cares? I’m running out of time. I’ve got to bank all of the divine good will I can get.
I know you won’t believe this, but people out here have conversations like that all the time. Religion and philosophy and the meaning of existence are big topics of discussion for the people of the night. That’s to be expected. A lot of people out here go through life with one foot in this world and the other one in the next, so it’s only natural that we’d talk about it. You’d be amazed how deep these discussions can get. Most people probably think we’re all either so crazy or so stoned that we can’t string together five sentences or use words with more than three syllables, but it’s not true. What we lack in formal education, we make up for in experience, and I’m talking about experience and insight that you just can’t get anywhere else. Experience and insight make you think whether you want to or not. When your life falls apart and you end up on the fringes, you think about the big questions. It’s inevitable. You may not be a seminarian, but you end up with some pretty good insights into life, faith, and existence. It’s sort of a weird contradiction: life out here takes a lot out of your mind, but it puts a lot into it, too. It gives you a vastly different perspective than most people will ever get. Your priorities shift. You see what other people never see. Your mind makes connections that other people miss. The “why” becomes every bit as important as the “how.” It’s hard to explain. Life becomes very immediate out here. That’s the best way I can put it. That’s important. You don’t get bogged down in thinking about twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years from now. As far as you’re concerned, none of that shit even exists. The future is never more than five feet and five minutes in front of you, and the past is the blade you feel pressing against your back, no matter how fast you run from it. The result is that you become immersed in every minute of every hour of every day. Everything in the world is happening to you right now. You can’t avoid it by putting it off until tomorrow or next week or something. Living like that really amplifies things. It gives all of the things in your life a gravitas that they otherwise would never have. An immediate life is a very serious life. There’s nothing trivial about it anymore. There’s nothing frivolous. Every decision you make has major implications. You live or die by what you do or don’t do. You suffer or you’re spared based on choices you have to make in all of five seconds. The ramifications of your decisions and actions don’t take years to catch up to you. Most of them don’t even take days. They take hours, minutes, or maybe seconds. You’ll pay for them pretty damned quick. Some people call that “living in the now.” It sounds very trendy. It sounds empowering. It sounds good. Trust me, it isn’t. While I don’t call this “living,” I definitely agree with the “now” part of it. And it’s the “now” part that takes a hell of a fucking toll on you. People weren’t made to live like this. The human mind wasn’t designed to think like this. We do it because we have to. We adapt to it. Life out here demands it, and we pay the price for it. The price of adaptation is madness. The curse of madness is insightfulness. The labor of insightfulness is inquisitiveness. You’re driven to ask questions. The lack of answers just adds to the madness and in turn gives rise to despair, and despair is what keeps the cycle going. This is the private hell of a mind broken, but not broken enough. In the end, it all forces you think about the big picture. It forces you to ask those profound and ancient questions that have bedeviled the human race since Adam and Eve took that first step out of Eden. It doesn’t matter whether you want to think about them or not. The invisible structure of our nighttime universe makes you think about them. It makes you ask the questions that you know have no answers. When I told Joel that there were a lot of smart people out here, well, this is what I was talking about. Our world forces everyone who can still think to become a philosopher. Perhaps that’s overstating it a bit. The word “philosopher” means “one who loves wisdom.” That doesn’t really apply out here, particularly at night. That’s because you may not love wisdom – hell, you may not even be acquainted with it – but you’ll definitely think about the big picture in some very profound ways. It’s inescapable. And you’ll be amazed by what you come up with. It’ll scare the hell out of you, too.
Well, that was pretty profound, wasn’t it? It should be. I’ve read a lot of books on religion and philosophy and things like that. Some of it I read even before I met Charlie. And I’ve had plenty of debates on it since I wound up out here. Well, I call them debates. Most people would call them stupid arguments. To each her own. Yeah, we love to talk about God and religion and the big questions. Beyond the motivations brought on by total failure and misery, it makes us feel important. Everybody likes to feel important. It makes us feel like we’re actually serving a purpose. We’re not just a bunch of fucking parasites. We’re great thinkers. We’re debating the mysteries of the universe. We’re exploring the foundations of existence in this and every other reality. We’re redrawing the lines between the actual and the conceptual; the effect of the observer on that which she passively observes and yet she is an essential element of the whole by reason of her presence and awareness. Most people are too busy with jobs and families and mortgages to do that anymore, so we do it for them. So you see, we’re actually the custodians of the grand discourses; the rightful heirs to Socrates and Plato and Siddhartha and Thomas Aquinas. Bullshit! We just do it to take our minds off of who and what we really are. But some of us actually believe it. Hey, what do you expect? We’re drunk, stoned, crazy and homeless. We’ll believe damn near anything. We have to. Most of us can’t bear the alternative.
As much as we love to debate the mysteries of the universe and the foundations of existence – both physical and metaphysical – most people out here restrict their debates to more mundane fare. That’s a fancy way of saying people around here argue endlessly about sports. You heard me: sports. Lord, do we have some major fucking blowouts over sports! I know people who couldn’t care less if they get robbed or beat to shit or even thrown in jail for fifty years, but if their team loses or their favorite player misses the ball or something, it’s like the end of the fucking world! It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It is! Hey, we have our own set of priorities out here. They won’t make a damned bit of sense to you, but somehow they work for us. You come to realize this the first time you see a crackhead crawling down the middle of a busy street on his hands and knees, dodging oncoming traffic while he looks for a two-dollar rock that fell out of his pipe. Sometimes they actually find it a second or two before they get hit by a car. What can I tell you? Weird people; weird priorities. Sports just happens to be one of them.
My question is: how the fuck is that even possible? I know a lot of people like sports and talk about them all the time, but who the hell out here can keep track of that shit? I mean, we don’t have TVs or radios and we sure as hell don’t have season tickets. And most people out here are too fucking stoned or drunk to actually read yesterday’s newspaper thrown into a garbage can. So how the fuck do they know what’s going on? You’d think that for a bunch of asshole homeless dregs, who won the big game or the playoffs or the what-the-fuck cup would be of damned little importance. Boy, would you be wrong! People out here go fucking nuts over that shit! And even without the TVs and the radios and the box seats, they all seem to know every fucking thing about their favorite teams. They even know all of the stats about their favorite players. They’ll get into a goddamned screaming match over whether so-and-so had fifteen rebounds or sixteen. They’ll beat each other senseless over whether the last pitch was a curve ball or a slider. I’m sorry, but I do not fucking get it at all! I kind of understand being a sports fan, but living and dying for that shit escapes me. These people are living on the fucking street! They don’t even know if they’ll live through the night, and all they care about is who won the big game that they didn’t even get to see? It’s insane! How the fuck can anyone get so worked up over a game that they don’t even get to play? When somebody’s favorite team blows a game, the way they react? Shit, you’d think they were the fucking quarterback or something! And God help us all if the favorite team doesn’t make the playoffs! I kid you not: when that shit happens, people out here act like a mother who just lost her baby! How the hell do they even know? The only newspapers we get are scraps that we use to wipe our asses with. But somehow or other, they do. They know everything there is to know about their favorite teams. Go figure.
Now that I think about it, maybe we should have our own team? Then these people would get to play and it would make sense when they all go fucking ape shit over a loss. There you go! We could call ourselves something cool like the Skid Row Slashers or something. We wouldn’t get paid, though. Maybe we could get paid in dope? Why not? That would make it all worthwhile. Who would we play? We could play the homeless psychos from other skid rows. No, that probably wouldn’t work. How would we get to the away games? Maybe we could play the cops? Yeah, right. Only if we were holding gladiator games. I’ll bet people would pay to see that. There wouldn’t be any shortage of volunteers, at least on our side. But I’m pretty sure that fighting to the death is illegal. So what would we play? What game? I don’t know. I just know I wouldn’t play. I’m not very athletic. I’m not graceful enough. I never was. So we’d play something and we’d play for dope and we’d only play at night. We’d call our Super Bowl the Psycho Bowl. That would be fitting. And I wouldn’t play because I’m no good. Maybe I could be a cheerleader? Hey, look at that! Fifteen years after I got out of high school and I finally make the fucking cheerleading squad. Miranda the cheerleader. Go team go!
It’s a bit of a walk over to the Big Lot from here, but I have to…oh, shit! Not good! This is what happens when I don’t pay attention to where I’m going! This is definitely not good! I didn’t want to come this way. I’d better try doubling back. I try to avoid this street whenever I can. At least, I try to avoid these three blocks of it. This is a pretty big spot for the working girls. That’s a nice way of saying whores. The girls turn tricks in cars or sometimes in the bushes over there behind that brick building. I don’t like coming here because I usually get hit up for a fuck. You know, if you’re a woman and you’re here, then you must be a whore. That’s what most people around here think. Not only that, but the working girls on this block can be pretty fucking vicious. They don’t take kindly to newcomers. They carry box cutters, and those razor blades will definitely do a number on you. Razor cuts are bad. If they’re deep, they close up on the surface really fast and you bleed internally. You think you’re OK and then you suddenly keel over because you’re actually bleeding to death. It’s a hell of a way to die. No, thank you. That’s not the way I want to check out.
I’ve often thought about what it would be like to be a whore. Hey, don’t be so shocked. If you’re a woman out here, you have to at least think about it. Like I told you before, there were times when I thought it was inevitable. Me being a whore, I mean. I guess I shouldn’t call them that. It’s degrading enough to have to sell your body to any asshole with a few bucks to spend without having people like me rub salt in the wound. I shouldn’t add to it by ragging on them like that. I’ll try to call them prostitutes. At least it sounds more professional. Anyway, as you might imagine, a lot of women out here wind up turning tricks. So I thought to myself: why should I be any different? There were a few times when I used to think it was the only way I’d be able to make money. Thank God I had those SSI checks for as long as I did. I might have ended up right here if I didn’t. I used to think maybe I could handle it; you know, given my old take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward sex. But it wasn’t long before I realized that there’s a lot more to being a prostitute than just getting fucked. Letting some fucking slob run his tongue all over you while he jams his dick in you can’t be an easy thing to deal with. I used to imagine trying to lie there with my eyes closed and just wishing it was over. Anymore, I can’t even bring myself to think about it. Renting out your body to some fucking pig turns sex into an act of degradation. It’s more…well, let’s just say it’s more degrading than you might imagine. And that’s just the beginning. Christ, you might even get pregnant; though between all the dope I’ve done over the years and this filthy environment, I’m probably sterile. It would be a hell of a way to find out I’m wrong, though. Women out here get VD and hepatitis and shit like that all the time. Every time I’ve been down to the clinic, there’s at least one woman in there getting treated for some form of VD. And you’re almost certain to get AIDS. More than a few women out here already have it, and to hear them talk, that’s how they got it. None of these assholes ever uses a condom, even though they’re free. I guess they think it’s too much trouble. And it’s not like the women can insist on it. You become a prostitute because you need the money; not because you want to. If you tell someone you won’t fuck him unless he wears a condom and he doesn’t want to, he’ll take his business somewhere else. Either that, or he’ll just beat the shit out of you and rape you. Either way, you’ll have to give in. The result’s always the same.
I think the worst part is that a prostitute doesn’t have a shred of control over her own body. That’s because it’s not really hers anymore. Oh, maybe it’s different for a high-priced call girl in the Emerald City, but not out here. This place is brutal. It takes, and it sure as hell doesn’t respect. Once you become a prostitute, your body is nothing more than a commodity. It’s a fucking piece of meat. It’s for rent to anyone with cash. That’s how it works, isn’t it? They give you some money and you give them your body. You get to do whatever you want with the money and they get to do whatever they want with you. It’s a fucking devil’s bargain. It’s like selling your soul. It is selling your soul. And if you suddenly decide won’t sell it, then they’ll just take it from you. It’s like your refusal is a license to steal. A license to rape. A license to kill. So you have to do whatever they want. If they want a blowjob; you blow them. If they want to come in your mouth; all you can do is rinse and spit. If they want to fuck you in the ass while they grab your hair and pull your head back so far, it feels like your neck is going to break; you let them. If three guys want to do you at once while their buddies watch; they do it. Whatever they want. As far as they’re concerned, they’re the boss; you’re the whore. A lot of times they don’t even pay for it. Prostitutes get ripped off left and right out here. It probably happens as often as when they actually pay for it. The assholes don’t pay in advance, and sometimes after they fuck you, they just beat the shit out of you instead of paying you. There were a couple of assholes out here last year who were spraying the girls with mace after they fucked them. Whoever they were, they weren’t from our sector. They drove down here in a car. I heard about it from the cops. They came around to warn everyone. It was like, hey, thanks for the fuck, honey. Here’s your reward: a face full of burning hot gas! Now get the fuck out of my car, bitch! They were major fucking assholes. I don’t think they ever caught them, either. But it’s not just shit like that. You see, even when they do pay you, it isn’t much. The joke among the prostitutes is that a lot of times, the money doesn’t even fold. I’ve seen women out here turn tricks for two dollars apiece. Hell, I’ve been offered less than that on several occasions. The assholes seem surprised when I turn them down, too. I guess they figured that because I thought that I was worth more than that, I was being a stuck-up bitch. Yeah, it’s a wonderful world we live in.
And it isn’t just getting ripped off or being underpaid that you have to worry about. There’s the physical danger. Turning tricks out here is like playing Russian roulette with four bullets in the gun. Sometimes the guys cut up the women pretty bad. I’ve seen some prostitutes out here with some nasty scars. Everyone out here has a knife, and some of them really like to cut people. It seems like guys prefer to cut women on the face or on the tits just to make it more personal. You’ll see women walking around out here with scars there. Some of these assholes think it’s a fucking barrel of fun to cut up a woman. I know. I’ve heard them talk about it. Some girl finishes blowing the guy and she leans her head up and there he is with a knife. Hey, she’s just a whore, right? A little bloodletting is just part of the fuck. Goddamned sadists! I hope they all burn in hell! And the woman just has to sit there and take it. What is she going to do? Fight back? She might as well slit her own throat. The result would be the same. What would I do? What would I do if it happened to me? I’m not big and I’m not very strong. If I tried to fight back, I wouldn’t stand a chance. And just because I’d rather be dead doesn’t mean that’s how I want to go out. These sick motherfuckers wouldn’t just kill me quick. I’d never be that lucky. They’re fucking evil. They’d do worse than kill me. These assholes know how to break you. They’d break me. I know they would. I’d try to be tough and I’d fight as hard as I could, but in the end, I’d wind up on my knees, begging for my life and promising to do anything the sick motherfucker wanted, just so he wouldn’t hurt me anymore. Then he’d make me do it. All of it. The more I screamed, the more I cried, the more he’d get off on it. And when he was finished? Well, that’s when he’d slit my throat. Once he couldn’t humiliate me anymore. Once he knew that there was absolutely nothing left of me to take. Once he knew that he’d hurt me so bad that even dying wouldn’t stop the pain. That’s what it means to break you. I’ve imagined that scenario at least a thousand times. I don’t want to think about it, but sometimes I can’t help thinking about it. It’s even worse when it happens in my sleep. I’ve had nightmares where it was happening to me and I didn’t know it was a nightmare. I was sure it was real. I’d wake up screaming and gasping for breath and I’d be a complete basket case for a day or two after that. Take it from me: just because it happens in a nightmare doesn’t make it any less real. Not until you wake up, at least. Not when you live out here. So in a way, it’s already happened to me. More than once. And it leaves a mark. Maybe you can’t see it, but I can sure as hell feel it. I hope to God you never feel it. Not even in a nightmare. It’s something you never really come back from.
Sometimes I think the only reason these sick motherfuckers let women live out here is so they can hurt them. I really do. If you’re a woman, it’s like they figure that if they can’t hurt you anymore, then you’ve outlived your usefulness. What good is a woman if they can’t make her scream and cry and beg for mercy? What good is she if they can’t hurt her so much that she’ll gladly do any disgusting, degrading thing they want in the hope that they’ll stop torturing her? Fucking assholes! Even the devil isn’t that bad, but these guys are. And when they’ve taken everything they can possibly take from you, then they’ll kill you. They take the only thing you’ve got left. It isn’t worth shit by then, but it’s all you’ve got and they take that, too. They figure, “Hey, why the fuck not?” Don’t think for a minute that I’m making this shit up. I’m not. You couldn’t make this shit up. No one can imagine being that fucking evil. No, you have to actually be that fucking evil. That kind of evil can’t exist in the imaginary world. It’s too strong. It’s too powerful. It’s so sick that it can only exist in the real world. In this world. In our world. And even without the sadistic element, people kill prostitutes around here just for the hell of it. You always hear about serial killers targeting prostitutes because they’re easy prey. Usually, the son of a bitch kills a dozen of them before the cops even begin to take notice. But it’s not always serial killers. People out here kill prostitutes just for fun. They’d sooner kill a prostitute then one of the fucking rats. It’s like they’re the lowest ones on the food chain or something. They deserve it. They’re just whores. It’s not murder if she’s a fucking whore. It’s just really rough sex. Fun and games. Yeah, right! Very funny, motherfucker! But that’s what a lot of people out here think. Why? Because women out here are so fucking desperate that they have to sell their bodies just to stay alive? What else are they going to sell? God, what a life! As you’ve probably guessed, there’s no fucking way in the world that I could handle being a prostitute. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can. Thank God I’ll be dead before I ever have to find out. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve never been a prostitute, but I know all about the humiliation part. I know that thinking you can handle it and handling it are two very different things, but there was a time when I didn’t. It’s a long, horrible, ugly story. Like I said, I can’t really talk about it now. If I can, I’ll explain it to you later. I’m not ready to do that yet. But the night’s still young. We’ve still got time.