I swear, I was about to lose it back there! Fucking rats! Chewing on my fucking hands! Fuck you! Fuck you all! If they’d got to that gash in my head, I’d have been fucked for sure. I’d have screamed loud enough to wake the fucking dead! Do you believe this shit? Wasn’t I the girl who let a rat chew on her shoe a few hours ago? I can stand them one at a time, but a whole bunch of them? Fuck, no! OK, so what do I do now? Where do I go? I don’t know. Anywhere but here! Move it! Come on! I have to get to the sidewalk out front. Shit, I still can’t run! My legs hurt! Everything hurts! Christ, even my ankle’s starting to hurt again! I thought this brace was supposed to take care of that. Maybe it slipped? Maybe I have to adjust it? How the hell do I do that? Fuck this shit! Come on, get the fuck out of here before it’s too late! Move it!
Oh, shit! That’s the helicopter! The eye in the sky! I can’t get away from them out here on the sidewalk. There’s no place to hide. Am I far enough away yet? If I try to run, they’ll zero in on me. Not that I could run anyway. What do I do? Just walk. Just keep walking. Just keep my head down and try to blend in. Pretend like nothing happened. Maybe they won’t pay any attention to me? That’s as long as they don’t realize I’m the bitch who kicked that cop back there at the flood control channel. Please, God! Just don’t let them recognize me! I can’t take another beating tonight!
“Stop right there, lady!”
Shit! It’s a cop car! He’s got the red lights on! There’s nowhere to go! I can’t fucking run! Fuck! They’ve got me!
“Hold up, Miranda!”
They know me. That’s not good. Who is it? Oh, it’s Loomis! Thank God! Maybe he’ll let me slide? If anyone will, he will. I need to keep my head down, though. I don’t want him to see my face. If he sees the marks on my face, he’ll know I got my ass kicked. He might decide to lock me up for my own good. He’s done it before.
“Hey, Officer Loomis. You’re out here late. What’s going on?”
“Come over here.”
“You tell me. I hear you’ve been a busy girl tonight.”
“Me? No, I’ve just been walking around. Staying out of trouble.”
“You call what went down at the Rutledge staying out of trouble?”
“I don’t…I don’t know what you mean.”
“Come on, Miranda. Cops talk to each other, you know. How many red-haired girls with green army jackets do you think there are out here?”
“I guess it would be pointless to say more than one?”
“Yes, it would. Why are you keeping your head down? What’s wrong?”
“I’ll be the judge of that. Look at me. I want to see your face.”
No, I don’t think you do. But what the hell? He’ll just yank my chin up if I don’t do what he says.
“Jesus! What the fuck happened to you?”
“Nothing? You look like you got hit by a goddamned truck!”
“I fell down.”
“On what? A set of brass knuckles? You got beat! Bad!”
“It’s no big deal.”
“No big deal? Can you even see out of that eye?”
“Yeah. It hasn’t swollen shut yet.”
“Who did this to you?”
“I really don’t want to…”
“Cut the bullshit, Miranda! I want to know who did this to you! Start talking!”
“What the fuck difference does it make? Are you going to do anything about it? Is anyone? Do you ever?”
“Don’t give me that shit! Who was it?”
Watch this: you’re about to see just how much good the fucking cops are to us! Even a good one like Loomis.
“OK, fine! You want to know who fucked me up? It was Ricky! He beat the living dog shit out of me just for the fucking hell of it! I thought he was going to kill me! So what are you going to do about it? Are you going to go arrest him? Are you going to put him in jail?”
“If you sign a crime report, I’ll haul his ass to jail.”
“For what? A day? Two days? Hell, he’ll just bail himself out tonight! Do you honestly think they’d even file on him? For beating up a junkie? Hell, no! Christ! Why the fuck haven’t you people locked him up for life? You all know he’s the biggest fucking dope dealer out here! Why don’t you lock him up for that?”
“We can’t. He’s officially Narcotics Division’s problem.”
“What? You’re not allowed to bust Ricky? He’s untouchable? He just gets a free pass?”
“I know how you feel. I feel the same way. But the captain doesn’t want the sector cars hooking up dope dealers. We were told to lay off. Leave him to Narcotics Division. It’s their call.”
“Oh, great! Do you honestly think a bunch of narcs give a fucking shit about what happens to me?”
“No, probably not.”
“Are they any closer to locking him up then they were three years ago?”
“I’m not allowed to talk about…”
“Give me a break, Loomis! It’s me, remember? Come on! Are they going to put him away? Sometime this century, maybe?”
“Probably not. I don’t think they’re even working a case on him right now.”
“And you’re not allowed to touch him?”
“We were told to back off. He’s a pretty serious guy and they said it was up to Narcotics. They don’t want uniforms fucking with him. That’s what we were told.”
“So he gets to do whatever the fuck he wants? Kill me just for the fucking hell of it?”
“I’m not going to lie to you, Miranda. They don’t seem to be in any hurry to put him away. Nobody does. I couldn’t tell you why, but that’s the way it is.”
“So where does that leave me?”
“Pretty much fucked.”
See? I told you! Cops are fucking worthless! Even the good ones! At least, they are when you’re fucking living on skid row!
“I’m sorry, Miranda. I really am.”
“Yeah, me, too! For both of us! You people are fucking useless!”
“You’ve got a right to feel that way. Hey, that eye looks really bad. And so does that cut on your head. Are you in a lot of pain?”
“You have no fucking idea!”
“No, and I‘m not going to pretend that I do. Do you want me to take you to the doctor?”
“What’s he going to do? Tape my fucking eye shut? Yeah, that’ll help!”
“That cut on your head could use some stitches. And that eye…Jesus, you might have a skull fracture! You got the crap kicked out of you! Miranda, you need to see a doctor!”
“Yeah, maybe I’ll go to the clinic tomorrow? They can blow me off, too!”
“Look, I wish there was something I could do...”
“But there isn’t! Right? You can’t fucking touch Ricky! He owns the whole fucking sector! What does that make you? Huh? He does whatever the fuck he wants and you guys can’t do shit! He just fucking laughs at you! That’s when he’s not bending you over and fucking you up the ass! Cops! You fucking assholes! You’re fucking worthless! Hoekstra should’ve killed Ricky when he had the chance!”
“He was trying.”
“So try again! You’ve got a gun! Go over there right now and blast his fucking ass!”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Then tell me who can!”
“Miranda, my hands are tied. I’m sorry.”
“You should be! You’re fucking useless! You ought to take that fucking badge off and flush it down the goddamned toilet! You’re no fucking cop! You’re just one of Ricky’s fucking bitches! Just like everyone else!”
Now, that was uncalled for. He doesn’t like this shit any more than I do. I can see it in his face. He’s a good cop. He’s a good cop and they won’t let him do his job. I don’t know why, but I know he wouldn’t lie to me about it. They won’t let him touch Ricky, and I’ll bet it’s killing him. But I guess he doesn’t have any choice. Cops have to follow orders. It fucking sucks.
“Hey Loomis, I’m sorry I went off on you. That shit was out of line. I’m just pissed off and I shouldn’t have dumped it on you. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. You’ve got a right to be angry.”
“Yeah, but not at you. It’s not your fault.”
“Yes, it is. You’re right: I’m a cop. It’s my job to throw people like Ricky in jail, and I’m not doing it. None of us are. That asshole shouldn’t get to beat on you and just skate.”
“But he does. He always does. Welcome to my world.”
“Yeah, I heard that. So look, about that shit over at the Rutledge…”
“Hey, I’m sorry about what happened back there. But I had nothing to do with…”
“I know you didn’t.”
“You know what?”
“I know you didn’t have anything to do with what went on back there in that alley. You weren’t the one we were looking for.”
“So how come you chased me?”
“Well, I didn’t chase you. That was some other guys.”
“So why were they chasing me?”
“I don’t know. Why did you run?”
I shouldn’t have to explain this to him. He’s been out here forever. He knows how it works.
“Because I saw a shitload of cops hauling ass around the corner and they looked like they were ready to kill someone. I didn’t want it to be me.”
“Fair enough. I’d probably run, too.”
“Are you going to take me in?”
“Hell, no! But I think you’d better get off the streets for a while. Some of the other guys are pretty pissed at you. You kicked Officer Emmett in the face. They don’t take kindly to that.”
“Was that his name?”
“Yeah, he’s new. He just transferred in a couple of weeks ago.”
That explains it. I was wondering how he didn’t recognize me. All of the cops out here know me.
“Would you tell him I’m sorry?”
“That depends. Are you sorry?”
“The truth? No.”
“Good. I’d be disappointed if you lied to me.”
“I try not to do that.”
“I know you do.”
“Look, he tried to pull me off of the fence and one of the others drew down on me. It all happened so fast. I got scared.”
“You don’t have to explain. I get it: he was doing his job; you were doing yours. Still, you probably don’t want to come across him tonight. He’s got about a half-hour before his shift ends. You might want to stay out of sight until then.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Good. So where’d you get the ankle brace?”
Damn! How the hell did he see that? It’s covered up pretty good.
“Fire House. I banged up my ankle pretty bad.”
“From jumping into the flood channel? That’s got to be ten or twelve feet! I heard you hit pretty hard.”
“That’s an understatement.”
“I don’t know anyone who would’ve risked that jump. You’re one crazy girl; I’ll tell you that!”
“That’s why I’m out here, remember?”
“Is it broken?”
“No. They said it was just sprained.”
“Then you ought to try staying off of it for a while.”
Yeah, like that’s going to happen!
“That’s not really an option out here. So what was that shit all about, anyway?”
“What was what about?”
“In the alley. Why were you guys chasing everyone down the street? What happened?”
“One of our units made an arrest and some asshole hit an officer in the head with a cinder block.”
“Jesus! And they didn’t blast him?”
“They couldn’t get a clear shot. Otherwise, he’d have caught some lead for sure.”
I have no doubt about that. I’ve seen what happens to people who seriously injure cops out here. What’s left of them barely looks human, and a lot of times they’re not breathing.
“Did he get hurt?”
“The cop. The one who got hit. Was he hurt?”
“Yeah, it was pretty serious. He had to get a few stitches, and they’re keeping him for observation tonight.”
“Was he a friend of yours?”
“Every cop is a friend of mine, Miranda. But yeah, I know him. He’s a good guy.”
“Well, I’m sorry your friend got hurt.”
“You and me both. So are you going to go home now?”
“I don’t have a home, remember?”
“I mean go back to your room. Be thankful you have one.”
“Yeah, well…I don’t exactly have one anymore.”
Oh, fuck! I didn’t want to tell him! Why did I do that? What the hell has gotten into me tonight? It’s like I can’t keep my guard up for shit!
“What do you mean, you don’t have one anymore?”
Oh, well! In for a penny…
“I guess I should’ve said something before. I, uh…I got the notice.”
“You got evicted? When?”
“I got it a few days ago. My time’s up. This is my last night. I have to be out by noon tomorrow. Well, noon today, actually.”
“They can’t give you an extension?”
“I don’t know if they can’t. I know they won’t.”
“Is there someplace else you can go?”
“Come on, Loomis! It took me almost six years to get in there! There’s no place else to go. You know that.”
“Can’t you get a voucher for a room?”
“I used up all my welfare a long time ago. And the waiting list on those rooms is as long as for the SROs. They need them for all of the parolees you guys are letting out.”
“What about a women’s shelter?”
Now he’s just reaching for shit. I don’t know why. He knows better than that. I know he does.
“You mean so I can get my throat cut?”
“I don’t mean the general shelters! I mean a battered women’s shelter. Those are safe.”
“I’m not a battered woman, Loomis.”
“Really? Have you seen your face?”
“Come on! I’m a homeless junkie who got her ass kicked. It’s not the same thing.”
“Yeah, but…look, I can scratch out a report and…maybe I could call someone…there’s got to be…”
“Forget it. Come on, I know how it works! So do you! Those places don’t have enough beds as it is. No way are they going to waste one on a piece of shit like me.”
Look at his face. He knows I’m right. He knew it before I said it. He seems genuinely broken up about it, though. Imagine that.
“Well, what about…”
“Hey, Loomis…Officer Loomis…I appreciate your…concern, but I’m pretty much fucked. I mean, that’s the system, right? I’m no different from anyone else out here. I’m not complaining.”
“I think you’re different. And you’ve got every right to complain.”
“Would it help?”
“No, it wouldn’t. So you’ll be back on the street?”
“It looks that way. Unless you’re volunteering to take me in.”
“Jesus, I’m sorry to hear that.”
I think he means it. I have to admit, I’m surprised. I didn’t think cops gave a damn about anyone out here. Not even Loomis. I’m learning all sorts of things tonight.
“So am I.”
“Listen, I’ll keep my ears open. You know, if I hear of anything opening up. Maybe I can make some calls? Call in a favor from one of our detectives? They’ve got connections.”
“Jesus could make some calls and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference. You know that.”
“Yeah, I know. That’s really fucked up.”
“Do you know what you’re going to do?”
“I think it’s pretty obvious. Don’t you?”
Well, I hope it isn’t too obvious. I meant I was going to wind up back on the street. I sure as hell don’t want Loomis to know I’m going to kill myself tonight. He’d throw me in the pads on a seventy-two hour psycho hold in a fucking second. He doesn’t abide by our rules.
“Yeah. Yeah, it is. Listen, you watch yourself out here.”
“Don’t I always?”
“Uh, apparently not!”
“Oh, yeah! My face.”
“And your head! And your nose! And your lip! And your ankle…”
“OK, point taken!”
“Miranda, I wish there was something I could do for you. I mean it.”
“So do I. Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Sure. Go ahead.”
“I don’t…I don’t want you to think that…”
“Don’t worry about what I think. What is it?”
“OK, I know this is going to sound crazy, but hey, coming from me, right?”
“I said don’t worry about that. What do you need?”
“You know this place as well as almost anyone out here. You know when things are going on, right?”
“Sometimes, yeah. What’s wrong?”
“Officer Loomis, do you…do you know if someone’s after me?”
“After you? You mean, is someone looking for you?”
“Yeah. And I don’t mean you guys. I don’t mean the police. Is someone looking to get me?”
“Not that I know of. Why do think someone’s after you?”
“It’s weird, I know. But ever since this evening, I’ve felt like someone’s been following me. It’s like I see someone out of the corner of my eye, and then I don’t see anyone.”
“You think someone’s following you? Is that it?”
“I don’t know. But I can’t shake this feeling that, well, yeah! Someone’s following me.”
“And you didn’t get a look at him?”
“No. Look, I know I sound like a crazy bitch. Forget I mentioned it.”
“No, I won’t forget it. You should trust your instincts. They’ve taken you this far. Don’t ever ignore a feeling like that. Look, we’re held over tonight, so I’ll look into it. Ask around.”
That sounds like an emergency call on his radio. You learn to recognize those things. His partner’s leaning out of the car, trying to get his attention. It’s got to be important.
“Sir, we got a call! Four blocks east! Code two-high!”
“I’ve got to go. Miranda, I’m really sorry about all this. You take care of yourself, OK? You watch your back. I mean it.”
“I will. Goodbye, Officer Loomis.”
“Don’t worry about what happened back at the flood channel. I’ll take care of it. But try not to kick any more cops, OK?”
“I think I can promise you that.”
“I’ll check in on you tomorrow. I’ve got to go.”
No, you won’t. I won’t be here tomorrow. Goodbye, Officer Loomis. You watch your back, OK? You were always one of the good ones. I never thanked you for that. I think I’m really going to miss you. At least I lived long enough to realize that.
At least I got to say goodbye to Officer Loomis. Well, sort of, anyway. He’s a good guy. I guess I always knew that, but now I’m convinced of it. It’s funny: he looked really mad when I told him Ricky kicked my ass. I mean like he was fuming. I guess he was pissed because he knows the son of a bitch will get away with it. It must drive him fucking crazy that he can’t do anything about it. That’s something I can relate to. Loomis may not be able to do anything official about it, but he might do something unofficial. Cops do that sometimes. And despite what I said back there, I know he’s not afraid of Ricky. Loomis and Charlie are the only people I’ve ever met who aren’t afraid of anything. They’re fearless. I wish I could be like that. If it were up to Loomis, he’d squash Ricky like a bug, and not just for me. In fact, I wouldn’t be too surprised if he goes back and grills Ricky. Oh, that doesn’t mean he questions him. No, out here a “grilling” is something entirely different. It’s an ingenious form of police torture. The cops handcuff you behind your back and throw you in the back seat of their car with no seatbelt. Then they get the car up to about fifty miles an hour and slam on the brakes. You go flying face-first into the metal grille that separates the back seat from the front. You can’t stop yourself because you’re handcuffed. There’s nothing to hang onto. You’re fucking helpless. They do it over and over again. It’s a great way to break your nose and lose a few teeth. I’ve had it done to me. I never lost any teeth, but I once ended up with a waffle pattern on my forehead for a few days. Talk about a headache! A grilling hurts like a motherfucker! God, I hope he does it! I hope he beats the living dog shit out of Ricky and drives him way over to some other dealer’s territory so he gets his ass blown off. That won’t happen, but I can dream. I wasn’t surprised to hear they told the street cops to stay away from him. I’ve seen it before. I don’t know much about being a cop, but I’ve learned that there’s a shitload of politics involved. When you’re a downtown cop, the brass wants you out on the street so the public can see you. I guess doing real cop work interferes with that. Fucking politics. If people only knew.
I’m kind of thrown by the fact that Loomis was really bothered when I told him I was getting my ass thrown back on the street. I don’t know why he cares. It’s not like I ever did anything for him. I never gave him any reason to care about me. Far from it, in fact. Maybe he’s just gotten used to me looking almost human? He probably figures that in two weeks, I’ll look like I used to. I guess he doesn’t like the thought of that. Man, I looked like warmed over shit when I was living out here! I made the Creature from the Black Lagoon look like fucking Marilyn Monroe! I remember times when I was so filthy, the cops wouldn’t even search me unless they were wearing rubber gloves. I wonder if he’d still give a shit if I went back to looking like that? I don’t know. Maybe, but I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t. It’s hard to think of the people out here as human beings when they don’t look even remotely human. God knows I have trouble doing it. And I’m one of them! I hated the way I looked back then. My skin was like ash. It really was. It was somewhere between pale gray and black. There was no color in it. I was always pretty pale, but it got to the point where my skin looked like it was dead. I really looked like a corpse. I used to get these horrible rashes because of all of the chemicals and shit they’ve got out here. They get on your skin and it itches or burns and you end up scratching yourself raw. You’ll scratch until you start bleeding. I’ve done it lots of times. My fingernails had so much crap underneath them that sometimes the scratches got infected. That was a barrel of fun. And that’s not all. There’s the bugs. Oh, yes! The fucking bugs! When you live on the street, you get fleas. That’s right: fleas. You wouldn’t think there would be fleas in the middle of a city, but there are. There are billions of them. They’re everywhere. I guess we get them from the rats. It’s amazing we don’t get the plague. That’s where the plague comes from, you know. The fleas are fucking horrible. They bite you and you itch like a dog. I don’t know how dogs stand it. At least they’ve got flea collars. They don’t make flea collars for the homeless. Oh, and then there’s the lice. Yeah, we get lice all the time. Everyone out here gets them. They get in your hair. You’ll be talking to someone and you’ll look at their head and see the goddamned lice moving. It’s fucking disgusting. I hate them! God, how I hate them! And it’s even worse when you’re a woman. When you get your period, well, I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice to say, it’s something they never covered in a high school hygiene class.
Even without the lice, my hair was so matted I couldn’t run my fingers through it; let alone a comb. It had so much dirt and tar and God knows what else in it that it would break if I tried to twist it around my finger. And my teeth! God, I don’t even want to think about how bad my teeth were! They were beyond disgusting. And I was about the only one out here who brushed her teeth! I used to do damned near anything for a toothbrush. Most people out here who’ve got them managed to get one from the missions, or else they got one in jail. The jail toothbrushes are these tiny, cheap little things about three inches long. They don’t give you the full-sized ones because people turn them into shanks and stick each other with them. I used to trade things for those little jailhouse toothbrushes: cigarettes, pieces of candy, cigarette lighters I found, whatever. I’d trade for them even if they were used. That’s right! Used! I’ve brushed my teeth with plenty of used toothbrushes. Out here, you can’t be picky. And when it came to getting a chance to brush my teeth, I wasn’t. Sometimes I didn’t even bother to wash it off first. Uh, feel free to puke if the urge hits you. I know it’s pretty fucked up, but that was when my fucking teeth were so nasty that I just couldn’t wait. As soon as I got one, I brushed my teeth until my gums bled. If I couldn’t get toothpaste, I used a bar of soap. Sometimes I used floor cleaner. You know, the scrubbing powder. Hey, it may taste terrible, but imagine how my mouth tasted before that. Trust me, you don’t want to know. Back then, a decent toothbrush was like a gift from God. Too bad the jail doesn’t give away dental floss with those toothbrushes. I’m told it’s too dangerous. I can’t tell you how many times I actually prayed for something to floss my teeth with. What? Did I really expect God to make a roll of dental floss fall out of the sky like manna from heaven? Sometimes I could get some from the clinic, but most of the time, they didn’t have any. Almost nobody sells it around here, so stealing it isn’t an option. Try going two weeks without flossing your teeth and see if it doesn’t drive you absolutely fucking nuts. On second thought, don’t try it. You don’t want to know what that’s like, either. There were times when honestly, I would’ve fucked a guy for a roll of dental floss. I guess I’m lucky I never had to make good on that. With my luck, he probably would’ve strangled me with it.
There are no words to tell you how much I hated being filthy all of the time. And unless you’ve been out here, you don’t know just how filthy a person can get. I sure as hell didn’t, and that’s coming from someone who spent most of her childhood climbing trees and playing in the dirt. It’s unbelievable. Your clothes get so filthy that they actually get stiff. The crack when you bend them, like tar paper roof tiles. Your skin actually turns black in some places. Your hands get so filthy that it literally takes a dozen washes to get the dirt and grease off of them. My hands were so worn and cracked; they looked like they were a hundred years old. It was like somebody cut off my hands and replaced them with the hands of an old blacksmith or something. They were scraped and calloused and they hurt all the time. My fingernails were black and torn. I used to wish they’d just fall out and never grow back. I still hate looking at my hands. They’re a lot cleaner these days, but the damage is done. The scars never go away. Oh, and the way you smell! You know how they say you get used to your own smell, no matter how much you stink? Don’t fucking believe it! Trust me, you never get used to that fucking stench! About the only thing that smells worse is a dead body. There were times when I literally stunk worse than shit. And there were plenty of times when I stunk just like shit because I ended up sitting in my own shit. You deal with it, but you never get used to it. I certainly didn’t. And I never got over it, either. It got so bad that there were times when I stripped down to my underwear in broad daylight in the middle of a parking lot just to try and wash myself off from a spigot on a wall. They take the knobs off so we can’t use them, but Charlie gave me this piece of metal with a cutout in it so I could turn it on. Remember when I told you how scared I was going into the bathroom at the SRO? I was willing to deal with that fear on a regular basis because I hated being filthy even more than I hated being afraid. Ever since I got a roof over my head, I’ve made it a point to stay as clean as possible. Even if I have to wash my clothes in the bathtub and dry them on a line, it’s worth it. At least, it is to me. Maybe it’s part of being crazy? You know, maybe I’ve really got that obsessive-compulsive disorder thing? I don’t know. I just never want to be like that or feel like that again. Reason number umpteen thousand and one why I’m going to finish it tonight: I’m not going back to that shit. No fucking way. At least now I can leave a relatively clean corpse. That actually matters to me.
Jesus, didn’t realize I’d wandered over this far! That’s what happens when you walk around without paying attention to where you’re going. I always thought that this sector was kind of weird. Weird even for this place, I mean. People out here avoid it at night, and I have to figure that if a bunch of psychos like us don’t want to come here after dark, then there must be something seriously fucked-up about the place. At night, you sometimes see these columns of steam coming out of the grates on the sidewalks, and sometimes even from the sewers. I’ve come here a few times and the manholes are open and there’s steam or smoke or whatever the fuck coming out of them. It makes this weird noise, like a hiss from a steam iron, but louder. Between the steam and the noise and the fucked-up lighting, they make an already spooky place seem even spookier, and out here, that’s saying something! I don’t know where the steam comes from. I mean, I don’t know what’s down there that’s causing it. Who knows? Maybe the steam is coming up from hell? I honestly wouldn’t be surprised. If there’s a direct route from this world into hell, then this fucking place might very well be the front door. I don’t mean to sound metaphorical. I’m serious. Maybe this whole fucking place really is the doorway to hell? The connection between this world and eternal damnation. Sometimes I honestly think it can’t be anything less.
Anyway, you really need to watch your back around here at night. That’s true of every place on skid row, but this one can be particularly dangerous. The bad light and the steam and the noise make perfect camouflage for any asshole who’s just waiting around for his next victim to come walking by. And since not many of us wander through here at night, the assholes who do lurk around here know that there won’t be any witnesses to whatever the fuck they do. It’s a perfect rape and murder trap. Think about that for a minute: whoever built this fucking city just happened to design a playground for rapists and murderers? I mean, give me a fucking break! Sometimes I have to wonder if the cops and the people who plan out the cities ever think about shit like that. Were they really so blind or stupid that it never occurred to them that they included a fucking death trap in their plans? Or did they do it deliberately? No, it wasn’t deliberate. It can’t have been. I can’t believe that anyone would do it on purpose. No one is that evil, unless they’re one of us.
And yet, this is my life. This place. This mistaken, forsaken place. My life is all about a place where you have to constantly think about shit like that just to stay alive for one more night. Is it any wonder I’m going to kill myself? This is my life. This is my world. This is who and what I am. Jesus Christ! How the fuck am I supposed to fathom that? What is the measure of a life like that? For that matter; how the fuck do I measure it at all? With coffee spoons? Hardly. My apologies to T.S. Eliot. And to Mr. J. Alfred Prufrock. Charlie made me read it a few years ago. Once I did, I understood why he made me read it. I can relate to Prufrock. I feel like we both chewed a lot of the same dirt in our lives. I feel as if parts of it could’ve been taken from my life, but in the end, J. Alfred Prufrock had it easy compared to me. So if I can’t use coffee spoons, then what can I use? What’s the standard? I mean, most people measure their lives by their accomplishments, or by how many of their dreams come true, or by the love of their family and friends. But I can’t do that. I don’t have any of those things. Some of them, I never had. The others? Well, I just kind of lost them over the years. But I’m still alive and I’m here in this Godforsaken place, so I guess that means that I have to find a way to measure my life. Quantify it. Put some numbers on it. But what the hell is the standard by which I can do that? How do I measure a life that should never have been lived? How do I assign values to things that are utterly devoid of value? You probably think I could do it easily; just by listing all of my failures. But in some twisted sense of reason, that doesn’t work. You see, a lot of failures aren’t values. They’re just incidents. They’re just things that happen. They may serve as milestones in your life, but that’s about it. Of course, some failures are much more than that. Those are the worst failures. Those are the ones that give you a sense of who you are because they were the times when your life reached a major turning point. A turning point for the worse, I might add. They were the times when you squandered all of your potential. They were the times when your potential should have saved you, but it didn’t. It didn’t because you threw it all away. Maybe you didn’t mean to, but you did, and the result is exactly the same. They were the times where you understood the difference between failing and actually being a failure. It’s not a pleasant realization.
Maybe the only way I can measure my life is by what I’ve seen and what I’ve learned? Maybe the true measure of my life is the gigantic amount of painful, frightening, and humiliating lessons I’ve accumulated over the years? Maybe it’s my profound sense of failure? You know, all of the times I’ve fucked up or ruined a good thing or missed a golden opportunity. That’s a hell of a way to measure your life, don’t you think? And maybe that’s why I’m glad you’re with me tonight; listening to me rant and ramble. Listening to my own fucked-up little nighttime stream of consciousness. That’s important. It’s important to me. I learned that from Charlie. Charlie passed his knowledge of life and living out here down to me, but I don’t have anyone to whom I can pass on what I’ve learned except for you. And when the night’s over and I’m gone, it’s up to you to decide what you want to do with it. All I ask is that you do something with it. Something useful, if that’s possible. I’d hate to think that it was all for nothing.
Oh, hold on a minute. Well, this is a lucky coincidence! Look where we are. See that pawn shop across the street? I meant to come by here tonight. It was on my list of things to do, but I must have forgotten about it. Getting beaten senseless does that to you. Yeah, there’s something I’ve got to do here before I check out tonight. Do you see a brick lying around anywhere? A big rock will do just as well. What for? Well, I’m going to put it right through that fucking window! I don’t care if it’s fucking safety glass and I can’t break it. I can sure as hell scratch the shit out of it! Oh, here we go! This one will do nicely!
“Hey, asshole! Remember me? Yeah, me! I fucking remember you! I remember what you fucking did, too! Fuck you, motherfucker!”
Wow! I guess it wasn’t safety glass! Shit! It took out the whole damned window! OK, now I’ve got to get the fuck out of here! The cops will definitely come by here in a flash. The pawn shop is what they call a hot spot. They’re always worried about people breaking in there. The sell guns and ammunition and shit like that, so if the alarm goes off, they haul ass to get here. I guess they figure there’s enough guns floating around out here as it is. I always wondered about that. You know how people say that there are millions of guns in America and every fucking lowlife can get one in five minutes? Well, if that’s true, then how come I don’t have one? I sure as hell could’ve used one tonight. First, I’d blow Ricky’s fucking brains out, and then I’d blow my own fucking brains out. A shot to the head would be a hell of a lot quicker than jumping off of a roof. You’re probably wondering why I don’t just go in there and steal one. Would that it were that simple. Unfortunately, you can’t get to the guns or the jewelry or any of the good stuff. They put that shit in a big safe when they close up. I’ve seen the safe. It’s as big as a refrigerator. You’d need a stick of dynamite to get into it. Too bad, huh?
So you’re probably wondering why I’m shouting at a pawn shop in the middle of the night and throwing a brick through the window. Well, it’s like this: I did something there I’ve always regretted, and I sort of blame them for it. You see, when you first end up on the street, all of your possessions eventually wind up in a pawn shop – or in a police evidence locker, but that’s another story. Pawn shops are a big part of being homeless. I don’t care what city you’re in; it’s exactly the same. Every skid row in the world has at least one fucking pawn shop. It’s like a giant leech or something. It sucks your possessions from you. Anything you managed to bring with you ends up getting pawned. Well, that’s if it doesn’t get stolen. Have you ever looked inside a pawn shop? Try it some time. It’s pretty heartbreaking. You look inside and you see the remnants of peoples’ former lives – little bits and pieces of their normal lives that they brought with them to this place. They were the last valuable things they had, and by that I don’t mean they were worth a lot of money, although sometimes they are. No, most of them are just little trinkets, but they have a lot of memories attached. They have sentimental value. Sentimentality is important when you lose everything. Unfortunately, skid row isn’t interested in sentiments. This place is real. It costs. The silver and gold in those trinkets is worth money, and out here, you need money just like everywhere else. Most people have no idea what it’s like to be completely broke. It takes some getting used to. Shit, it takes a lot of getting used to! So when you’re new to the streets and you need money, you head for the nearest pawn shop. And that’s exactly what I did. It got really bad for me after I started shooting dope. By then, I wasn’t selling my last possessions to survive. No, I was selling them to get high. That’s important. Selling things that mean a lot to you because you need to survive is one thing, but selling them for dope money is an act of betrayal. As much as I hated myself at the time, selling some of that stuff made me feel lower than I ever thought possible. And believe me, that’s saying something.
Every time I sold a piece of my jewelry, I felt like shit. I felt like I was stabbing my parents through the heart. You see, the only jewelry I had was the stuff my mom and dad had given me over the years. They always used to give me jewelry for Christmas or my birthday. I guess it made sense: I was the only girl. Mom said she really enjoyed having a daughter because girls were a lot more fun to shop for. My brothers always got the kind of shit boys ask for – you know, footballs and baseball gloves and fishing poles – shit like that. But mom always used to be on the lookout for a piece of jewelry that she thought I’d like. And I always did. We’re not talking about really expensive things. No diamond tiaras for me. But they were always beautiful and mom always loved picking them out and I loved them all so much. That just made it a million times worse when I’d hock it. I always felt like my mom was looking over my shoulder whenever I handed a ring or a necklace to the pawnbroker and asked him how much he’d give me for it. Whatever he gave me, it wasn’t much. It never is. Pawnbrokers are heartless. Maybe that’s not fair. They’re businessmen. They’re in business to make money, and as far as they’re concerned, a junkie is like a walking fire sale. It’s a buyer’s market. Junkies need a fix and if they don’t get it, they’re going to get sick so they’ll take whatever they’re offered. If they try to haggle about the price, the pawnbroker will throw them out and when they come back in an hour or two the pawnbroker will offer half of what he offered before. And the junkie will take it. We always take it. The pawnbrokers know it. They know why you’re selling your valuables and they don’t give a shit about your situation or your dope habit or your fucking sentiments. They give you just enough to keep a roof over your head for a couple of nights or to keep you in dope for a few days. That’s it. They smile while you walk out the door because they know you’ll be back in no time with something else to sell. Another memory. Another link to your past. Another piece of your soul. Oh, who am I kidding? They’re fucking vultures. They’re worse than vultures. But I can’t really blame them. They’re not doing anything that everyone else out here isn’t doing. Sure, they’re taking advantage of you, but that’s not a crime out here. Around here, it’s the status quo.
Anyway, there was this one piece in particular that meant the world to me. It was a gold bracelet with this beautiful design running across it. It was sort of like an interlaced knot work. It looked kind of Greek or Roman to me. Hey, what do I know? It was beautiful and I never saw another one quite like it and that made it all the more special to me. And it was gold, too. A real gold bracelet. It was really thin, so I knew it wasn’t insanely expensive, but it was nice. Mom and dad gave it to me for my seventeenth birthday. It was so beautiful. God, I loved it! It was perfect! If you dropped me in the middle of the biggest jewelry store in the world and said pick out one thing that you like the most, I would’ve found that bracelet and picked it. No doubt about it. You should’ve seen my mom’s face when I opened the box. She was as excited as me. I swear, she was happier buying stuff and giving it to me than I was getting it. God, how did two perfect parents end up with such a piece of shit daughter like me?
I hung onto that bracelet longer than anything else. I used to hide it in my pants when I slept so that no one would steal it. It got to the point where it was the last piece of jewelry I had. It was beautiful and expensive and my parents gave it to me because they loved me so much and I sold it to buy dope. God, I sold it for fifty bucks. I’ll bet it was worth at least five times that. It was my favorite thing in the world and my last real link to my family and I sold it for a few bucks so I could get stoned. I told myself it was no big deal. I’d sold damn near everything else in that pawnshop, so this really wasn’t any different. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t give a shit about it, but I was crying when I gave it to the guy. He stuck the cash in my hand and put my beautiful bracelet in his safe. It was like I’d just put a knife through my mom’s heart. That’s exactly what it felt like. I asked the guy if I could take one last look at it, but he said no. I started crying even louder and he told me to get the fuck out of his shop, so I left. I got the money I needed, but I didn’t feel relieved. I felt like shit. I wanted my bracelet back. I wanted it back and I knew I’d never get it back and I just stood outside the shop and cried. I swear, I could feel my mom’s heart breaking. Wherever she was, right then and there her heart broke for good and I felt it – right in the center of my chest, in that empty space where I’m supposed to have a heart. Talk about a fucking betrayal! How could I do that to her? Or my dad? How could I do that to them? Easy. I could do it because I’m a piece of shit. I was worthless and hooked and I needed a fix and that was all that mattered. I knew what I was doing and it hurt me to do it, and if I had it to do all over again, I’d do the same fucking thing. I know it. That’s how low I’ve sunk since I wound up out here. I’m a piece of shit who thinks her dope is more important than her parents’ feelings. Shit, I disappeared on them without so much as a word. What’s the big deal about a fucking bracelet, right? Everything they felt for me wasn’t worth as much as the few bucks that asshole pawnbroker gave me for it. What kind of ungrateful bitch thinks that way? Me, that’s who.
I never saw my bracelet again. I used to go in there to look for it, but I never once saw it in the case. That actually gave me some hope. I thought that if he kept it in the safe and didn’t sell it, then maybe one day I could get it back. A few times, I tried to save some money so I could buy it back. I figured if he gave me fifty bucks for it, then he wouldn’t want much more to buy it back. As usual, I was dead wrong. I finally got the money, but it cost me dearly. You see, a few months later, some guy jumped me in the Narrow Alley and ended up breaking two of my ribs. He was a would-be rapist and he figured I’d make a better fuck if he first knocked the wind out of me. It didn’t work. He tried to tear off my shirt and I cut him deep across his jaw. I nailed him good: all the way down to the bone. I guess it spoiled the mood for him. He took off. So I went to the emergency room all doubled-over from the pain. By the time I got there, I looked like the fucking Hunchback of Notre Dame. Let me tell you: broken ribs hurt like a motherfucker! So they wrapped my gut up in a big elastic bandage. It didn’t help much, but before they threw me out the door, they gave me a great big bottle of Vicodin for the pain. Now that helped! That shit is like gold out here. People pay a lot of money for it. That was my chance. They gave me way more than I needed, so I sold most of the pills and went to the pawn shop to try to buy my bracelet back. I got fifteen bucks a pill, so before long, I had two hundred dollars. I asked the guy if I could buy my bracelet back and he says he wants three hundred for it. I couldn’t believe it! Where was I going to get another hundred dollars? I actually had an anxiety attack right there in the store. I get those sometimes. My heart pounds and I can’t breathe and it feels like I’m going to explode. I get so wound up that I can hardly move. So mister asshole moved me himself. He grabbed me by the collar and threw me out the door. I landed right on my broken ribs and nearly passed out from the pain. Even with all of my screaming, I could hear him laughing at me. That hurt, too.
I obsessed pretty hard over how I’d ever buy my bracelet back, until one day a guy who worked part-time in there told me to forget it. He said the asshole had sold it a few days earlier for something like a hundred and fifty bucks. Can you believe it? I told him I’d give him two hundred for it! Did he think I was coming back with three hundred? Maybe? Maybe he just got off on seeing me miserable? That’s all. He just got off on seeing people in pain, and I was in a lot of pain, so he fucked me over. I’m sure I’m not the only one. But when I learned that I could’ve gotten it back and that fuckhead lied to me and now it was gone? Jesus, it brought the whole thing back like a flood. I felt like I stabbed my mom and dad through the heart all over again. I went over to the tables and just sat there. I didn’t say a word for two days. It would’ve been longer, but I was a junkie and after a while, I needed to slam because I was getting sick. But the whole time, people came up and talked to me and I just sat there staring into space like a fucking zombie. Finally, Charlie had to explain it all to me, just like he always does. He said the rules are different out here. He said you can’t hold yourself to the same standards as you did back in your old life. There’s a whole new set of priorities, and if selling that bracelet brought me five minutes of real peace, then mom and dad would want me to sell it. I don’t believe that last part, but coming from Charlie, it all sounded perfectly logical. He has a way of making things seem logical. It made me feel a little better, but I still count it as one of the great betrayals I’ve ever committed. Anyway, that’s why I threw a brick through that asshole’s window. That’s for me and my mom and dad and for my favorite bracelet. And it’s for all of the other people he fucked over because they were down and out and didn’t have a choice. Fuck you, asshole! It doesn’t exactly make us even, but hey, it was a big window. Here’s hoping it costs him a lot more than a hundred and fifty bucks to get it fixed. A lot more!
You know, we do have our own sort of jewelry out here. It’s true. It’s certainly not what you’d call jewelry, but it works for us. Skid row jewelry. I’ve sometimes thought that the jewelry and other decorations people wear out here are an attempt to compensate for the ugliness that’s so prevalent. Shit, just look around you! This is one ugly fucking place! The buildings are ugly, the alleys are ugly, the sidewalks are ugly, and the people are butt-fucking ugly! So they decorate themselves. They wear bracelets or necklaces or rings or whatever they can find. Bracelets. I don’t mean bracelets like mine was. I’ve seen people make bracelets out of safety pins and paper clips and strips of leather. Sometimes they just braid up some string. Some of them are actually pretty good. If this were a beach, they could probably make a few bucks selling them. Strangely enough, the most common bracelet you see out here is the plastic wristband you get when you’re in jail. What does that tell you about this place? Uh-huh. Anyway, they’re sort of like hospital wristbands, only they’re sturdier and instead of having your name and the name of your doctor, they have your name, your jail number, and sometimes even your charge. Why do they put your charge on it? I think the jailers know why you’re in there. I’m pretty sure you know why you’re in there, too. I guess that’s so you can prove what a badass you are to the other inmates. One-upsmanship is a big deal in jail. Some of the wristbands say whether you’re in for a felony or a misdemeanor. Sometimes they’re different colors for that. Whatever they say, everyone out here can spot a jail wristband a mile away because pretty much everyone out here has worn one. Even me. There’s nothing else quite like them. They’re supposed to cut the thing off when they release you, but you see an awful lot of people still wearing them. Don’t ask me why. If a cop sees someone wearing one, it’s an open invitation to jack them up. Not that they need an invitation, but it does make you a target. Maybe they keep them on because they can’t get them off? That’s a possibility. The damn things are made out of this really strong plastic that has to be cut off. You’re sure as hell not going to chew through one. Sometimes they’re so loose that you can just slide them off, but not often. I remember once they couldn’t cut mine off with a pair of scissors. The jailer had to get a pocketknife. Most people are afraid to cut them off with a knife because if the knife slips, they’ll cut the person’s wrist. I know. I did that to a guy once. Hey, it was an accident. I had a cheaper knife back then and it slipped. I cut a nasty gash in the guy. OK, I admit it: I was stoned out of my fucking mind at the time. Sue me. And then there are some people actually like wearing those things. Go figure. They do serve one purpose, though: since almost no one out here has any form of ID, a jail bracelet is a good substitute. It’s a valid ID, at least as far as the cops are concerned. And that’s important, because if the cops stop you and you don’t have any ID and they don’t know you, then you might find yourself wearing a different kind of bracelet: one on each wrist, behind your back and secured with a chain.
Speaking of ID, another form of ID out here is a prison ID card. It’s the ID card that they give you in prison. You see a lot of them. It’s not jewelry, but it might as well be. It has your name, your picture, and your prison number. Once you’re in prison, you’re issued a number. Apparently, it’s a big deal. You can’t do shit in there without your number. The number never changes, no matter how many times you go back to prison on a different charge. At least, it’s not supposed to change. I’ve talked to people out here that have more than one, so somebody fucked up. Prison numbers. The mark of the beast. That’s from the Bible. The Book of Revelation. You know, the verse that says, “And he caused all people, great and small, rich and poor, to receive a mark upon their hand, or upon their forehead. And no person could buy or sell, lest he have the mark. Here is wisdom. Let he who has wisdom count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. And that number is six hundred threescore and six.” Pretty good, huh? Hey, you hang out with the bible thumpers; you learn a few things. That one is one of their favorites. Anyway, some people out here think that a prison number is the mark of the beast because it’s forced on you by an evil system and because in prison, you can’t do anything without it. You can’t get your food or your clothes or buy anything at the commissary. You can’t use the phone and you can’t have visitors. And you get in big trouble if you don’t have your ID card with you at all times. Charlie says they used to take it away from you when you were released, but so many convicts were getting out of prison and didn’t have an ID that they just decided to let them keep it. He says it’s like, “Here you go, pal. A parting gift from your friends at the big house. Hope to see you again real soon. And we probably will.” Gee, thanks for the encouragement.