Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Six

All right, we’re clear of him. He won’t chase me. Crackheads rarely do that. Fuck! He missed me with that bottle, but when it broke on the ground, it scared the living shit out of me. Breaking glass startles the hell out of me. I don’t know why. It just does. Ever since I was a kid. God damn it! Why the fuck did I take my eyes off of him? Safe distance my ass! The only safe distance between me and a crackhead is about a hundred miles. Shit! I hate fucking crackheads! Fucking worthless pieces of shit! They’re even crazier than I am! What? You think I’m being harsh? Not even! I swear, I never met a crackhead who wasn’t a fucking asshole! Not one! That shit fries every part of your brain except the part that turns you into a total fucking dick! Why don’t they just leave me alone? Why do they always fuck with me? Christ, I was just walking past him. There are two thousand people crawling around here at night. People are going to walk past you! Even a fucking crackhead knows that. What the fuck is wrong with these assholes? Why don’t they just die? Fucking cockroaches! Leave me alone, Goddamn it! Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!

I’m sorry about that. Give me a minute, will you? I’ll be all right in a minute. That asshole startled the shit out of me and I hate being startled. It’s bad enough I’m scared shitless every waking minute of my life. Sometimes it’s the slightest little thing. God, I hate being afraid all of the time. I hate being smaller than everyone else out here. I hate being picked on just because I’m a woman. I hate where there’s five hundred guys for every woman out here. God, I hate it all so fucking much! And it never ends! Believe it or not, this is an everyday occurrence for me. Maybe I should say it’s an every night occurrence. Every fucking night I run into at least one asshole who wants to rip my head off for no fucking reason. Sometimes I run into ten of them. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but that’s something I never got used to. I don’t know how anyone could. Sometimes it feels like everyone out here wants to kill me or rape me or beat the living shit out of me just for the fucking hell of it. The truth is, a lot of them do. Christ, how the hell did I last this long? Why the fuck am I still alive?

Hey, did you notice that even that crackhead could tell I was fucking crazy? Can you believe it? Some fucking asshole totally out of his mind on crack takes one look at me and knows I’m a fucking lunatic. For all of the times in my life I’ve had people tell me that I don’t look crazy or act crazy, a whole lot of people sure seem to pick up on it. Maybe I’ve got an aura or something? Maybe I’ve got this vibe that I can’t feel but everyone else can? Something sure as hell seems to tip them off. It really seems like a lot of people can tell I’m crazy within thirty seconds of meeting me. I think that’s one reason why I’ve never had a lot of friends. People who emit a psycho vibe aren’t exactly popular. That’s been the case all my life. It used to be I could ruin a party just by showing up. Try living with that when you’re a teenager. Shit, I obviously ruined that crackhead’s party! Good! I hope I ruined his fucking crack buzz, too! That’ll teach him. They hate that!

Let’s head west. Over toward the bodegas. I need to get something to drink. Oh, I don’t mean a beer or anything. I mean something to drink because I’m thirsty. I don’t know why, but all my life I’ve always been thirsty a lot. I’ve never been a big eater, but I could go through about half a dozen sodas a day. My mom even took me to the doctor about it because being thirsty all the time is a symptom of diabetes. It turned out I wasn’t diabetic. They couldn’t figure out why I was always thirsty, though. They were more interested in why I never seemed to be hungry. Shit, that’s an easy one. Crushing depression kind of kills your appetite. Speaking of food, I thought about getting something to eat tonight. I mean, isn’t your last meal supposed to be a big deal or something? They always make a big deal out of it for condemned prisoners. You know, they come to you and ask, “Since you’re being executed tonight, what would you like for your last meal, Miss? Not that you’ll have time to digest it or anything, but it’s tradition.” That’s nice of them, don’t you think? I wonder how many people ever really got what they asked for? Not many, I’ll bet. It’s probably like that thing with the old Ford Model “T.” You know, “You can have it in any color you choose as long as you choose black.” Yeah, right. You’re being killed in two hours, so you can have any food you want as long as you choose meat loaf, because that’s all we’ve got. How generous of them. But I wonder: do the prisoners even care? Probably. I guess it’s a big deal to them because it’s the last thing in their lives that they’ll have any control over. I totally understand that. I’ve thought about that a lot lately. The whole point of this night is that I’m finally taking control over my life. Well, sort of, anyway. The truth is, I never had any control over my life. My broken brain always took it in whatever direction it wanted; my wishes be damned. Even when I could see that I was headed for a disaster, I couldn’t seem to gain any control over it. Living my life was a lot like being a passenger in a car and shouting at the driver because she was driving like a fucking idiot. No matter how much I screamed, she just kept barreling down the road that I didn’t want to be on. Eventually, it led here. That’s when the car finally stopped. So I guess I’ll have to settle for having control over my death. That’s something, isn’t it? The glass is half full, right? I’ve got to be positive about something, right?

You want to hear something crazy? Here I am, thinking about my impending death, and suddenly all I can focus on is the fact that my stomach’s growling. How crazy is that? Now that I think about it, I haven’t eaten a thing since early yesterday. Does that sound strange? It really isn’t. Knowing that you’re going to kill yourself ruins your appetite even worse than depression. Even under the best of circumstances, suicide is a stressful thing, and stress is not conducive to hunger. So I guess that means my last meal on earth was half a ham sandwich and a Coke from yesterday. Can you believe that? A half of a sandwich and a soda from a roach coach was my last fucking meal on earth. That should tell you something about me. The funny thing is, if I wanted to eat anything tonight, I’d probably have to settle for a little bag of potato chips or something. I don’t have enough money to buy anything else. I don’t think I’ve got five bucks on me. Maybe right around five. I got a few bucks panhandling the day before yesterday. That’s how I make money out here. I could make more whoring myself out, but there’s no way in hell I’d ever do that. Even I have standards, if you can believe it. So I’ve got five or so bucks that didn’t cost me anything to make. Whatever it is, it’s all the money I have in the world. Hey, out here, that’s a lot. That’s pretty fucking pathetic, isn’t it? Then again, there were plenty of times out here when I didn’t have even that much. I would’ve killed for five bucks. I actually thought about killing people for less than that on a few occasions. How fucked up is that? Actually, it’s kind of par for the course out here. I’ve seen people get killed over a cigarette. That’s just the world we live in. So I’m broke, just like everyone else out here. But that’s OK. What do I need money for? It’s not like I have anyone to leave it to when I’m gone. After tonight, I won’t ever need money again. You know, I’m looking forward to that.

But I still need something to drink. That can be a problem out here at night, even this early. In case you haven’t noticed, we don’t have soda machines out here. They wouldn’t last five minutes. We’d tear them to pieces and steal the quarters, and then we’d sell what was left of the machines for scrap metal. Too bad. I can think of a hundred times since I’ve been out here when I would’ve got down on my knees and blown a crackhead for a cold soda. If only we’d had a soda machine around here. Hey, at least I didn’t have to blow a crackhead, right? And it’s not just soda machines that we could really use. You should see some of these people when it’s four in the morning and they suddenly go into a nicotine fit. Try getting a cigarette out here at that hour! The only place is the gas station, and it’s way over that way, about twenty minutes’ walk from here. Charlie told me about how they used to have cigarette machines in the lobbies of all the office buildings in Heller Plaza and the hotels on the western edge back in the day. Apparently, the homeless were their best customers. Of course, that’s when cigarettes went for about eighty-five cents a pack. But even eighty-five cents can be a king’s ransom out here, so if you didn’t have the change, you used a crowbar. Charlie said they got broken into so many times, it was a miracle that they kept them as long as they did. Soda machines wouldn’t fare any better. No, the best place to get a soda out here at night is at a liquor store, provided you get there before they close. They’re a lot colder than the ones from the roach coaches. For some reason they taste better, too. Don’t ask me why. They just do.

And that brings us to the subject of liquor stores on skid row. That’s something you really need to know about if you want to understand this place. Believe me, they’re a big fucking deal out here. There are eight liquor stores in our little slice of heaven, and one of them is at the end of this block. Eight liquor stores in something like a fifteen square block radius? That’s pretty fucking ridiculous, don’t you think? Then again, it’s to be expected. You can’t have skid row without a bunch of liquor stores. There are just too many drunks out here. They’ve got to have a supply of booze close by. The one down the street is a little different from the others. It’s been sold a few times since I’ve been here. At least, I think it has. It’s had a couple of different names over the years. I couldn’t tell you what it’s called now. Why bother? Why the fuck does a liquor store on skid row need a name anyway? I mean, as far as we’re concerned, it’s just the liquor store by the used furniture store. Everyone knows it and everyone knows where it is, just like the rest of them. That’s enough. Anyway, they’re all a major focal point out here, day or night. There’s always a shitload of people hanging out in front of them as long as they’re open. The owners hate it, but there’s nothing they can do about it. A few of them have tried, though. When we get up to the door, check out the bullet holes in the wall out front. The guy who used to own the place put them there. I don’t think he was trying to kill anyone, but he sure as hell winged a few people. I wasn’t there when he did it, but I was close enough that I heard the shots. It happens out here. Hey, it’s one way to keep the assholes from hanging out in front of your store.

The other strange thing is that while we’re their best customers – seriously, who the fuck would come here from the Emerald City to shop at a skid row liquor store? – a lot of times they won’t even let us in. Seriously. Some of them even put signs on the door that say “No Homeless Allowed.” Damn, where is the ACLU when you need them? Yeah, right. Anyway, the guy who owns this one now is a Korean guy who hates us all with a fucking passion. Personally, I think he’s the worst of the lot. God, I hate him. I hate him almost as much as he hates me. He’s always got this evil look on his face when I go in there. He usually tries to chase you away if you get so much as one foot in the door. During the day he comes out with a garden hose and soaks the sidewalk, hoping it’ll discourage the assholes from sitting out front. It doesn’t work. With my luck, I’ll bet he’s there tonight. It seems like he’s always there. Sometimes I think he lives in the stock room or something. I never bothered to ask him his name. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just another fucking asshole who makes my life miserable. He’s Mister Asshole. Why would I want to call him anything else? Fortunately, the other guy who works there likes me. His name’s Monroe, and he’s an older black guy who’s always been pretty good to me. Probably because I’m a woman and I’m reasonably clean these days. I don’t stink to high heaven like I used to. That and the fact that I don’t steal shit from him. Well, I don’t steal from there anymore. Back when I was living on the street, it was a different story. Shit, I stole anything that wasn’t nailed down. That place was no different.

All right, we’re here. Let’s see what happens when I walk inside. Stand by!

“You get out!”

And here we go! Like I said, just as soon as I get my foot through the fucking door, it’s Mister Asshole!

“I just want to get a soda.”

“You get out! No homeless in here! Leave!”

“I’ve got money. I’ll show it to you.”

“No! Get out now!”

I don’t have time for his bullshit. Not tonight. Where’s Monroe? He’ll keep this asshole off of me. Monroe’s an old guy, but he’s about six foot four and built like a linebacker. He could squash this motherfucker like a bug. That’s probably why the guy hired him. Oh, good! There he is. I guess I’m saved.

“It’s OK, boss. I know her. She’s OK.”

Come on, Monroe. Get this fucking idiot away from me. I can’t deal with him tonight. And as you can see, he’s not giving an inch.

“I don’t want her in here! I don’t want homeless in here! They steal!”

“Don’t worry, boss. I got this. She ain’t gonna steal nothing. What do you need tonight, Miranda?”

“Just a Coke.”

“OK, you go get it.”

Watch this: Mister Asshole’s going to follow me over to the cooler with the sodas and make sure I don’t slip anything into my pocket. He always does. To be honest, I can’t really blame him. After all, we’re all a bunch of fucking thieves. That includes me. I probably ripped off a couple of hundred bucks’ worth of shit from this place over the years.

“No stealing!”

“Uh-huh. No stealing. I got it. You want to search me?”

Oh, great! And now he flashes the gun! This is what happens whenever I come in here. See? He’s got his hand near his gun and he wants to make sure I can see it. Did I mention this asshole never goes anywhere without a gun? It’s part of his charm. Smile, Miranda. Don’t let the crazy man with the cannon see you’re nervous. If he shoots you, he’ll probably only wound you. That’ll fuck everything up for tonight.

“See? Just a Coke. That’s all I want.”

“Pay for it and get out!”

This guy is reason number umpteen thousand and one why there is no way in hell I’m ever going back on the street. When I was out here, I had to deal with assholes like him every fucking day. Looking back, it’s a miracle I never stuck this son of a bitch. He’s definitely got it coming.

“Hey, Monroe. How have you been?”

“Oh, I’m pretty good myself. How you been, Miranda? I ain’t seen you in a while.”

“I’ve been better.”

Gee, that wiped the smile right off of his face. Old guys seem to hate it when you tell them your life sucks. You’d think they’d understand; having lived this long.

“Oh, don’t say that, girl. It’s gonna pick up for you. You watch. Things are gonna get better.”

“Yeah, I think they’re going to get better pretty soon.”

“Now, that’s the spirit! You got to stay positive.”

If he only knew. But I’m sure as hell not going to tell him what I’ve got planned for later.

“You mean because there’s so much to be positive about out here?”

“I know. I know. But you just keep lookin’ on the bright side.”

How the fuck can someone who works in a liquor store in this fucking place be so damned positive? I think Monroe must be dipping into the stock between sales. He wouldn’t be the first.

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

“Just the soda tonight?”

“That’s it.”

“You don’t want nothin’ else?”

“I can’t afford anything else. Just the soda.”

“Well, OK, then. Now, you keep thinkin’ good thoughts. It’s gonna get better for you. You keep believin’ that.”

“I’ll try. Thanks, Monroe.”

“Bye, bye, Miranda. You watch yourself out there.”

“Hey, Monroe?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks. For everything. I mean it.”

And of course, Mister Asshole is going to follow me out the door; his hand within an inch of his gun the whole time. He wants to make damned sure I’m gone and I’m not coming back. Don’t worry, Mister Asshole. I’m never coming back here again. Not even as a ghost.


Liquor stores. I can’t speak for liquor stores in the normal world, but out here at night they’re pretty interesting places – when they let you in the door, that is. Like I said, with all of the drunks out here, they’re an essential part of the landscape. Can you even call it that? I mean, do we even have a landscape out here? It’s more like a filthscape, isn’t it? It’s certainly more appropriate. Anyway, if you’re living on the street and you’ve got two nickels to rub together and call a dime, you’ll probably spend it on booze. Well, you will if you don’t spend it on dope or cigarettes. Since I don’t drink anymore, I don’t buy much from them other than the occasional soda. But they’ve got more to offer than just shit to buy. As long as the owner doesn’t fuck with you, liquor stores are good places to kill time when you’re homeless. When I was out on the street, I used to go in and look at the more unusual-shaped bottles. I really liked them. I thought some of them were downright amazing. That should tell you something about me: my idea of an interesting way to pass the time was to look at weird bottles in a fucking liquor store. How’s that for crazy? But seriously, some of them are really neat. They must make them just to look at because I’ve never seen anyone buy one. Even when I was growing up, I don’t remember ever seeing bottles like that in anyone’s house, and I was on intimate terms with everyone’s liquor cabinet back then. They’re pretty expensive, too. Maybe that’s why no one buys them? That’s certainly true out here. It’s not like we can afford the good stuff. And we wouldn’t appreciate it if we could. Anyway, it got so they didn’t like me looking at the bottles. I used to stand in the isle and stare at them with this vacant look on my face and I probably freaked the shit out of everyone. They used to give me this speech about how the place isn’t a museum and if I’m not buying anything, then get the fuck out. One time the owner of the one near the Shepherd Mission cracked me with a two-by-four for staring at the bottles. I guess he figured that shouting “Get the fuck out, you filthy bitch!” wasn’t persuasive enough. Trust me when I tell you that eight stitches in your shoulder is plenty persuasive. I never went back there after that.

Liquor stores out here are pretty much a cash-only business, which makes sense when you consider that we don’t have credit cards or ATM cards or shit like that. But it’s pretty fucking dangerous when you think about it. With all of these crooks and psychos and dope fiends, a cash-only business makes for a tempting target. You know there’s a shitload of cash in there. They do more than just make sales. A lot of these places keep a shitload of cash around to cash people’s checks. I cashed a few disability checks in the liquor stores back when I was getting them. But the really strange thing is that in spite of all that, liquor stores are probably some of the safest places out here besides the police station. Oh, I’m sure they get robbed all the time in the normal world, but like everything else out here, it’s a very different situation. You see, out here they take precautions. For one thing, they keep the cash in a safe beneath the floor so the robbers can’t get to it. I’m not talking about some little steel box, either. It’s a big metal can that looks like a giant milk jug. You know, like you’d see on a farm. It weighs about two hundred pounds empty and it’s buried in steel-reinforced concrete. I know because I got to watch them install one once. It was winter and it was pouring rain, and the owner said I could hang out in the store if I mopped the floor. They were making a hell of a mess and he didn’t want to clean it up. Anyway, they used a fucking jackhammer to get that thing into the floor. It took four guys just to lower it into the hole. I couldn’t fucking believe it. You’d need a case of dynamite to get that thing open. I’ve got to tell you, I was impressed.

Not only that, but the average robber wouldn’t make it five feet into the store. That’s because all the guys who work there are armed to the fucking teeth. That’s not an exaggeration. They don’t have just one gun. They have dozens of them. And they don’t hide them, either. They want you to see them. Sometimes they even hang them on a rack behind the cash register so that any would-be thief knows exactly what he’s getting into. There’s one over on Palomar that does that. And take it from me: they’re big fucking guns! Hell, Monroe’s got a .357 magnum underneath his sweater. He showed it to me once. Talk about a fucking cannon! You should see that thing! And that wasn’t even the biggest gun I’ve seen in those places. Take it from me: the days of keeping a little .38 snubnose underneath the counter are long gone. I’ve seen guns in liquor stores that I didn’t think you were allowed to own unless you were in the army. And it doesn’t matter if the crook has a gun because the guys who work there are usually sitting behind two inches of bulletproof glass. Most of those places have a shitload of bulletproof glass. They’re like banks, only the glass has these little holes in it for the guys to shoot through. And shoot you they will! They won’t think twice about it. Anyone who owns a liquor store out here is one tough motherfucker. They won’t hesitate to kill you for the slightest reason. Not for a fucking second. Count on it. Shit, they’ll blast you just for pocketing a box of crackers. I know some of them that have a couple notches in their guns already. I even knew some of the notches. I halfway expect to see their heads stuffed and mounted on the wall somewhere. Take it from me: no one in their right mind tries to rob a liquor store out here. That shit means certain, instant death.

You know, there’s something kind of profound about my telling you all of this, seeing as I’m a junkie. A junkie talking about booze – there’s a sight! But it makes sense. Alcohol and drugs. They’re the lifeblood of skid row. Damn! What a combination! Out here, drinking is the number one thing to do. Even more than dope. A lot of people are out here because they drink too damned much. Others drink too damned much because they are out here. At least that one makes sense. Drinking numbs you. Drinking makes you forget, if only for a minute. You can’t imagine how much one minute of forgetfulness is worth in this shithole. Drinking also makes you pass out when you’re too scared or too miserable to sleep. Trust me, when you live on the street, that’s like fucking manna from heaven. And as for any moral issues? Well, being an alcoholic out here is a lot like being a junkie. By that, I mean why the fuck shouldn’t you be one? Think about it: you’ve obviously hit rock bottom. What the fuck are you saving yourself for? Who wants a long, healthy life if they have to spend it out here? Out here, health and longevity are practically vices. Obviously, a lot of us think that way because we’ve got plenty of hard-core alcoholics running around. They need their fix just like a junkie does. Fortunately for them, booze is legal. It’s also cheap. It’s a lot cheaper than dope, that’s for sure. Uh, let me clarify that. Some booze is cheap. Understand: we don’t drink the good stuff. That’s not cheap. There’s plenty of good shit in liquor stores that never sells because none of us can afford it, and that’s not just the stuff in those weird bottles I like to look at so much. There’s good whiskey and wines in there that have about an inch of dust on them because nobody even bothers to touch them. They just cost too much. As much as we’d like to drink it, we’re on what you would call a limited budget. No, we like our booze cheap. Actually, we like it wickedly strong and cheap. Fortunately, the liquor stores have that covered.

Not surprisingly, people out here aren’t particular about what they drink. As long as it’s as strong as jet fuel and cheaper than dirt, they’ll drink it. That brings up something else I learned when I got here. Apparently, there’s a whole industry in the liquor business that caters to such tastes. I’ve seen drinks out here that I never heard of before, but since then, I’ve seen them every day of my life. They’re usually what they call fortified wines. Fortified? That’s a nice way of saying they taste like fucking diarrhea, go down like paint thinner, and they’ll kick your ass big time before you get halfway through the bottle. They have names like Thunderbird and Night Train and Boone’s Farm Strawberry and shit like that. Whatever the brand, it’s fucking evil stuff. One good swig and you’re halfway there. Calling that shit wine is an insult to every decent winemaker in the world. If you ask me, they taste more like fucking gasoline than wine. Sometimes I think they are gasoline. You could probably run your car on them. If you spilled that shit on your car it would eat the fucking paint right off of it while you watched. Just buying that shit is like admitting you’re a lost cause. Only the lowest of the low could bring themselves to drink it. I guess that’s why out here, we drink it by the fucking gallon.

If you ask me, the worst of them is called Cisco. Cisco is probably the most popular drink out here. It’s everywhere. It’s also one weird fucking drink. It’s the devil’s brew. It’s pure liquid shit in a bottle, and that’s being charitable. If you ask me, it ought to be called Pissco. I mean it. You’d be better off drinking piss. Why is it weird? Well, for one thing, it doesn’t even look like booze. It looks like orange soda. It’s bright orange. I think it comes in red, too, but most of the time I see people drinking the orange stuff. It even comes in a bottle that looks just like a soda bottle. Things like Night Train and Thunderbird look like the hard stuff, but not Cisco. I think they’re trying to fool you by putting it in that bottle. From a distance, it looks to the cops like you’re just drinking a soda so you don’t end up with a ticket for drinking in public. I’ve only ever had it once. Believe me, once was enough! Shit, once was more than enough! Oh, it was sugary like soda, all right. It was also the strongest, nastiest shit I’ve ever tasted! It’s been almost seven years and I still remember it. It was about a week after I got here. I was standing around in front of the Redeemer Mission with about two hundred other homeless guys and it looked like everyone but me had a bottle of the stuff. It was unusually hot that day and I was really thirsty, so I asked someone if I could have a sip. Hey, I thought it was orange soda, remember? So this guy gave me a sip. Jesus fucking Christ! It almost killed me! It was fucking horrible! I swear, it was the most evil shit I ever drank in my life, and I took a great big hit because I thought it was orange soda. God, I nearly puked right there. Within five minutes I had a headache like a migraine that lasted for hours. And that was from one swig! These fucking people were drinking that shit by the bottle! How? One bottle would eat through your stomach in ten minutes! Take it from me: Cisco is God’s way of telling you that you’ve got a serious fucking drinking problem and it’s time to stop for good. But apparently no one out here is listening because they suck that shit down nonstop, day and night. Talk about fucking masochists!

While we’re on the subject, I mentioned that I don’t drink anymore. That’s important if you want to try to understand me. You’d think that being out here, I’d drink like a fish. But I don’t, and that’s just as well. I’ve got enough problems as it is. Actually, I quit drinking even before I got here. You see, I used to drink a lot. A whole lot. I used to drink too damned much. I wasn’t just a heavy drinker; I was a downright dangerous drinker. I started drinking when I was barely fourteen. It was a form of self-medication, since that’s about a year after my brain decided to become my worst enemy. By the time I was sixteen I probably qualified as a teenage alcoholic. It’s weird, but I guess I wasn’t exactly an alcoholic. I didn’t need to drink constantly. I just wanted to. All of my friends drank, but none of the girls drank as much as I did. Shit, most of the guys didn’t drink as much as I did. Guys used to watch me put it away and just shake their heads in disbelief. I drank plenty of them right under the table. It was pretty embarrassing for some of them, but I wasn’t trying to embarrass anybody. It wasn’t about partying, either. It was about survival. My mental problems made my teenage years a living hell, so I tried to kill the pain by drinking. It was there and it was easy to get and since I could raid my parents’ liquor cabinet and every other kid’s parents’ liquor cabinet, I didn’t have to pay for it. So it seemed like a good idea. For a while, it actually worked. I mean, I got a fair amount of relief from it over the years. Of course, it made me sick as hell and when it wore off I felt worse than I did before. That’s drinking for you. Fortunately, I didn’t get a lot of hangovers. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being young. It’s surprising because I usually drank until I either puked or passed out, but for some reason, I was spared most of the hangovers. I also did a lot of stupid things when I was drunk. That’s a gentle way of saying I fucked almost any guy who asked. Christ, I was one easy fuck back then! Guys used to call me Mirandy or Randy Miranda. They called me a lot of other things no gentleman should ever call a lady. Yeah, I fucked a lot of guys. I didn’t do it to be popular or anything. I just did it because I hated myself and I wanted to feel something other than misery and I honestly didn’t give a shit. It was like, what? You want to fuck me? Sure, why not? You never treated me like shit, so I guess you earned it. I’d never fuck a guy who treated me like shit. Other than that, I was game. How’s that for having standards?

I used to steal wine and whiskey from my parents. They weren’t big drinkers – not by a long shot – but we always had a few bottles around the house and I used to drink it whenever I could. I’d make a little mark on the bottle with a lipstick before I started so I’d know how full it was. After I’d finished, I’d fill it back up to the mark with water and shake it. For some reason I thought that would fool them. I don’t know if it ever did. My parents weren’t stupid. What’s really fucked up is that they probably blamed my brothers for it. It’s easier to think that your boys are sneaking drinks than your little girl. But I was such a fucking mess back then that I don’t know how they could’ve missed it. I mean, I lost count of how many times I spilled booze on my clothes or puked all over myself. Or both. I was anything but discrete. Fortunately, mom and dad didn’t make me stand inspection when I came home past my curfew. And since I helped with the laundry anyway, I could usually wash the shit out of my clothes before anyone ever saw them. But did they know? I always thought I had them fooled, but now I wonder about it. Did they really know what a useless fuck-up I was? Did they know what I was doing to myself? And if they did, then did they think it was somehow their fault? I hope not, because it was entirely my fault. I never had any illusions about that.

I think my brothers suspected it. They never confronted me about it, but I got plenty of lectures from them about how I had to stop fucking up and get my act together. Yeah, I’m pretty sure they knew something was up. Maybe their friends told them what a drunken slut their sister was? I wouldn’t be surprised. You know how kids are. Imagine having your friends tell you all the gory details about how they nailed your kid sister. Maybe they just couldn’t help noticing that I came home trashed more times than I can remember. I’d come home and pass out in my bed and wake up the next morning still wearing the clothes I had on the night before. My mom would just say, “Why do you like to sleep in your clothes?” And while I was pretty fanatical about brushing my teeth – I hate the dentist – I must have smelled like shit. My breath was fresh, but I stunk like shit. How could they not smell the booze on me? There were plenty of times where they got to me before I could take a shower or change my clothes. How could they have missed it? I don’t know. Maybe they were in denial? A lot of parents are when it comes to that sort of shit. They were good parents and I was the youngest and I was their only daughter. I was their little girl. I couldn’t possibly be a drunk and a slut, right? Parents can be like that. I hope to God they never knew. It’s bad enough I fucked up everything in my life. It’s even worse that I disappeared on them and never told them what happened to me. If they didn’t know, then at least they can keep their treasured memories of their wonderful little girl. Even if they are all lies.

And they are a bunch of lies. I wasn’t a good girl. I wasn’t a daughter they could be proud of. I was a drunk. I was a drunk and a tramp and a hell raiser and a miserable, selfish bitch and I didn’t care. I knew it would’ve killed my parents to learn the truth, but I didn’t care. I was completely out of control and I didn’t care. I had a major fucking drinking problem before I was old enough to get a driver’s license and I didn’t care. And speaking of driving, I didn’t stop drinking when I started driving. Hell, I thought driving drunk was fun. I did it more times than I can remember. Looking back, it’s a miracle I didn’t kill anyone. It’s too bad I didn’t kill myself. It would’ve spared everyone a lot of grief. And I would have made a great example for kids everywhere. They could’ve put me on a poster or something. “Children, do you see that bloody, mangled piece of shit inside that wrecked car? That’s Miranda. She was a stupid fucking drunk and she got behind the wheel. Now she’s dead. Serves her right. Don’t let that happen to you.” See? I could’ve made something of my life after all. And I never would’ve ended up out here. Sounds like a sweet deal to me. Damn! A half a million drunk drivers kill themselves every year. Why couldn’t I be one of them? All those times I drove shitfaced and I escaped without a scratch. I was definitely born under a bad sign, don’t you think?

But eventually drinking stopped doing me any good. I didn’t get any relief anymore from getting shitfaced drunk. I don’t know why. I just didn’t. It really sucked. I mean, for a while there I thought drinking would get me through all the problems of having TRD. But in the end, the bottom fell out just like everything else in my miserable fucking life. I just couldn’t win. So eventually I stopped. It wasn’t a matter of willpower or a twelve-step program or anything. I just lost interest in getting drunk. By the time I was about twenty, I didn’t care if I ever took another drink again. I guess that’s a good thing. If I had to bankroll a drinking problem out here, I’d be in serious trouble. That shit may be cheaper than dope, but it adds up. No, heroin was a much better choice for me for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I’d always hoped it would kill me – you know, that I’d overdose or something. I figured that would be quick. Drinking yourself to death takes too long. I know. I’ve seen people out here who have been trying for decades and they’re still here.

So I don’t drink anymore. But like I said, a lot of people out here do. They drink like proverbial fish. Drinking is a real lightning rod out here, probably because of the historic connection between skid row and drunks. Most people think of skid row and they automatically think of drunks. They’re not the only ones. The holy rollers out here are constantly on about the evils of drink. They like to rant about the evils of dope and stealing and sex, too. There’s not a vice in the book that they won’t touch. But booze is their favorite topic. I’m not talking about the guys like Reverend Ehlers. I’m talking about the real charismatic preachers. The Pentecostal preachers. You see a lot of them out here. They’re like a modern-day temperance league. The only things missing are Carrie Nation and her hatchet. You ought to hear them when they get started on the evils of drink. Fire and brimstone! I’ve heard the sermons a million fucking times. They’re always the same. Alcohol is the devil’s tool. It’ll steal your soul. It’s a one-way ticket to hell and damnation. It’s evil. Stop before it’s too late. Oh, and that goes for dope, too. They’re like a broken record. Every time I hear it I think to myself, it’s already too late. You guys missed the boat. You want proof? Look around you. We’re not going to hell. We’re already in hell. Shit, hell would be an improvement on this fucking place. I know they mean well, but evil or not, the truth is this place couldn’t exist without dope and booze. We couldn’t exist without them. We wouldn’t last five fucking minutes. They’re the only things that make this sorry excuse for an existence possible. They also keep a lot of us from running through the streets and slashing the throats of everyone we can catch. Preach all you want guys, but the dope and the booze aren’t going anywhere. Not ever. Not in our little slice of heaven.

That doesn’t stop them from trying, though. They’ve always got a horror story to tell you even if you’re not listening. Of course, I don’t listen. I never listened. The preachers don’t seem to get it. Their arguments are completely wasted on me. That’s because dope and booze are the only things that ever made me feel anything but miserable, and I sure as hell needed the relief. It’s not a cure, but it’s a pretty good quick fix. For me, heroin was the only real fix. But for others it’s drinking. Even for a lot of junkies and crackheads out here, booze is particularly appealing. That’s not surprising. For one thing, alcohol is about the only legal drug you can get. If you get caught with it, the most you’ll get is a ticket that you’re never going to pay. No one goes to jail for unlawful possession of a bottle of Cisco. You don’t need a prescription and you don’t need a dealer. You don’t need a pipe or a syringe. You just need a couple of bucks and an open liquor store and you’re in business. You probably won’t even need a bottle opener. All of the cheap stuff has twist-off caps. How thoughtful of the liquor companies to make it easy for us.

Make no mistake: alcohol is a drug. That’s a fact. I can attest to it. My high school guidance counselors were right about that one. Alcohol is every bit as addictive as any dope you can think of, and just as dangerous. An addict’s an addict; whatever your poison. Only the names change. Get hooked on the needle and they call you a junkie. Get hooked on the pipe and they call you a crackhead. Get hooked on the bottle and they call you an alcoholic. It sounds better than junkie or crackhead, doesn’t it? Alcoholic sounds almost clinical. Needless to say, there are a lot of diagnosed alcoholics out here. There are a lot of alcoholics everywhere, but out here, they’re a whole lot more obvious. I mean, it’s not like anyone tries to hide it out here. On the contrary, they wear it on their sleeves – and on their shirts, and on their pants, and on their shoes, and all over the sidewalk – well, you get the idea. Shit, these people take alcoholism to a whole new level. God only knows how they’re still alive.

Yeah, there’s no getting around it: people out here like to drink – a lot. There are no social drinkers out here. They don’t drink for the hell of it. They drink to get thoroughly fucked up. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have their rituals, just like junkies. You see people holding brown paper bags up to their mouths. Why? Because it’s against the law to drink in public, so everyone puts the bottle in a brown paper bag. It makes the cops happy because they don’t like to waste time writing drinking tickets. Out of sight; out of mind. It’s so fucking stupid when you think about it: all these people out here drinking out of a bottle wrapped in a little brown bag. Who do they think they’re fooling? And it’s always the same fucking bag! It’s your basic brown paper lunch bag, like the one you took to school when you were a kid. I mean, couldn’t they fish a different kind of bag out of the trash just once? And if that wasn’t bad enough, they even wrap their bottle in a bag when they’re not out on the street! I’ve seen people crashed out in an abandoned building and they’ve got their bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag! Hello? You’re indoors, asshole! You’re allowed to drink! It’s legal! Jesus Christ! What is it? A fucking unwritten law or something? You can’t drink out here unless your shit is wrapped in a brown paper bag? Jesus fucking Christ! And they call me crazy? Please!

Why am I going on like this about fucking drunks? In part, it’s because I used to be one and seeing as how I’m about to die, I’m trying to make some sense of how it all went to hell. But it’s more than that. The drunks out here really make me think about where I am and just what this place is. I told you about how it takes forever to drink yourself to death, remember? Well, I didn’t tell you what it’s like to sit on the sidewalk in front of a mission and watch a couple hundred people try to drink themselves to death. I didn’t tell you how watching them for all of these years really drove home the fact that I’d hit rock bottom. I’d watch them and see what they were doing to themselves and it made me realize that I was no better off than they were. I was no different from them. It made me realize that I was just like them. I was just like them and I was going to be just like them for the rest of my life and nothing on earth could change that. You can’t imagine what it’s like to watch people drink themselves into a fucking stupor morning, noon and night every fucking day of your life and know it’s because there’s just no good reason not to do it. Take it from me: it’s a real lightbulb over the head kind of moment. It really hammers home the fact that you’ve got nothing to live for. I mean literally. It was painful to watch. And it was like looking in a mirror that always makes you look as ugly as shit. I’ve gotten used to it over the years, but sometimes it still gets to me. And when it does, it really hurts. I used to wonder why I never started drinking again when I wound up out on the street. I guess that’s why.

Drinking does kill people out here, but most of the time, it’s not because they literally drank themselves to death. You’ll see people with yellow skin from jaundice, but it’s usually the result of hepatitis rather than liver failure from chronic alcoholism. But as you probably know, drinking can kill you in all sorts of ways. For one thing, there’s a fair amount of traffic on these streets. Most normal people avoid this place like the plague, but there’s plenty of people who have to drive through this part of town to get where they’re going. That’s especially true of truck drivers who have to make pickups and deliveries in the warehouse district. When you’re completely hammered, you tend to have trouble walking straight. You have trouble staying on the sidewalk. As you might imagine, more than a few people have staggered into the street completely drunk and been hit by cars and trucks. That’s a great way to get killed, but from what I’ve seen, it’s rarely instantaneous. I’ve seen some nasty accidents out here. The cops like to call it “vehicle versus pedestrian.” Oh, sure! Talk about a mismatch! Guess who wins those matches? You got it. I’ve seen people get torn to pieces from being hit by trucks. One guy had his leg torn completely off not fifty feet from me. He bled to death before the ambulance got here. The paramedics aren’t exactly Johnny-on-the-spot to get to skid row unless the cops call them. I’ve seen guys get nailed by cars and the sort of got folded over the hood and they went head-first through the windshield. It hardly looked real, but all of the blood that went flying everywhere was definitely real. It never ceases to amaze me just how much damage a moving car can do to a staggering drunk. You come to realize just how fragile the human body is when you see it get torn to pieces right in front of you.

Another way drinking gets you killed out here is it makes you act like a stupid fucking idiot. That can be extremely hazardous to your health in this fucking place. Some people get all big and bad when they get drunk, and they usually end up picking a fight with the wrong person. Remember: we’ve got people out here with some serious body counts under their belts. I’m talking double-digit murderers. What do you think they do when a stupid fucking drunk gets in their face? You got it: add another one to the body count. I’ve seen more people get stuck or get their heads bashed in with pipes or two-by-fours because they got drunk and started talking shit to someone for no reason than I can count. Sometimes the assailant forgoes the weapon and just beats the asshole to death. Fists and feet are pretty lethal if you know how to use them. It takes at least a few minutes to beat a guy to death with your bare hands, but when the victim is so drunk that he doesn’t even remember his own name, it’s not like he can fight back or even run away. You’ve heard of suicide by cop? That’s suicide by bottle. It works. It’s just not the way I want to go out. You’ve never heard screaming until you’ve heard someone screaming because they’re being beaten to death. It’s an evil, hellish kind of scream. Once you hear it, you never forget it. You’ll never be the same, either. Trust me: I speak from horrible experience.

One thing I hate about the people who are major drunks out here is that alcohol destroys brain cells, and as I told you before, the only thing you can really develop out here is your mind. It’s all you’ve got left that’s of any use. Strength? Forget it. Someone’s always a hell of a lot stronger than you. Some of these guys are fresh out of prison and they’re built like fucking tanks. They could probably bench-press a tank. Strength helps, but not as much as you’d think. The strongest son of a bitch out here is just as vulnerable to a knife in the gut or a steel pipe cracked over his head as anyone else. We don’t fight fair. We fight to win. We fight to live. And being especially strong makes you a target. Someone might think you’re too dangerous because you’re so strong, so they just wait until you go to sleep and they slit your throat. That happens fairly often out here. The mind is your best weapon. Charlie taught me that. So if you destroy it with booze, it’s like you’re throwing away the last thing of any value or use that you’ve got. It’s such a waste. This place is all about waste. Haven’t we wasted enough already?

There’s one other way that drinking can kill you out here. You see, drunks are like junkies in that when they can’t get their booze, things get really ugly for them. They need it just as much as a junkie needs a fix. If you’ve never seen an alcoholic go through alcoholic withdrawal, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s hell. It’s sheer agony. And unlike heroin withdrawal, alcohol withdrawal can actually kill you. So when they can’t get their booze, what do these desperate drinkers do? They look for a substitute. They’ll drink anything and everything they think might have alcohol in it, and that’s when the shit really hits the fan. Most of the shit they try to drink is poison. I’ve heard of drunks who drained the radiator of a parked car because they heard that antifreeze was alcohol. Uh, not quite. It’s ethylene glycol, and it’s about as poisonous as it gets. Even if it doesn’t kill you, it’ll cause permanent brain damage. I’m talking about the kind of brain damage that turns you into a vegetable and leaves you hooked up to a fucking ventilator until they decide to pull the plug. Other guys drink mouthwash, furniture polish, or cleaning fluid. Whatever they can get their hands on that their burned-out brain tells them might have alcohol in it. It’s a great way to kill yourself if you’re into prolonged agony. No thanks. I’ll pass.

I know what you’re probably thinking: why would anyone just give up on themselves like that? What kind of loser would just throw in the towel and let themselves go to complete shit? The truth is, you just answered your own question. We do it because we’re losers, and we’re losers because we lost. It’s really that simple. If you’re out here on skid fucking row, it stands to reason that you lost the big one. It’s over. Everyone and everything about this place is a constant reminder of just how much we’re all losers and we’re never going to win. It’s just a fact. We accept it. It’s never going to change. Skid row is the line that once you cross it, you can never cross back over. You don’t come back from this. Not ever. Oh, I’m sure there’ve been a couple of miracles over the centuries where people made it out of here, but I’ve never seen anyone do it. There are two ways out of skid row: in handcuffs, or in a box. With the handcuffs, you just trade one hell for another one. With the box, at least you’ve got a shot at eternal rest. That’s why most of us go out in a box. It’s the only hope we’ve got left.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Everyone starts out the same way. We get here and we try like hell to hang on to whatever’s left of our old lives. Of our old selves. We see the dregs and the drunks and the junkies and the broken people mumbling to themselves and we swear up and down that we’ll never be like them. We’ll never be one of them. We make all sorts of crazy plans to get out in a hurry, but they’re all complete bullshit. It doesn’t take long before you realize that this really is the end of the line, and you’re not getting out. Then you just focus on surviving. But that’s more work that you can imagine, and you take so many knocks that in time, you reach a point where you just don’t give a shit about anything anymore. That’s when you stop trying. Oh, you still try to stay alive. The human instinct for self-preservation is a lot stronger than most people realize. But everything else just disappears. Survival becomes little more than instinctive. But most of the time, you don’t even realize that you’re doing it. Then one day you walk past a mirror or a picture window and you see yourself and you realize that you’re one of those people you swore you’d never become. You’re filthy and hunched over and your clothes don’t fit you anymore and you don’t even recognize yourself, but you know it’s you. That’s the worst part: you know it’s you. And that’s when it hits you: it’s all over. You’ve got nothing left to lose. Nothing but your life, and that doesn’t mean shit to you anymore. It’s only that primitive instinct that keeps you alive, even when you don’t want to be alive anymore. Believe me, once you hit that point and have that realization, you’re fucked. There’s no going back. You’re one of us, for the rest of your fucking life. Tell me you wouldn’t start drinking life a fish or shooting any kind of dope you could find. You would. We all do. I mean, what’s the alternative? Don’t try to answer that one. Trust me on this one: you won’t like where it leads you.

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