One evening near Christmas, a homeless man aproached me as I was going into the grocery store. He asked if I could spare a buck or two and he wasn't going to lie to me; he intended to spend the
money getting drunk. In a city overcrowded with the same old bullshit bum stories, I admired this straightforward approach. It seems like almost everyone else who asks for my hard earned money is a
hundred miles from home with their young children, stuck in a car that is out of gas at some undisclosed but presumably nearby location. I always wonder why the fuck someone with no money would
load their kids into a car that's low on gas and drive a hundred miles. If you're going to panhandle me, afford me the courtesy of making the story believable. Short of that, at least make it
So, like I said, I admired this bum's honesty. Now, I'm little more than a paycheck away from his very situation, myself. There's really no such thing as spare money to me, so I told him to get a job. Then, as I loaded my hand basket with a bag of potatoes and some cans of the cheap tuna- call it the Christmas Spirit or whatever- I started thinking about it. His cause was by no means noble. It wasn't even necessary. Or was it? For that matter, who was I to determine necessity for someone else, anyway? I found myself remembering the many times when I, too just needed to get a buzz going in order to have a life that was somehow better, if only in perception, and temporarily at that.
I sidetracked into the beer and wine section, focused on the bottom shelf. Night Train. The classic hobo-style label seemed poetically appropriate, conjuring darkly adventurous images of the old time train hoppers, with pasts and destinations unknown. I thought about Guns 'n Roses, crashing and burning on the Night Train and started to feel a binge of rock star proportions coming on, myself. Yeah, I'd help this guy get drunk. In fact, tonight we would ride the rails together. After all, what more did I have going for myself than he? The illusion of a good life, marginally better than his by virtue of a crappy job and a 13" tv with a coat hanger antenna? In the big picture, were my efforts even worth the meager payoff? Whenever I start thinking this way, I know there will be regrets. Even with this premonitory knowledge, I also know that for bad or worse, the course is already set.
I left my basket on top of the box o' wine display and grabbed a couple of the dusty bottles. I loosely slung them by the necks to the check out, the way I figured Jim Morrison might have carried them. I was rather pleased about getting two bottles of wine for just over 4 dollars and wasn't at all bothered by the way the cashier sized me up. I wanted to be on the other side of the tracks and was glad she knew that I was.
I exited the store and looked for my bum, but he was no longer at his post. During my hobo-life fantasy, I hadn't even considered that he would not be there. What the hell else has a guy like that got to do? I looked around the parking lot for a minute, then saw him at the far end of the building. I walked over and held up one of the bottle shaped paper sacks. We went around to the back of the store. There was a picnic table set among the trees on the narrow greenbelt that seperated the rear of the store from a service road. I unscrewed the cap and took a sip.
Night Train, like most of the fortified bum wines, is thickly sweet. Think grape Kool-Aid spiked with antifreeze and Nyquil. That's pretty close.
I powered through the first few gulps. Once the warm purple haze settles into your brain, it gets easier to swallow, so it's important to get to that point as quickly as possible. As I began my transformation into a rock star and he an old-time hobo, the bum and I spoke grandly of everything and nothing. Indeed, ours were the lives of kings that evening as our tales of valor and adventure grew to intoxicating proportions. We speculated on all of the most important issues of humanity, creating noteworthy and workable philosophies that would undoubtedly create a better tomorrow for all.
I woke up on the kitchen floor of my apartment. At some point I made the two block journey home. I've never been exactly sure how it was that I came to be there any more than I remember the details of our lofty discourse that evening. For all it's grandeur, only a few vague mental images of our conversations remained. Purple teeth. Compact discs cutting diamonds like buzz saws... a giant owl standing alongside a deserted road... a boy and a bicycle flipping over a curb and into traffic...a grieving wife, now dead.
I haven't seen that bum since. I like to think that he hitched a ride in a boxcar to somewhere warm. Maybe I just don't remember him well enough to recognize him among the rest of the homeless folks in this city. In a way, I wish I could recall more of our time together, but I'm okay with not remembering. I'm okay with not remembering because that night, the bum and I drank mostly to forget, if only for a while.
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