Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oatmeal

I think Hobo Joe in S.F. is taking the pictures that should go with the long captions I'm writing. If there's an illustrator who wants to take a crack at this description then have at it. I tried to take his advice and describe what the surroundings are but I got off track. It's so boring to talk about what things look like. How many times does Bukowski describe his apartment or car interior? Or this foggy Richmond (?) scene with the cypress trees and piss stained concrete. The NASCAR sleeping bag pulled out of one of those clothing donation boxes, the five gallon bucket for sitting and also bathing. See the baby carriage on the bottom for shorter trips to the aluminum depot? It takes military precision to survive like this.


The men and women are assembled underneath the plastic awning waiting for the oatmeal to arrive. This river of humanity is a western Ganges with the ashes still loose on bones not yet burned among lotus flowers, twisting between rotten 4x4 posts instead of concrete columns. The rats are hiding from the sunlight and the dogs are sniffing in the piles of wet clothing, snuffing into the feces and urine soaked cardboard near the fence line for the central nest of the rats. The dogs know the source is there in the ivy hidden with the roadside trash and dog shit and flat tires and car parts. The dogs can smell that hot nest of quivering rat flesh but they can’t get through the fence and into the ivy to eat the rats without catching a fat kick to the ass. So the dogs take their frustration out on each other in the muddy yard near the bodies wrapped in plastic, the ugly mouths chewing on chicken bones, cracking the femur of a chicken for the marrow and tearing at the fatty skin with their yellow teeth. There on the muddy field the dogs run until they hear their master call from the parking lot or sidewalk.
The traffic on Highway 1 rolls over the wet pavement in slick paths, old cars and new cars, intent on a destination, a purpose and destiny. The rain falls into the mud and the rats sleep soundly. The picnic tables are cleared of resting junkies and someone finds a week old newspaper with the comic section. Everyone has a favorite comic and the punchlines are exchanged and repeated.
“Garfield is a funny fucker,” says a bearded man. “Garfield makes me laugh,” he says without laughing. He hardly ever smiles because of his awareness of his missing teeth, teeth that were once white and straight and admired by women at the drive-in theater where he worked. He wasn’t always a crippled man hunched over comics on a dirty picnic table, awaiting oatmeal at a homeless shelter, but his past has been washed to the ocean and obliterated by time’s great hammer. He’s tired because he didn’t sleep enough, maybe two hours of sweating in his sleeping bag. He sold the majority of his pain medication so he can’t move without a spasm of pain in his back that radiates to his neck. The doctors say it’s a bulging disk and though the pain is almost unbearable he can’t stand the idea of hands on his spine trying to straighten him, to push the bulging disk back where it belongs. The physical therapists either look through him like a mechanic at a set of faulty brake calipers or else try to humanize him and miss the mark, reduce him to a bundle of nerves and stock footage memories, so he does not go to physical therapy. His hands throb. His legs sting like his veins are filled with battery acid. He scratches at the dry skin on his thigh but only enjoys moments of relief before the crawling sensation returns. He looks around to see that no one has heard him. He is invisible here among the destitute. On the downtown street, when he tries to walk to the post office to see if the general delivery has any messages from his son, he mostly ignores the young couples in their fashionable clothes who ignore him. He knows he is a dead person now and can never recover his status. There is no money for it and he has no desire. His self-destructive habits mortgaged his future and now the balance has to be paid. He is relieved when the pain in his back is so severe that he can’t think about anything else. The doctors say he is also diabetic, whatever that means. Good, he thinks. Good. He’ll die and that will be it, but in his heart he knows his death will come slowly and in expanding stages of grotesque helplessness like the men he’s seen at the veteran’s hospital. They have their game shows and funny papers and impotent flirtations with the nurses but they don’t die, they live until they die and there’s a big difference. Better not to think of it. Better to live in the sepia-toned football memories and after school pool games, back-seat passion, or what passed for it, bleachers in the winter, dugouts in the summer. He can’t quite picture her face but he’s close enough to the shadow lover in his past that the rat dung nearby doesn’t bother him.
Creative Commons License
Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.