A downtown street on a windy morning, paper and other trash blowing in fits and starts across the intersection. Red weathered skin and dull eyes, a haunted man wrapped in stale cast-offs. Can you spare a quarter? Here you go. God bless you sir.
God bless pockets of clinking change. If I could recreate the scope and wide-angle visions of this walking life in words, I’d plunk it down into your skull right away, with appropriate chants and prayers. All elusive, though, a passing thought and I go on, we go on, crossing the street when the light changes.
What would Walt Whitman do if he could see America now? Would he clutch his head in agony and bellow like some poor tortured animal? I sing the god epileptic. The dreaming masses squirming to eat free. Out of business sale, everything half off.
There was a day when, out of fear and no wonder, I gave in and bought a ticket for the home town fair. Mom and Dad woke me up at three in the morning, light on suddenly, shouting in tandem. We overheard that phone call, we read your diary, we know what you’re doing. You are taking drugs, don’t lie about it. We cannot allow it.
Mean facial contortions and vicious yelling I omit here for sake of retrospective justification. Volenti non fit injuria. Hey, it’s okay, don’t worry about me.
From now on you will come directly home from school. You are not allowed to see any of your friends. They are not your friends. Real friends would not give you drugs.
Au contraire, mon pere. I would define my friends precisely as those who give me drugs. I speak to you from the future, from the realms of dialectic.
Waiting for the bus, surrounded by youthful characters smoking and swearing and saying god knows what, I seek no advancement, I ask for no difference in my condition. Freedom comes the long way, roundabout the mountainous landfill and under the arching forest of clotheslines—tramp tramp tramp, the tramps are marching. Without fear, finally, I can breathe the fetid atmosphere. Oh see can you say why the spawn’s yearly flight while so loudly he wailed despite all their scheming. America, show us your hairy ass. Let loose, I pray, a thunderous fart to astound and dismay the cowering world.
So then, that day, when all I could muster was hysterical pipsqueak bargaining—let me keep my long hair, damn it, and I promise to see a shrink—there was another way before me. Two roads diverged in the yellow fucking wood—one of them rutted washboard, the other with a school crossing sign. And I followed the one with the trail of crackerjacks, back from the witch’s house, you know, never mind that you left us out here, father, in the first place.
In this other life I ran away, truly, hooking up with the underground teenage bus route. With desperate stealth I blazed a cunning journey west. A new name, an altered visage, concealed in poverty the best disguise. Across the country, fending for scraps, living free on the back roads, a tough street kid, older than his years, I bartered the occasional ass-fuck for a roof and to score the needed dope. Years pass. The family has all but given up. All that’s left is a blistering good-bye note of undying hate. No, not really, it’s better without a note. There are no reasons.
The pain in the story is incident to the joy of revenge. They thought they could murder me, but I was stronger. Oh vagabond loner in a torn leather jacket, you decided your own fate. I salute you. Later you became—what? The notorious artist, voice of an outcast generation. There he is, at the table in the corner. You can glimpse him through the smoke. Cool but not aloof. If there is one man in this city who can help you, it is he, forcing his heart and nerve and sinew and so on. And which is more, you’ll be a man, my son. Pass the whiskey.
The reality, I know, is in the sick and dirty morning, my bones on the sidewalk, waking to find the next fix and avoid the next cop. Shivering as my teeth fall out, I crawl to the gutter and heave. Dead dog for dinner again. With vermin.
To live it is not the same as to dream it. The mewling pupa curls into a ball. If you can forgive, good. Even better would be to forget, he said. Daddy, were you playing a lead role in your story? I understand. Whenever I try to forget, I remember again.
I’ve arrived. I know most of the passengers by now—silently we say farewell. The bus drives away and I walk two blessed blocks and a half to home. Three squares, a bed, and someone to call me honey. Shut out the howling winds with song, in stereo. If I could give you all this, the days and times behind me, tramp tramp we march ahead and all for love of course—I would, and no delay. I would give it to you and hold back—nothing.
America, where are you? I’ve left messages. My letters have all been returned. I filled out a missing country report, but the police have no leads. Are you cold and hungry? I don’t expect you to come back. Just let me know you’re okay, and I promise not to bother you again. Your mother is inconsolable.
Dear dad, I’m off to the wars. Don’t worry. I’m doing fine, civilizing the natives. All is forgotten. Can you spare a quarter? God bless you sir.