Lunchtime found me and Rosa down at the shopping center. It was Rosa's idea. She insisted we go. She was bored, listless, and restless and wanted to be around others. There is always something going on down there -- a social panacea for us misfits and miscreants. The center was busy with patrons shopping and cars coming to and fro from the parking lot. You could feel a veritable electricity in the air. An excitement.
Clara was drinking beer and avoiding the police as she sat on a bench down near the nail salon. I walked over and asked her about where she slept and she was just drunk enough to reveal her slumber area. Her tongue loose from many a beer. Something you should never do when homeless. I guess she felt she could trust me.
"Behind the shopping center there is a hole in the fence," she said, quietly. "I crawl through and sleep on the old loading dock behind the dollar store. It is no longer used and is sheltered from the rain. Damn, it was so chilly this morning. I woke up cold and wrapped myself in my sleeping bag tightly. That concrete I sleep on can get damn hard and cold as well."
"Who bought you the sleeping bag?" I asked, curious.
"George got it for me. He said he wanted to talk to you about it since you camp all the time."
"I don't camp anything like I used to," I replied, much to my chagrin. "But I could have helped George pick a good bag."
I thought of George and his act of kindness. George can have his moments. I miss the old codger. I want to run off and spend days with George, drinking beer and raising hell like old times. I miss my dear friend even though he is a terrible influence upon me.
"You'll need a down sleeping bag for winter," I then told Clara. "It will keep you warm well below freezing. You just can't let it get wet. If it gets wet then it won't keep you warm."
"Can you get me one?"
"They're expensive," I replied. "I can order you one and you can pay me back. Sound like a deal?"
"Thank you," Clara said. "I will try and pay you back. You want a beer?"
It was all Clara had to offer. She reached into her backpack to pull out an amber 40 ounce bottle of Colt 45.
"No thanks," I replied, waving off her offer. "I appreciate the thought, though."
Clara unscrewed the cap and took a long drink of the tepid beer after looking all around to see if anyone was watching. It is illegal to drink in public here. A older lady walking into the grocery store saw Clara drinking and scowled with a menacing look upon her face.
I also saw my good friend, Ferret. He is back to his mouthwash drinking ways. The dollar store has mouthwash for $1.25 a bottle. They have gone up .25 cents, no doubt due to the amount Ferret purchases. One large bottle will get you completely blitzed. I am sad to report that I have drank it as well in the throes of my alcoholism -- an act of addictive desperation, so I cannot judge Ferret too harshly.
"I'm broke," Ferret said when I asked him why he was back to drinking mouthwash. "I can drink for days off of just five bucks. Five bucks won't even buy you a good six pack of beer. You sure as hell can't get drunk off of a six pack. A bottle of that mouthwash will fuck your ass up."
I sighed, worried. Ferret is my friend and I hate to see him abusing his body in such a way.
"I'm starving and broke," Ferret finally told me rubbing his belly. "Could we walk down to the diner to get something to eat? I'll pay you back next week."
"You coming?" I asked as I turned to Rosa.
"You two go ahead," she said. "I am talking to Clara."
Ferret and me walked down to Merl's diner to get a burger and fries which is just across the parking lot from the shopping center. I was starving as well. We took our seats and I was amused when Ferret ordered two huge burgers.
"Honey, are you sure you can eat all that?" the perky waitress asked Ferret.
"I could eat three," Ferret replied, grinning furiously.
I worried that Merl would say something about Ferret's condition. He reeked of body odor and hadn't had a shower in weeks. A dirty, tattered t-shirt hung off his back and dirt stains adorned his khaki pants. He smelled of stale beer and mouthwash. He looked and smelled like your stereotypical homeless man -- like some wildman who emerged from the woods after being lost for months.
"We've got to find you a place to live," I told Ferret as we ate our delicious burgers, sitting at a back corner table.
"Don't worry about me," Ferret replied nonchalantly. "I actually like living in my tent by the river. I don't want a home. Fuck that shit."
"It's about to get cold, though," I said of winter, warning him. "You're going to freeze your ass off."
"I'm not going to go live back with Monte," Ferret said brusquely of George's cousin. "That nigger ain't tellin' me what to do any longer. He drove me crazy. Always wanting money from me."
Ferret and I finished eating and we parted ways as he headed across the highway back to his woods and his tent to take a nap, satiated. I can't help but envy my homeless friend sometimes. His life is so visceral and raw. So real. I feel like an imposter living my life with little hardships -- an easy life on easy street. I still feel a need to atone for the sins of my former way of living.
"You always get melancholy when you spend time with Ferret," Rosa told me as we rode our bikes home late in the afternoon.
"I envy him of his life," I said dodging traffic not wanting to say more knowing it would worry Rosa.
Rosa didn't say anything in return and it was a quiet ride up 5th avenue to home. Rosa wrapped me up in her arms on my couch as we watched The Weather Channel upon arriving. I talked to her about going camping to get this wanderlust and homelessness urge out of me.
"I don't know what I am going to do about Dad and my medications, though," I told her of my stumbling block to why I never go camping anymore.
"I will talk to him when he comes over tonight," Rosa replied.
I thanked her and held her close as we watched Mike Slidel talk of the disturbance in the gulf. I grew excited that we may get some interesting weather perfect to go camping in. The more adverse, the better as far as I am concerned. Rosa smiled and told me that I should have been a meteorologist. I agreed.