I wake up in a daze, my current girlfriend out cold next to me. What a ride!
Nadine is a part-time prostitute and full-time heroin addict, and she is sensational in bed. We’ve been hanging out for a month, after that blast at Johnny’s place, hooking up in the bathroom, taking turns throwing up, I took her back to her motel as the sun rose, interpreting her mumbled directions, needing a place to crash.
I don’t like to lose it, like happens with heroin or opioids, or even marijuana. But I like to party. I drink beer and Crown, never buying it myself. There’s something about so many people interacting, being real, that turns me on–like Nadine. She’s real, even if she’s stoned half the time. You can’t get much more realistic than selling your vagina for money—that’s what she says. I agree. She pays the rent in the motels we frequent around the Houston area, I stay out of the way when she’s working.
I roll out of bed and look at the evidence of the wild time we had, a whiskey bottle surrounded by used condoms only the tip of the iceberg. What a ride! It’s like this every night and I love it.
Unfortunately, we’re back on the street because her recent income won’t cover rent after buying all that booze and heroin. But we won’t be homeless. Nadine and I aren’t like those losers who push shopping carts filled with shit around, mumbling to themselves. A bunch of schizophrenics. Sick motherfuckers. Nadine and I aren’t parasites, what with her making a lot of money and me supplying us with plenty of food.
I shake her and say, “Hey, I’m going downstairs for a smoke. Join me when you wake up.”
I stumble to the elevator and find my way to the ground floor, and follow the dirt path to the smoking patio. I take a seat to check up on my social contacts, which isn’t going to happen because I picked up Nadine’s phone by mistake. It was buzzing constantly as I lit a cigarette. Fuck! I didn’t feel like going back to the room because…what did it matter? None of it mattered…everything…the job as a cook I’d quit when my boss had complained about my poor performance, what the fuck is that? I’m not running on the treadmill to nowhere, that’s what matters.
I get to the covered area that serves as the designated smoking area and settle into one of the rusty metal chairs to have a smoke. I fiddle with a cigarette, rolling it between my fingers, thinking about why I’m hanging out with Nadine, diving in dumpsters for meals, going to all-night blasts with people I don’t know or even want to be around, loudmouthed assholes who get violent after a few beers, maybe I’m just a loser, I’ve been called that more than once by my parents, and that was before I left home at sixteen.
My reflections are interrupted when an old guy shows up with one of the motel’s paper cups of coffee, brewed in his room, what a loser he his, wearing ridiculous cargo pants and a polo shirt, looking like an escapee from an old-folks home, but I see the pack of cigarettes in his hand and figure, it’s worth listening to his bullshit to get some free smokes.
He nods at me with a senile smile but doesn’t say a word, probably ignoring me because he’s only partially conscious, so I get his attention. “What’s up? Ain’t this cool?”
Suddenly awake, he looks at me and says, “Sure, I just came out to have a cup of coffee. Didn’t I see you out here yesterday? My name’s Lester.”
My eyes on his cigarettes, I respond, “Paul. It’s good to meet you, Lester. What brings you to Houston? Business?”
Lester is tight-lipped at first but it doesn’t take long to get to the point of our conversation. He offers me a cigarette. I reluctantly accept his token of what he probably thinks is friendship, savoring the expectation of nicotine. He lights his immediately. I play with mine. He’s like the Buddha, just sitting there, ignoring me, trying to get my attention.
Finally he says, “I’m getting all my stuff together, to move to Virginia. I didn’t want to rush so I’m staying here for two weeks. How about you?”
Just like that, he’s turned the tables, putting me on the spot.
“I’m a gypsy,” I say.
He thinks a moment before replying, “Just passing through Baton Rouge, I guess?”
I put the cigarette I got from him in my mouth and he offers his lighter, forcing me to speak. I light the fag and say, “I’m from Baton Rouge,” scoffing and continuing, “I like…live free, you know? I was a sous chef, but it wasn’t me, I hated it to be honest…”
He looks at me curiously and lights another cigarette. “What would you rather do?”
I take a drag from my cigarette, beginning to hate this guy, who’s like my parents. I shake my head, wanting him to go away, but feel obliged to answer. “I like to party…there are these great blasts…you wouldn’t believe it. They go all night. There’s one tonight but it’s like five miles from here…I don’t like to walk…”
In Buddha mode, he says, “That’ll only take an hour and a half. If that’s what you want to do, it’s worth the effort.”
I don’t get this guy. I blurt, “I’m kind of hungry.” I show him my boots, discovered in a dumpster, and add, “And that’s a long way in these boots.”
The son-of-a-bitch doesn’t even look at my boots before replying, “Get some breakfast and then you can take all day to make it to the party.”
I can’t believe this old guy. I’m feeling a little light-headed from hunger, so I say, “I don’t have any money to buy breakfast. I get my meals from the dumpsters…I know where to get the expired food, sometimes it’s steak or club sandwiches, bagels, you name it, I love it…”
His next words dig into my mind like sharp claws. “I guess you better get busy then. It probably takes time to collect such a bounty, and a lot of walking.” He glances at the boots now and adds, “in those shoes.”
Something about his ambivalent attitude forces me to explain what it means to be a gypsy. I spill my guts, like I’m talking to a therapist. I hate psychologists. I left home at sixteen when my parents mentioned a therapist. Been doing okay for fifteen years. Now I have to deal with this old fuck, just to get free cigarettes. I tell him about being a chef and how I hated it, how I could open my own restaurant but didn’t want to deal with the hassle, I like not dealing with all that shit, dumpster diving is easier.
He doesn’t blink. “I guess I’m getting old because the idea of spending half my time looking for my next meal is unacceptable. I couldn’t live like that. I’ve always been…” He paused before continuing, “There are a couple of things that have always been important to me, probably because I’ve been hungry and homeless although only for a few days at a time. I have to know where I’m going to sleep and where my next meal is coming from.” He shook his head in a triumphant manner—I didn’t know that was possible—and added, “I wouldn’t want to live like you Paul, even though I probably could. There’s just too much to do, to be spending my time foraging for a meal, or a pair of pants, shit that can be purchased easily.”
His words hurt. He lights another cigarette, offers me one, so I take it and play with it while I explain how radical my lifestyle is. He doesn’t interrupt, so I tell him about my broken heart, when Rachel, the woman I’d been with for six years dumped me with no explanation. My honest answers to his insightful but casual questions make it clear that I’m not part of mainstream society. I hadn’t even noticed that Rachel, who’d been fifteen years older than me, had been going through menopause, all her actions that led to our breakup the result of biological processes, her reaching out to me afterward being an admission of this. I’d ignored her texts and calls and treated her like an adversary. I’m an asshole.
Lester offers me another cigarette and asks how I can buy cigarettes and afford to live in the Trident Motel. I scoff and answer honestly, “My girlfriend makes some money…you know…”
“I couldn’t live like that,” he responds.
Lester doesn’t get it, that I hate my life, that I wish I didn’t have to dig in dumpsters for my clothes, meals, everything, I know I’m a loser but I’m down with that, so I totally fuck up explaining that this is the best I can do.
After my incoherent rant, he says, “You still have to find breakfast and get to that party. Five miles from here. Good luck with that.”
He suddenly gets up, drops a cigarette on the table, and leaves.
Nadine appears from the back door, held open by Lester, and calmly sits on my knee like a little girl. I watch Lester disappear as she continues her social interaction on her phone, hopefully setting up a gig that will get us another night in a motel.
She turns to me and asks, “What’s for breakfast?”