Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vagrant in the Big City

I was living communally with half a dozen artist-types in NYC. One came in the dinged, dingy door past the scatter on the floor and said a quiet word to the woman in the kitchen who was pack-leader of sorts. He'd got word of a police round-up coming our way. We had to make tracks quickly, grab what we could carry, abandon the rest. We'd leave separately, some by fire escape, some by elevator, some by stairwell, scatter directions and meet elsewhere. The rapid-fire directions named sequences too fast and too many streets that I didn't know. The youngest female took me aside with earnest and hushed voice repeated the directions of where we'd meet. Although I'd nodded, I wasn't sure I could retain all that.

I grabbed what I could and stuffed it in the orange backpack. I looked back at the half empty book shelf and all I couldn't take. There was no coming back. Once police knew about us, it wouldn't be safe. I kicked myself for not carrying cash. If they knew we were here, they probably knew who we were and bank accounts wouldn't be accessible. We'd have to slip out of the city or off the radar with whatever we had on us.

Time passed and I was literally down a blind alley, completely disoriented and it was getting dark. I'd missed the time point for meeting. Now they'd be scouting a new abandoned place to crash.

Next morning my stomach was growling. I'd slept beside dumpsters in the rain. As I walked beside a cafe I overheard two cashiers. The young guy was saying that a sandwich was part of her pay and she had to eat it. She said she was sick of them and didn't care. Cash was useful. Sandwiches not so much.

I leaned over the iron railing and offered to come by everyday and look after her sandwich, half for me and half for me to take to my son. We were pretty low on cash. She agreed. This seemed manna from heaven.

Next scene I was in a cafe in a different corner of town. I was glad to get that reliable sandwich but I'd talked to someone who said he'd give me cash for shooting pictures of the band he got in. They were to start to play after supper. My chair was in the back of the band, against the storefront window. On the other side of the band were maybe 30 chairs. Not many people had arrive by 7 when they were warming up. I shot a few pictures from an angle that showed the thickest bit of crowd past the band but it made the band all silhouettes and there was the distracting corner of one red t-shirt.

It was hot in the room and getting late. I felt myself getting groggy but kept shooting. The next I knew I woke up and the band was gone and there were only 3 or 4 people except me. The owner and P. who came over and greeted me laughing, and saying, you must be really tired. He shook my shoulder. You slept most of the time between 7 and 11. He said, here, $5 for you for the show. That was really entertaining. It was a Canadian $5. He said, if you're ever in my town or need any help, come and I'll make a place for you. I nodded, not fully with it yet and he waved merrily out the door. $5 is fine but it'd never get me to his place and it's too far to walk.

I had a mental image of all those years of diaries on the shelf that I couldn't take with me. Looked out the window. Off he went in his taxi. I supposed I should see about getting paid. And then getting to somewhere covered for another night in this rain.

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