Saturday, October 6, 2012


You know how sometimes you tell yourself, you’re going to get up and do something and you do it, and once you do it, you feel better. How banal. Of course you feel better. Because before you do it, it’s like that 1,000 mile march to the scaffold. That march you might take in the cold, misty rain, to the gibbet, with the townspeople lined up on either side of you, hating you, just wanting you to die. The march gets slower and slower and slower. It seems that you’re never going to reach those stairs. In my version, March to the Scaffold from “Symphonie Fantastique” by Hector Berlioz, one of the better orchestral badass viola parts it’s ever been my pleasure to play and rock hard on, is thundering along in the background.

The reality? The Billy Barty Circus woke me up this morning; my poor neighbor who is the world’s worst handy man, but an okay mechanic and shittiest mechanic, ever, has been tinkering with his car alarm again. Since we have lived next door to them for the last year, I have been treated to blatting and stinky 2-stroke engines, 4-cylinder engines running on 1, 2, and 3 cylinders. I have listened to shrieky and whiny lawn mowers trying to be started a zillion times to no avail. I have heard the high and pointless revving of an 8-cylinder engine of a van to what purpose I know not, with no clear conclusion or fix at the end of the process, just some kind of zen exercise, or maybe it’s the vehicular version of a novena. I really don’t know fuck-all what any of it is, or is meant to accomplish. He is the male counterpart to Sra. Chupacabra; my neighbors that don’t speak English. I despise her. She puts on airs and hates animals. She knows I don’t like her and stays away from me. I hissed at her and cast a spell on her. He’s kind of a little mouse; he just squeaks around and does his little chores. I think he’s lost his job. I just have that feeling. I’ve been keeping an eye on them. JC does, too. They collect aluminum and metal. I snuck some canned goods over to them; they’re proud and I would never hurt them by offering them food, or aluminum cans to glean His brother is always over in his big, new, shiny SUV, strutting, strutting. You can see the hurt in the Chupacabras' eyes. I digress.

The “Billy Barty Circus” is  Sr. Chupacabra’s horn alarm going beep-beep-beep at 30-second intervals for oh, about 2 hours. Their car is parked right beside our bedroom and their part of the house is on the other side, so they can’t hear all this. They really, or he really doesn’t understand, about all the fumes and noise. The fumes play hell with my breathing; I have emphysema and with my PD, or not-PD (I’m gonna write a poem) my nerves are in a huge uproar over that kind of stuff. I burnt my left hand on the synovial side last night, for 2 hours, the carpal side went nuts. That’s how stupid my nerves are behaving. Anyway, anything that agitates my neural receptors makes me have just this astronomically ridiculous reaction. Digression over.

I wanted to say more about Jeff. I have to back up a bit. I became really “homeless” in 11/2010. This is when the State of Florida deemed me able to rejoin “society,” and discharged me from the Skilled Nursing Facility, where I had been ensconced and was trying mightily to learn to walk, dress myself and not hit people with my cast that was on my right hand. I was pretty much like a wild animal, not much different than the old me. Story for another day.

I was taken south on Nebraska Ave, 33602 to what I called "Happy Acres," in the earliest days of "Homeless Chronicles in Tampa" circa May, 2011, but is rightly knows as FSJ. These are 2 “boarding houses,” they provide shelter and have contracts with the State of Florida for homeless people who are lucky enough to be part of the Homeless Recovery program. Also the State of Florida Prison System and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department has a contract for their Prison Parolees and their is charity as well; people who need an emergency night or two can bunk down. Someone is always around who will scrape you up a meal in a pinch. The two houses hold approximately 80 people.

It’s a transient society and it’s really, really, in the ‘hood. People were always coming and going; staying for a few days, or weeks and leaving. Some became fixtures. Dana was one and Holly was another. Dana and Holly were roomies and I hung out with the 3 of them. Jeff came along and he was oily-charming and would feed us potato chips. He had lost his wife and he had these times of melancholy; Jeff drank a lot, too. But at FSJ, who didn’t? It was really more a rarity if you didn’t. I didn’t, Holly and Dana, JC and Jason didn’t. In the evenings, we’d all sit outside and watch the world go by. We'd play 10,000, outside on the porch. That's a fast-moving dice game and I'm sure migrated it to the outside world along with pinochle from prison. Either that, or people get sent to prison over the fights that ensue from playing 10,000 or pinochle, Anyway, Jeff would play, but Dana would start winning and he’d get pissy mean sarcastic with everybody. JC and I would look at each other and wonder.

So, Dana and Jeff became an "item." Jeff would stop drinking and he would become uncommunicative; he might mention his wife. He and Dana would go off together and they would sit together and talk for hours, just the two of them. Dana was awaiting a hefty settlement from her husband's pension, plus her own SSDI. She is disabled. JC and I would wonder, 

“What does she see in him? I hope he’s good to her. Does he just want her money? I be he just wants her money. ” 

Blah Blah. Me, knowing the paths and byways from my days at Computer Engineering days at IBM, Verizon and the Gastonia Police Department did some snooping. Oh Holy Jesus, an arrest; a record on Jeff, way in the past. Everything, every maxim I’ve preached to myself and others went out the window. 

“He’s a bad guy. He’ll hurt her. He’ll take her money.” 

None of this, “I don’t know what goes on in other people’s hearts. It’s just a slice of life.” No, I just broke all of my own rules. I’m that fucking hypocrite I’m always braying about.

By this time, JC and I had moved to Nebraska Ave 33605 and set up our little home, which we love and we’re so happy. I love him unreasoningly. Dana comes by to tell me she and Jeff are leaving FSJ in late July. I hug her and pretend to be happy, but I’m cold, so cold. A few weeks go by. JC and I wonder if they’re okay. Jason says he saw them, and Jeff has looked unwell. They’ve been worried about Jeff’s father who has lung cancer.

Then, the night of the confused text and the wheel-o-scramble-call. Honestly? I don’t remember the rest of that evening. I know we were making dinner and we must have eaten. I have a huge problem with missing time. Thursday when I went to the neurologist, I was so out of my routine, I had trouble remembering what I had done that morning; if I’d even changed my clothes. Obviously I had. I had on a beautiful cardinal-colored blouse I had never worn before. My mind is a mess and I am not used to that.

I don’t want to be too obtrusive in Dana’s life; she needs a friend. She comes by and visits and I call her. She’s part of our little FSJ family. The thing that broke me, that made me so ashamed for my assumptions and that also humbled JC, was when she and I were talking about 3 days after he died. I asked her what would be the best way we all could remember and honor him. She told me that instead of flowers to please make a donation to the Salvation Army in his name. Done, I told her. She cracked me up when she said, “Well, we had the Memorial Service. We had Jeff cremated and had his ashes scattered over his favorite Drag Strip.” We both started to laugh and cry. The man loved him some engines. He had this old truck and he used to sit out back of FSJ in this old rattle-trap of a truck he had, drunk as a lord and rev that goddamned engine at 3 am. My bedroom was at the rear of the house, the only one. I’d have to get up and run all the way to the front to get Dana out of her bed to go get him to knock it off. Fun times, fun times.

We were laughing over that, then Dana said, “I did it. I promised Jeff that I wouldn’t let him die homeless or at FSJ. I was able to do that. I got to him before he died, too. I almost wasn’t there.” I closed my eyes. I started to cry. She didn’t know. I don’t talk about it to everyone. JC and I. JC has had a horrible, horrible life. JC’s father left his family when JC was little. JC’s step dad turned JC’s mom out to trick for money and beat JC and made him work. JC had to quit school to support his kid brothers. JC worked hard all of his life and was betrayed by his now-deceased wife. JC spent nine years in prison and did not do what he was accused of doing. He has never known love. He has never known kindness. He asks for permission to have the simplest of things. JC things he is stupid, when he is the smartest, most insightful man about people I have ever met. I want him to experience happiness and love for the first time and for the rest of his life. I will move heaven and earth for JC. JC is 65, With my last breath I will make the rest of my love’s life happy, or I will make him miserable trying. I told Dana this between sobs. She is a gallant woman and a generous one. I don’t say this because I am trying to garner reflected glory. I say this because it’s true and right. I say this too, because I understood it finally in Dana. Jeff knew it and loved her, too. She is beyond price.

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