Zeitung Providence One
Early Providence and the struggle is still raw. It would still be few days of bitching, moaning, change-scrounging, plasmapheresis, and sketchy morning trips to Western Union before headquarters would open its doors for The Center for Experimental Living. Chaunce, Gray and I were still sleeping in either the elements or in the leg-cramping cabin of my Saturn, buried under the weight of our skateboards and travel bags. Relief came in the strangest of forms: a new Home-Sweet-Home that I’d spied during my previous weeks in Providence, in the furthest reaches of the Attleboro Home Depot parking lot: a quaint little display shed. No, wait a minute, not just one display shed, but an entire community of display sheds, for jolly Christmas elves made good. With a gazebo and pine-bark lawn and everything. We could start a new life here; pin up Cyndi Lauper posters, grill out on Thursdays, order General Tso’s Chicken for the entire neighborhood. Tend our garden, so to speak. Grow old in our own subliminal suburbia. It was the kind of stunt you almost wanted to get arrested for, just to hear the charges listed on the docket call, and see the expressions on the faces of the arresting officers. It was, considering the circumstances, the perfect plan. What I hadn’t foreseen was that Chaunce, after a midnight houseshow, would be so dizzy and liquored up by the time the plan rolled around. This was the loose variable in the equation.
We parked the Saturn alongside a rigtruck, all quiet-like see, hiding it from the prying eyes of managers and midnight stockers, and conferred on the sleeping arrangements. Gray and I, ever the voices of reason, agreed that the middle shed seemed the coziest and least conspicuous shed in the neighborhood. Chaunce was sitting in the backseat, mumbling incomprehensibly about “meeting us around back.” “No, Chaunce, look, the front door is the only door. There is no back door. There is no around back,” Gray instructed, then turning around, “Okay, so on the count of three, let’s head straight for the front door. Okay, ready: one, two, three, go!” Gray and I rolled out of the Saturn and darted for the front door, like a pair of well-trained Colombian guerillas.
Chaunce decided to meet us around back. “Goddammit, Chaunce! Why the fuck did he do that? Chaunce! Chaunce!” After a few muffled calls, Chaunce’s head popped out from behind the junipers. Coming to his aid, I laid plain his next course of action: “Chaunce, you’re gonna to have to go around the shed, around front, quickly though. No wait, wait, get down!” An employee, a frumpy stocker in her mid-thirties, had spotted us. “Fuck. There goes the sleeping arrangements.”
But part of me was still optimistic. Her gait was too leisurely. “Maybe she’s just going to her car. You think?” “Bullshit, man! She’s coming straight for us,” said Gray, keeping the problem well within the crosshairs. Crouched low, holding our breath, my optimism ultimately proved true, as she unlocked her cardoor and drove away, back to a life of broken dreams and stomped promises. Only, Chaunce had now disappeared again. “Chaunce. Chaunce. Chaunce. Chaunce. Chaunce! Fuck, I’m going out there to drag’em back. Cover me!” When the coast was clear, no meddlers in sight, I slipped out the front door- the only door- and made my way around back to Chaunce’s imaginary rendezvous point. “Chaunce! Chaunce!” I was beginning to think that the boy had vaporized into a cloud of fog and vodka, when he emerged from the kneehigh shrubs like a crouching Vietcong sniper. “You said to get down.”
With everybody in and the door closed tight, Chaunce and Gray snoozed through the night like a pair of burrowed doormice. As for myself, I shivered myself senseless, in spite of the layers, and road out the particle board floor until nine o’clock or so, at which time we moved the whole ugly affair to the front lawn of a nearby dental office. Man, nothing spells “bum” like sleeping on grassy patches near a major thoroughfare. No romance here. No moonlit rivers, no star-hung nights on the Coyote Plain. A dentist’s office, at nine o’clock on a weekday morning. Utterly hellacious.
From time to time, when I fail-to-plan and plan-to-fail, when circumstances grow dire enough, Necessity becomes the game itself. Sleep, food, and hygiene become problematic. Hopefully in way interesting enough to overshadow the loneliness, hunger pangs, and bugbites. Another Providence warehouse, Sleep Attack, had been hospitable enough to lend us floorspace, and I cannot begin to explain how welcome this warm and horizontal reality was. Like a hot cup of Swiss Miss chocolate in the hand-”Come dear Sleep, balm of my wounds, softener of my woes, and hang my weary head in sweet repose.” Hygiene was, as usual, of no concern, having conquered its demands so many years before. Stomachs steered our course now. One fine summer day, our diet consisted of water, ad hoc Cajun cracker soup, and a bottle of berry-flavored Rolaids. But, for some reason, it left us wanting. The stomach pains followed us everywhere, even to the PROVIDENCE PALACE SHOPPING MALL, where our nostrils caught the wafting fumes from JOHNNYROCKET and the many Mongolian barbeque joints. After scoring some JOHNNYROCKET refills in a salvaged sodacup, we prowled around the center of the food court like three ravenous timberwolves, licking our incisors; our hungry eyes fixed on the shiny happy families and their sumptuous leftovers. “Look at them! They’re completely oblivious! Those little bastards are not even going to touch that sandwich!” There is hunger in this world, goddammit, principally a problem of redistribution- give-a-penny, take-a-penny- and we were not going to stand for it. It was at this point, when I had become shaky breadline hungry, gooseflesh hungry, fucking Oliver Twist hungry, that I experienced that inner backslide from demoralization to amoralization, the jagged edges of a broken spirit. I saw, clear-through, the direct and causal connection between poverty and crime, the truth behind the Brechtian “grub-then-ethics” adage, on a very, very personal level. There was no way those spicy chicken fingers would go to waste, soccer moms and mall security be damned!
I blocked the path of an oblivious ten-year-old and seized the moment, that those spicy chickens might not die in vain. “You’re not going to throw that away are you?” She froze, eyes wide, consulting her inner tickertape about all the things Mom and Dad and the Disney Channel had ever said about strangers with lustful looks in their eye. I tried to reason with her, “I mean, are you done with that?” But before she could even reply, I snatched the Styrofoam from her hands and ran for the den, near Victoria Secrets, to divvy the ill-gotten booty between the we three hungry mouths. “Did you see the look on that girl’s face?,” Gray gasped, choking down the chuckles and spicy chicken fingers. “Man, I feel like a predator,” I said, “this has got to stop.” And it was true, I was becoming uncomfortable with my own desperation. “We should bring aprons next time, maybe, pretend we’re busboys. This might defuse the situation a little.”
When the Game of Necessity becomes all-consuming, like the sulphuric flames of Hell burning off whatever good might remain of your immortal soul, it ceases to be much of a game at all. The Marx Brothers routine only lasts the first few months of mousepoor destitution before the constant gnaw turns to private atrophy. Maslow’s pyramid in action. But for now, we’re just fools. Please, whatever you do, totally disregard the sufferings of the happy and voluntary players in the Game of Necessity. Take no time for pity. And spin the wheel, my good man.
The perimeter of the Providence Palace is crowded with outdoor bistros and all manner of generic all-American bar-and-grills; bus-tables brimming with cold fries and half-eaten steak entrees. Sitting within the gates of BLUEBERRY HEAVEN was a mouth-watering turkey sandwich, untouched and four inches thick, right there, in a bustray under the waitstation. This waitstation, however, was guarded by a troublesome thicket of tables, waiters, and waist-high brass railings. The wolves quietly circled their prey and planned their attack. The waiters, like gazelles or zebras guarding their young, conspired from behind the glass. “Just start walking,” I said, “I’m going to leap the rail and grab the sandwich. Fuck these people.” Gray and Chaunce sprinted by a confused outdoor clientel, as I leapt the brass railing and made a play for the turkey sandwich. Waiters lunged for me. Patrons gasped and double-took. But my Spiderman reflexes and natural trackstar abilities carried me safely away and across the opposite railing, treasure in hand. We ran around the corner, laughing like the hyaenas we were, “Ho-ho, hee-hee, ha-ha, we should probably go before they unleash the hounds on us, guys.”
What fun: everyone’s a loser in the Game of Necessity.
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