A homeless woman buys her dope from dealers in my neighborhood. I usually see her when no other customers are there. Her gait is stiff, but the congestion of her movement seems untraceable to its origin. She could be injured, palsied, enraged, tired or just waking up. I guess she is in her thirties. I turned thirty-three last fall.
I have been looking carefully at some of the New Yorkers who live on the banks of the stream of commercial function. So far I have identified homeless, squatters and skimmers. I have thought about what it would be like to live as they do, especially the homeless.
I think one can stay nearly clean while homeless, yet many wear a deepening layer of soot, cigarette and snackfood mulch as they roam, beg, rot. I have never been homeless, but I have felt the panic of the emerging possibility. I once even began making arrangements to do it purposely to save money, but the first two friends said no when I asked if I might stay with them one or two nights per month. Then I thought probably many homeless just tried not to imagine it happening to them before the day came.
I used to wonder why so many wear overcoats throughout spring and summer. My first thought was that their despair and apathy are so great they are no longer sensitive to the heat. For several years I had no other explanation. Now however, older and more vulnerable, I see that to some, an overcoat is a vestigial privacy, necessary and subject to loss in all seasons.
The specific person I have mentioned wears a medium blue, hip-length quilted parka, as dirty as the rest of her, and a scarf. I walked behind her for half a block tonight, and imagined her going to an abandoned building to shoot her minimal fix; she lay down curled around her small shot sweet feeling, and hoped to grow a subsistence of comfort, the uselessness of which she then remembered from yesterday as its stillbirth began.
I wish an angel would come, and renew her spirit through the gift of a day of life as a famous feminist, or my aunt the Congregational minister. I have considered that if this wish came true, she might learn nothing new, or perceive any expanded possibilities. She may have already rejected these things I wish for her, on grounds over which I may never walk.
She might say: Kipling and LBJ sold Clarence down the Mekong River long ago, and god is a tall glass building planning a new industrial dump site. His surrounding plaza is filled with rows of dull wrought-iron sawteeth riveted to the sitting surfaces.
She might see me stooping there, my overcoat hanging open, combing the trash for change.