“Good morning, Bernard,” I said.
“Good morning. It’s good to see you. My problem with being broke and so sexy is that I’m stuck with this face and the beard. This is Halloween, most people get to take off their masks at the end of the night, but not me. In another week I’ll be reaching the big six zero.
A woman stopped and handed him a half pack of cigarettes. “Thanks darlin’. That’s awfully sweet of you.”
I asked, “How old were you when you started smoking?”
“6 years old. I’d go to the store and say my dad sent me to buy him some cigarettes. I don’t know if they believed that, but they always gave them to me. Back then, a 5-pack of Export ‘A’ was 25 cents. I started drinking when I was 9 and hard drugs when I was 13.
“A woman said that she had a surprise for me this evening. She wouldn’t say what it was, but she rents rooms. She was disappointed when I told her I was looking for a place. She said she just rented her last one. So, I don’t know what the surprise is. It could be socks or underwear. I don’t know. I’ll just have to wait and see.”
“Awaiting a surprise gives you something to look forward to. Life can be full of surprises.”
“Oh, I know all about that. I had a massive heart attack when I was still a young man. Died three times on the operating table. Now, I have a pacemaker installed. That got me off the hard drugs. Then I was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. That got me off the booze. Then I got the cancer — leukemia — that put me in a wheelchair. In a couple of weeks I dropped from 230 pounds to 140. It took all my effort to wheel that chair around. I went back to school and trained as a drug and alcohol counsellor. I worked at that for over ten years.
“Working as a counsellor must have been an emotional experience. You must have seen some sad situations.”
“Yes, sometimes it was heartbreaking. It’s not always the young people who are to blame, sometimes it’s the parents. I counselled a teenage girl who was a crack addict. I got her off the drugs. She went back to live with her mother, who was a nurse. One time, the mother returned unexpectedly and found her boyfriend trying to sexually assault her daughter. It was only after actually seeing it that she believed what her daughter had been telling her. We have to protect our young people. They’re our future.”
“I’ve been clean and sober for 27 years. I still use marijuana, but I don’t smoke it in public.”
“Do you have a doctor’s prescription for that?”
“Yes, I’m registered and have a licence to purchase. There are some new weed shops that have opened up. They don’t even ask me for my licence. They’re operating illegally, but the cops haven’t started charging them with anything. The government may come through with legalization like they have in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon. These stores charge tax. I have to pay $12.00 per gram when on the street I could get the same amount for $10.00, but I don’t mind paying the extra $2.00. On the street you never know what you’re getting. Crack dealers usually add speed. They’ve changed the name from crack to ‘more’, because once a customer tries some he want more. Sometimes, they mix in household cleaners, laundry detergent, boric acid, laxatives, local anesthetics: procaine, tetracaine and lidocaine. That can be deadly.
“In the pot dispensaries you can buy different flavors, different doses, candy, brownies, cookies, gummy bears, cannabutter or cannabis oil for cooking.
“It’s getting colder each morning. Do you have a good sleeping bag?”
“It’s adequate. I’m putting money aside for a warm room for the winter. Welfare will pay the first month’s rent, but I have to come up with the last month. Something good happened this morning. A young woman who I’d talked to a few times handed me an envelope. Inside was a note that read, ‘Dear Broke and Sexy, here is a token of my esteem for you.’ Also in the envelope was a hundred dollar bill.”
I said, “That will go a long way towards your last month’s rent.”
“Yes, I’ve put it away.”
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Gotta Find a Home; Conversations with Street People