Washington, D.C. December 27, 2008
Honey, you’re lost. What are you doing in this part of town? The Museum of Women’s what? Art? I’ve never heard of it, but I can tell you it’s not around here—this is my neighborhood. I’ll tell you what, though—I can’t get you there, but I can get you back into town. Just act like it’s as normal as it can be, right, a black chick walking a bicycle beside a white guy swinging a Radio Shack bag through the wrong side of town.
Hey, no problemo. Maybe you’ll find me sometime in the wrong part of town, you know what I’m saying, and you can walk me back to my side of town. Would ya? Huh? Am I bothering you? Well, I had to ask.
I like people. I like being alive. I like walking all day. I like being free to do whatever I want to do. Like crossing the street to talk to you. Years ago I would have stayed on my side of the street, thinking, hey, that guy’s really lost. But today I decided to cross the street and walk beside you. We’re both going in the same direction. That’s half a story right there. Okay, so whatever happens next will be the other half of the story, right? And we’ve still got a l-o-n-g way to go.
But that’s what I like most about being homeless, because time becomes this really flexible thing. And I’m healthier from all this walking and biking. Huh? Don’t I look good? Tell the truth! I’m in better shape than I’ve been in my entire life. Except for my teeth, of course.
But I’m better off than most of the streetwalkers because I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs. I keep myself clean. In fact, one time a guy accused me of lying about being homeless—can you imagine?—because I didn’t smell bad.
I don’t like to ask people for money. I prefer to find some way to help people, and then if they want to help me out in return, well, that’s their prerogative. But I do know this: that in general people feel better when they say yes than when they say no. If you say yes, you may regret it, but if you say no at the wrong time you’ll think about it for the rest of your life, but you can never go back and change that no into a yes. And you’ll go looking for it, but you can’t find it, you know what I mean? That’s life, man—it’s here, and then—snap!—it’s gone. It’s less about what’s right and wrong and more about what you’re comfortable with, right mister? That’s the question I ask myself every moment, am I comfortable or not? When I’m not longer comfortable, I leave. That’s how I ended up homeless
You learn really fast on the streets that you can choose who you’re going to be, but you’ve got to be real careful. The role you choose will determine what your life will be like on the street. The end is in the beginning, but you usually don’t realize that until it’s too late. But if you’re smart or lucky you get to choose a path you can succeed in. There’s three basic choices: you’re either the kind of person who succeeds by using your acumen, or you’re a tactician, or you function best in the abstract. If you want to survive, it’s important to choose a role where you can excel because if you make a wrong choice, you’re done for—on the streets or in the pen. Or, hell, for all I know, everywhere. You tell me. Do you think that’s a common experience? Do you know what I’m talking about? You ever been in high school?
Which type do you think I am? Guess! Good. You’re paying attention. Well, one out of three ain’t bad. Usually you can eliminate one immediately, and then you’re down to the best of two, and if you can’t make a living choosing from the best of two, you shouldn’t be betting. Not to take anything away from you. You were right, you knew the answer.
Anyway, if I relied on begging, I’d be dead now, or I’d be off the streets, one way or another, probably on a slab. I’d rather kill or be killed than beg. Some people enjoy the human contact as much as the hand-outs, to interact with a stranger, maybe make somebody laugh, maybe get a laugh yourself. Me, I decided to rely on my motormouth, my background in the theater, and my love of collecting and telling stories. Plus, we writers recognize each other. I saw you writing in the park. I’ve been following you for a while. I figured you were a writer or a painter, right? You’re a writer, right? Right. Well, best of two, right? So I knew that my time wouldn’t be wasted on you. I knew that by the time I got you out of the jungle you’d have a story to write down later, am I right?