From The Barcelona Review
We’re in a homeless shelter in Asheville, NC. We think it’s funny. How did all these people in some hellish hickish place like Asheville NC get homeless, that’s what we want to know. It’s so crowded we have to sleep on the floor.
I’m with this dyke Spike who I met in Ft Lauderdale, FL. She’s got an old white Toyota and a tent where we’ve been sleeping the past month. She wanted to see the Appalachians so there we were, trekking up stony trails and putting four drops of iodine in each bottle of slimy river water, sleeping in the bags she lifted from her roommate’s brother out of the garage. We took his stove, too, and a flashlight, he’s probably hot on our trail looking for Spike so he can pulp her little body with his big faggy boots. Problem is his stuff was meant for the Everglades, that’s what Spike says, where it’s hot, and now it’s October, last night we drank four cups each of hot cocoa and wound up leaving the tent all night to take one piss after another, Appalachian trail air biting our asses. I say Fuck this and we start fingering our options and Spike says, I wonder if there’s a homeless shelter around here, and I say that would be fun, let’s see who’s in there all hard up, so we drive down the mountain to the highway and find a Waffle House with a phone book, and count fifteen fast-food restaurants on our way here.
Spike helps my image because I’m all woman whereas Spike looks like a 14 year old boy all limbs and sinew. The first thing she sees at the shelter is the basketball net out on the blacktop and next thing I know she’s out shooting baskets with some pocked-up Mexican guys and I want to know, how in the hell did these Mexican guys make it all the way to Asheville, NC just to wind up homeless. But Spike likes making friends which is ok by me as long as she’ll toss them off later and come back to me, which she does. Usually by nine o’clock she’s slammed and I can make her say anything I want her to say because Spike always wants to get back in my pants. I made the mistake once or twice of being too drunk to care if she shimmied my jeans down my legs, so she’s done that, back in Ft. Lauderdale when she lived over Chaussie’s where a bottle of Miller was 85 cents. I never felt a thing, but Spike thinks it means I’m a dyke like her and keeps waiting for my next blackout, blackouts being something like a sign of true love for Spike, which is kind of sad.
So Spike’s out with the guys, practicing her Spanish saying cabrón and maricón and asking them to teach her new “cuss words,” as words like shit and fuck and faggot are known to be called in this place, the South. I go into the shelter and look all destitute for the bleached-out woman running the show, which to be honest wasn’t hard after all those nights fighting no-see-ums and rolling around in the dirt of Grandfather mountain. Spike was always trying to roll over on me even while she slept, so sometimes I did, actually, sleep in the dirt outside, just to get a decent night’s sleep. The woman, all pouty, takes pity on me, and gives me towels and blankets, and I start roaming around the place. It looks like my elementary school. There’s a library, a cafeteria, a big scary kitchen and then a few rooms with cots where the desks would have been.
Spike comes in all energized smelling salty like sweat and we decide to lie down, test the floor. It’s covered in a blue-speckled carpet but still, truly harder than the slab of mountain known as Grandfather. Poor Spike on her bony butt already feels cagey to get on her feet, so she gets up, does that little dance she does to shake off her energy, and pulls me up and leads me outside. See, I’m a very lazy person by nature and Spike is good for me this way, always making me do things. My womanly body is quite cushy enough to make the floor a comfortable place for a while. But that’s not productive, now is it.
The Mexican guys are gone so we sit down on the porch and Spike rolls up a Drum. She says she smokes Drum because it has no impurities but I know she likes to roll her own tobacco so she can feel more like a cowboy. I start calling her Cowboy then, poking her with my toe, and she gets all cute and shy-acting and starts throwing bits of tobacco at me which look just like the freeze-dried blood worms we used to feed to her Japanese fighting fish back in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, the same fish that is probably rotting away on the top of the fish bowl about now. Poor Sticky.
A girl comes out and we shut up so we can find out her story. Her name’s Jamie. She’s fat like bad fruit and has a head full of bleach. A bad perm. Too much sperm, actually, Jamie’s eight months pregnant. She tells us this is her third and she’s given the other two away but this one she’s keeping. Too bad the father’s married and wants nothing to do with her or her offspring. We ask her why didn’t she just have an abortion and Jamie says she doesn’t believe in it, which really pisses Spike off. See, Spike has this thing for girls who are content to be stomped on by men: she hates them. Now if Jamie would cry or bitch and moan about how-could-he-do-this-to-me, Spike would give her a speech about how her life could be better, that is how to be more like Spike herself, a dyke that is, and make friends with her—but the girl’s all smug and satisfied, dragging on her Kool. Clearly this dear Jamie is straighter than Spike can fathom, even Spike doesn’t want this convert. Then Jamie tells us the shelter has found her an apartment and is even paying for it. She’s moving in tomorrow. Now, this really pisses us off because why don’t they pay for us to have a place, since I’m smart enough to buy condoms and Spike’s smart enough to be a dyke and neither of us are stupid enough to have three babies by the time we’re twenty, now why don’t we get rewarded for that? But Jamie’s too soft to deal with that kind of philosophizing, no she’s no match for truth, so she puts out her menthol and goes back inside all teary and worldweary like she’s Atlas and we’re just poking at her ribs for no good reason. Spike and I decide that most homeless people must try to blame everyone else for their problems all the time, and just as we decide this we meet JT. JT’s a black guy from East Orange, NJ and he’s wearing pantyhose on his head and proving our point. “Drugs,” he tells us, he rounds it out like a belch, like the word is finite and begins and ends all at once and tells the whole story. I ask him why he came all the way down to Asheville, NC just to be on drugs. He tells us that’s the point, he came sticksbound on the run from drugs, but even in Asheville, NC your little friends find you. Spike and I find this really dull and tell him why doesn’t he just drink like a normal law-abiding person and save himself the travel expenses. We say Actually, we’re going up through that place known as the garden state and why doesn’t he join us and we’ll get him trashed every night and he can see how easy it is to be off drugs and he can get home free. JT laughs but then stares real hard at Spike like he’s just figuring out she’s a dyke. He’s gives that crooked old suspicious look, just like any hick would. We think maybe he belongs down here.
We’re quite a team, me and Spike. People can’t figure out what the hell we are, we’re like Jack Sprat (that would be Spike) and Jack Sprat’s wife (that would be me), but we’re both girls, so they don’t know how to treat us. Spiffy and sweet, all male authority as if it were just me alone? I have a good giggle and I like to play with my long red locks when strangers talk to me. Or boy-buddy elbowing as if it were just Spike. She likes a good jostle. So we raid the kitchen and nobody stops us because we’re just too fast for them to pin us down. It’s fun, we fill scraped-up green plastic cups from the thousand-gallon iced tea dispenser and I find a whole bushel of bananas, and we’re peeling them one by one and throwing them on the floor, having the time of our lives until I discover a huge shaker of MSG on the shelf—“Flavor Enhancer” it says—and get grossed out. We consider a ploy to wipe out the homeless population in Asheville, NC by MSG poisoning and wonder what that means in terms of the contents of the iced tea. We dump it out in the sink that’s big enough for Spike to bathe in. A shame since we’re all dry with thirst. We haven’t had anything real to drink since last night when I pocketed a fifth of Jack Daniels while Spike distracted the guy by buying four cans of Strohs. See, that’s why Spike needs me, because I’m so sweet no one would think to accuse me of lifting. But now we’re dry. No booze inside, they told us on the phone, no drugs and no alcohol and no sexual relations and Spike and I got a good laugh out of that, knowing we could NEVER be homeless if those were the rules. Especially Spike who has to sleep in a room full of girls. They checked us all out before they gave us our towels and blankets and we knew enough to have nothing on us that they could dump out and waste.
But now we’re empty and itching from this, and Spike gets all jumpy and bugged when this happens and we have to find something to keep us entertained. We go out to the rec room where this skinny black guy is playing chess by himself. He’s simmering all pleasant and notices us but doesn’t get distracted, just looks at us once and then back to his blacks and whites, kings and queens and all those sorry little pawns. I’m watching him and Spike’s jostling the chair we’re sharing and beginning to get on my nerves. I start thinking this guy is like God, like God who kills who he wants but sometimes gets tangled up in destinies even God doesn’t realize he’s creating, and suddenly the piece you least expect is in the perfect square to get crushed and that sense of creating what you least expected must be the only thing that keeps God from getting bored, playing by himself all the time. But then Spike interrupts this thought which is threading around my brain so pleasantly and says Let’s get out of this soulsucking place and hit the road. I smack the top of Spike’s puny little head and tell her to shut up and stop ruining my night. All right, says Spike, as soon as you get your tight ass to unclench you violent priss. I cross my arms and try to look seriously annoyed for Spike, but she doesn’t do what I expect her to do, which is say Angel—that’s my name—don’t be mad, cut it out Angel, with that femme-y pleading look she usually saves for me. Instead she shuts up all right. It’s rare for Spike to shut up so I don’t know what to do next. I’m still waiting for her to come around when she gets up and goes over to the table, sits down with the guy, and grabs a rook and slides it across a few squares.
I think she’s going to get it for screwing up this guy’s game and I’m all set to take her hand and run her out of there, but the guy rubs his chin and lets out a big Hmmmm, and moves a knight into the middle of the board. Spike taps her fingers on the table until I think I might explode. Where did Spike learn to play chess, that’s what I want to know. Her little hand hovers over a pawn until I can’t stand it anymore. I lunge toward the chess board and grab Spike’s queen because if there’s one thing I know about this game it’s that the queen is the piece that really matters, she’s always the one looking out for the king while the king moves one lazyass square at a time, and you know you’re screwed when you lose your queen. It’s not like when you lose your king which just means the game is over. When you lose your queen, you have to spend the rest of your game worrying, and having to worry while you play is worse than not playing at all. Spike stands up and tries to pry the plastic lady out of my hand. Her hair is poking out everywhere because she’s been thinking and when Spike thinks she likes to rake her fingers through her hair. She’s pissed and puffed-up and I think I see her eyes turning from blue to yellow like they’re burning something off. I’ve never seen her mad like this and between that and her hair, all of a sudden I start to laugh and can’t stop. Then I feel a big strong hand on mine and I realize it’s the guy I was thinking reminded me of God, so I stop laughing and relinquish the queen.
Spike and me are stone-still, who knows what homeless people do when you wreck their chess game. But the guy sits back down and rolls the queen between his thumb and index finger, and then he says this: You know what I like to do when I get all tense like you two girlies, I like to go out and perform what I call “action poems.” Like what? we want to know. Like tripping ladies in fur coats, he says, or depositing a burning butt into the night-drop at the bank. Spike and me get all quiet, thinking about how great this is, and Spike makes up one of her own: How about pissing on a Mercedes? I smack Spike for pretending like she has a dick, but this time we all think it’s funny. Spike and I decide that this guy has made our night and we realize that everyone but us has gone to bed, so we say good night and leave this guy and I say Spike, we have met one really excellent homeless person.
Spike and I lay next to each other on the blue-speckled carpet and listen to the other people breathe. Why do all these homeless people have to breathe so goddamn loud. It’s worse than crickets. Spike keeps trying to spoon me and I keep kicking her out of my crooks, but Spike’s persistent and I decide to let her put her hand up my shirt, that way she’ll keep still. She thinks that if she moves I’ll kick her away again. I don’t think I will tonight though. I don’t know why not. That pisses me off because I don’t like not knowing things. I can feel Spike using all her might not to fidget, and my brain’s all clear, way too clear for me to handle much less sleep, so I say Spikey, let’s hit the road, let’s drive all night until the 7-11 decides it’s Monday and get ourselves a six-pack.