Gayle Hardman was a homeless person when she died. She didn’t die in her car, which I was happy to hear, but she did die in a hotel without no one around who knew her, or cared. I’m glad she died, at least, warm and safe, because those were two things Gayle didn’t have a lot of towards the end. Gayle made cheap jewelry, but it was nice stuff, neatly made and beautiful. I’m angry there isn’t some sort of help for people like Gayle. I’m still mad about it, and Gayle has been dead for a couple of years now. I miss her.
Greg was someone I knew in the mid 80’s, and I still remember the day he told me he wanted to deal cocaine for a living. We were both working at Shoney’s as dishwashers, and it’s hard to explain to someone that dealing cocaine isn’t something you just start doing as a means of employment. Greg started a very, very slow descent into chronic unemployment. He would buy cocaine, sell some of it, but use the rest of it. The amount sold versus the amount used began to swing hard in the direction of use, and eventually, his roommates began to get tired of him. The drugs were one thing, everyone was young back then, drugs were common and accepted, but the lack of rent money wasn’t. Greg started stealing food from his two roommates and they put up with it for a while, but then they started missing other things as well. They began to torment him, the way young men will torment one another, and one day they hid the toilet paper from him and Greg had to go to a Hardee’s to wipe. I think that was a turning point of sorts. Greg had reached a zone of poverty, self inflicted poverty, that excluded the very basics of living. He had pushed people to the point they no longer cared about him.
When they kicked him out, Greg rode around with everything he owned in his car for a while. His bed sat in their front yard, near the street, and I think he actually slept in it until it rained one night and ruined it. Greg lived with his girlfriend, Susan, until she broke up with him, and then he lived in her mother’s garage until he held a yard sale one day, and sold a lot of her stuff while she was at work. Greg was homeless. Worse, he was unemployed, and Greg began a life of truly petty thievery.
I let him crash on my couch a few times, let him take a shower at my place, but things started disappearing. Greg once stole some sticky notes from me. I had a pad of sticky notes on my coffee table and he stuck them in his pocket before he left. Sticky notes. What was he going to do, pawn them? Yeah, I got these primo sticky notes here, can you give me a dime for them? But Greg was like that. If he could steal it he would steal it. It finally got to the point I wouldn’t let him in my apartment and he finally stopped coming around.
He showed up at Exit 16 a few times, I saw Susan at the YMCA and she and her husband tried to help him, and honestly, Susan was a saint and so was her husband. I remembered him from the 80’s too, and he hated me, and he hated Greg a thousand times worse. Yet he was willing to try, but Greg had disappeared again, likely arrested, and it was a while before I saw him again.
Greg was going to college when I first met him. He was dating Susan, who was a very decent human being, and very pretty, too. In the space of just a couple of years, he was living out of his car, and then, suddenly, he was on foot, wandering and stealing, and homeless. He did stupid things, got arrested often, and one cop broke his jaw. Greg mumbled after that, because he never got his jaw set right, and the last time I saw him he was selling gasoline at a gas station. Greg was upfront with me about how he conned people out of money. He would go to a gas station with a two gallon can and ask people for fifty cents worth of gas, a dollar’s worth, just to get his car going, his family was stranded, he told that worked really well, and then when he got a full can he would try to sell the gas for a dollar. He got the hell beat out of him, he told me, because he sold someone two gallons of a mixture of gas and water. He learned not to go back to the same places too often after that. Greg told me he passed out under an overpass one night and was attacked by fireants. He stripped off his clothes to get the ants off of him, and stood there naked by the interstate, picking ants off his skin. Did he see that coming? Did he realize at some point in time this sort of thing would happen? Did he not realize that there would be terrible things, awful things, inhuman things and worse, that would happen to him?
“Skeet me some gas in that can, boy,” the man says to me, as he puts a two gallon jug down beside me, and then he turns and yells at the people across the bay from me, and I can tell by the way they’re looking at him, and looking at me, that they have no idea who this guy is. It’s not Greg, but a younger version of him. He’s trying to simply barge his way into people giving him gas, and I can tell by the smell he’s been on the road for too long. Honest hardworking sweat isn’t offensive but someone who simply hasn’t bathed and has been walking the roads smells like it. It’s a chemical smell, devoid of humanity in a way, as if he’s replaced his blood with cheap beer and junk food. He’s pretending to talk to the other people, who are not responding, and they’ve given him enough gas to fill half the jug, so he’s doing well. I have no idea what his angle on this might be, and I simply do not care.
I start to put the hose up and he steps in like he’s going to take it away from me. “Hey, Boy,” he begins but I’m not interested. I squeeze the handle and gas gushes out, and all over him. “Get the fuck away from me.” I tell him, and I’m serious. He starts cussing like hell, but backs away from me, and he realizes that he’s a spark away from being a human Roman Candle. I’m mad as hell. I’m mad as hell that Gayle tried as hard as she did and died alone and afraid. I’m mad that Greg threw away his life on cocaine and petty theft. I’m mad as hell that this guy is running some sort of scam, and expects people to allow him to feed off on them. People like this are the reason people like me won’t help the homeless more than we do, and I am mad at myself for stereotyping homeless people because of people like him.
I pull away and he’s yelling and cussing but at least he doesn’t smell like the road anymore. It looks like it might rain, and he can stand out in it and get the gasoline off of him. I have this thought as I look at him in the rearview mirror. I smell like gas now, too, but I can let the windows down and it will pass. I will go home and shower. I have an insect bite on my leg that is oozing right now and I can feel it itching, but I have something for that, too.
I wonder who that guy is, and how he got where he is, and why, at the end of the day, I only made things worse for him.