The following stories contain information that some may find offensive, vulgar and graphic. The path which I took was dangerous, lonely and cold. Some of the names of people and places used are fictitious in order to protect the identities of those involved.
One morning I woke up from my cat hole at about 5:30 AM. It was winter, and the weather was cold and breezy. I was shaking like a dog shitting raiser blades, it was so cold. I went to the labor hall to warm up and find some work for the day. Feeling like shit after running the streets all night, I walked inside across the chipped grey paint of the dirty concrete floor and sat on an old wooden bench, waiting for work. The labor hall was an old brick building and inside there was no real heat. Thank God, because the funk of foot, ass, and dirty clothes was enough to knock out Mike Tyson in the first round.
A labor hall is a place where the homeless go to find work for the day. People who need temporary labor workers will call and request workers and pay the labor hall something like $15/hour per worker. The labor hall will then pay anyone with a warm body and a pulse $7/hour to go out to the job site and work. These jobs include anything from digging ditches to working in warehouses, anything that is manual labor. The work is first come first serve, so in order to get a job, you have to show up between 5 and 5:30 in the morning. If they call your name for work they’ll ask if you are capable of doing a specific job. They might ask, “Can you fly a jet or a space shuttle?” You damn better say, “Yes,” even if you can’t spell jet, otherwise you may not work that day.
On this morning, a guy was late for his repeat job and I was given his work ticket. About 15 to 20 of us, packed like sardines, were trying to squeeze ourselves, along with our bags of clothes and food, into a van when this guy showed up. He didn’t like that I had taken his job, so he started poppin shit to me.
He said, “I’ve been working this job for 2 ½ weeks. Don’t get on that fucking van. That’s my job!” I just ignored him and continued to walk towards the van. “I’m talking to you, tramp!” He yelled angrily as he approached me.
I turned back to him and said, “I understand, man, but you need to talk to the clowns inside.”
A tall, slender man stepped between us and said, “Get this shit over with, cause I can’t be late to work. I need my damn hours.”
The other guy replied, “Fuck you!”
The tall, slender guy snapped back quickly, with a smile, “Bitch, can I get on top?” which we all found to be funny.
The guy turned to me with anger and embarrassment, but before he could speak I said, “Sounds like a personal problem to me. Yeah, we need to get to work, so you’re holding us up with this miscellaneous bullshit.” He cursed and walked away.
On the work van, the guy who stepped between us gave me his name, Edward, as he handed me a grey box cutter. “You’ll need this on the streets.”
Edward was about 6’ 1”, 190 lbs, with a long face and high cheek bones. He was a veteran who had never fought in an actual war. The only war he fought was the demons inside and the streets to survive. Unknown to me, at that time I too was also fighting demons which brought me and many others to the streets. We worked at the same job site. He worked inside doing carpentry, while I was outside using a Chinese backhoe; the name for a shovel. That day, Edward had no lunch, so I shared my lunch with him. As we ate, I learned that I wasn’t the first person he had tried to get food from. “These guys wouldn’t give a crippled man a crutch to walk across the street if they owned a lumber yard”, he told me. “Son’s of bitches.”
Working outside that day reminded me of working for my schoolmate’s father, clearing farmland and cutting firewood for his home and mine once the tobacco was harvested and the potatoes dug. This taught me how to operate heavy equipment. But it was this farm where I also learned to use a much smaller shovel. Not a Chinese backhoe, but a shovel that held a powerful, white substance; cocaine.
After 8 hours of hard work, Edward and I returned to the labor hall where we picked up our checks and his bike. Edward asked me, “Do you have a bike?”
“NO! Damn sitting down and walking at the same time.”
He smiled and said, “Can you sit down and drink a forty at the same time?”
“Damn straight! If you’re buying the first round.”
We stopped at a local downtown hang out, the Sandwich Shop. I remembered as a child, my family would come here to enjoy hot dogs, chips and water. As Edward and I entered the old, battered building the smell of hot dogs and fries was replaced with the smell of cheap perfume, Black & Mild cigar smoke, and stale beer and wine. Cakes and candy on the counter were substituted with ash trays, pickled eggs and pigs’ feet. The place was packed; corn freaks (black women), pink toes (white women) and of course chicken heads. With loud music on the juke box, a few people were trying to dance. As Ton Loc sang “Funky Cold Medina”, Edward introduced me to the owner, Kim, an Asian woman. She asked us what we would like to drink. Edward replied, “you.”
She said, “Stop staring at me like dogs. Now, what would you like to drink?”
Edward said, “These two dogs would like to a have a forty a piece.”
“Coming right up, Top Dog, and Lead Dog.”
From that point on, this is what Edward and I would be known as on the streets.