Sunday, January 13, 2013

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- From “The Lonseome Hobo”Series - New Year’s Eve, 1977

… he looked out from the ancient smudged sooted back window (showing frigid glass crack slivers breakable and some rotten pane wood ) of his fourth floor single room sad sack, no elevator, long gone downhill from prosperous Victorian mayfair swells times brownstone ready for the wrecker’s’ ball, down the street, down Joy Street, down Beacon Hill Boston Joy Street, ironically named , as the late afternoon crowd of government workers clinging to their annual New Year’s holiday early release (at the discretion of their supervisors, although they, the supervisors. were long gone at noontime, if the day’s work was done) strolled by, ditto post-Christmas shoppers who had wisely waited until after black Christmas day to bring back to Jordan’s or Filene’s those unwanted ties, toys, and bric-a-brac that inevitable arrived at that time each year, and watched wistfully as an early returning college student or two, bulging cloth book bags over their shoulders, trying to catch up on some recess-delayed study, headed a few streets over to school as the town prepared for its first First Night, an officially sanctioned chamber of commerce-style city booster event complete with usually reserved for the Fourth of July shout-out fireworks to welcome in the new year, 1977.
Closer at hand he also observed across narrow Joy Street sad-eyed Saco Steve and beat Billy, Billy of no known moniker, two wine-soaked winos, wine-soaked by this hour if he was any judge, across from his smudged sooted brownstone window. He stopped himself, as he began to judge their shabby low-rent existence, their ceaseless nickel and dime pan-handling, soup kitchen, day labor existence (mostly pearl-diving these days, pearl-diving washing dishes and whatnot over at the Park Plaza where the head union guy, the crew picker, was a second cousin of Billy’s who got him on when they had big shot dinners in the big ballrooms and they, Billy and Steve, and the other guys too, mostly fellow winos or guys down on their luck, would take, as a personal bonus, all those half-full before diner wine glasses and empty them in waiting wine bottles before the glasses went into the racks and on to the conveyor belts. Billy, when he had hit bottom and hit joy street had gotten him some work there, and had showed him that trick of the trade.).

Then he smirk chuckled realizing the immense slough of despond hypocrisy of that forming thought, the joy street hard luck thought, and of his own fast lane addictions, drugs, gambling, cigarettes, whores when he was in the clover, held at bay for the moment, as he continued his view of the lads appearing, as always, to be arguing over something from the sound of their voices that could be heard all the way up to his fourth floor digs. That argument would before long wind up on the floor below his where this pair, when not homeless street-bound, or Sally (Salvation Army), or Pine Street worthy, when not too far in rent arrears (like he was at the moment), kept a shabby flop, a flop not unlike his, single bed, mattress sagging from too many years of faithful addicted service (addicted, drugs, gambling, liquor, although not seemingly the new addiction fad, sex, for, as far as he knew and he knew for certain in his own case, no women crossed the brownstone front door threshold, not that he had seen anyway, nor given the single-minded nature of the listed addictions matched to listed tenants was that likely, a woman, a woman’s wanting habits, were too distracting to trump such devotions), a left behind rumbled hard hospital pillow, pillow-cased (by him), probably gathered by some previous tenant from one of the about seventeen local hospitals that started just the other side of Cambridge Street, Joy Street downstream river flow into Cambridge Street, sheets, rumpled and he provided as well, a bureau, a cockroach-friendly cheap bureau until he stamped out every one of the veiled bastards, for his small personal wardrobe, a couple of changes of this and that, maybe three, along with the usual stash of undergarments, a small table for bric-a-brac (which he used for occasional writing) and toilet articles, no cooking facilities (thankfully, thinking about the Saco Steve and Billy voices moving in on him), no frig, nothing personal on the walls, a common bathroom complete with some Victorian-era tub for the four residents of each floor, and done.
As he heard the rough-hewn gravel hoarse voices of Saco Steve and Billy making their way up the stairs he threw on his best short- sleeved shirt (simple logic, and not picked up from some hobo, tramp, bum met on the road like a lot of good and useful information he had picked up over the years, most of those brethren would not have cared, understood, or comprehended one way or the other about such logic, they lived closer to the moment than even he did -usable all seasons, heat or cold), dark green plaid, Bermuda shorts plaid, something like that, like what was fashionable about 1960 and mother –bought for the first day of school (bought, always bought, at the Bargie, new, a hometown cheap jack discount house before those kind of places became world franchised and spread out to serve the fellahin world), fresh second-hand from the Sally (Salvation Army, remember) bin over on Berkeley Street, his mauve sweater (also purchased at Sally’s but earlier in the winter backing up the logic of that short -sleeved shirt decision), his waist-length denim jean jacket, not Sally-bought but bought when he was in the clover after hitting the perfecta at Suffolk a couple of months before and deciding, deciding against all gambler’s reason, that he should buy it against the coming winter colds, threw his keys in his pants’ pocket and headed down the stairs, waving and shouting happy new year to Steve and Billy, who embroiled in some argument about who was to buy the night’s Thunderbird, let his remark pass without comment, and out the door to investigate the first night officially-sanctioned activity. And to figure out how, with eight dollars (and a couple of buck in change which he never counted as money, in the chips or out) in his pocket and the tracks closed for the season until after the new year, he was going to come up with a week’s twenty-two dollar rent due in a couple of days, and a couple of months in arrest, to keep the super from his door for a while.

As he walked up Cambridge Street pass monstrous (monstrous in taking good cheap cold water flat tenement housing for his brethren and monstrous for its low –bidder unfriendly design that looks to his now faux- professional architect’s opinion like a space station platform against the generally Bulfinch décor of the surrounding area) City Hall where it veered into Tremont toward the Common he suddenly had an idea, hell, why hadn’t he thought of it before, constantly studying those racing forms up in that fourth floor cold water flat, hell not even cold water, not in the room anyway, he thought must had finally gotten the better of him. What better night to work the pan-handle, the pan-handle that a few years back he had worked into an art form of sorts before the chilly winds of the 70s, his own hubristic addictions, Susie, and , hell, just some plain bad luck, had forced him into a few years of work, work doing a little of this and a little of that, before he got tired of that little of this and little of that, and focused all his energies on his “system,” his absolutely fool-proof system of beating the ponies, the dogs, or whatever other animal wanted to run like hell for the paying customers, the guys, the guys like him, who all had their own sure-fire beat-down systems and who could live, like him, on easy street on the profits. Just now though he had to work on his approach, his new year’s festive crowd approach since he knew his act would be rusty starting out.
Funny, he thought, as he worked up his approach in his head thinking about the finer points of the art form, most civilians, most people who have never been on the wrong side of the bum, or been just plain down on their luck and thus clueless about how to survive without about seventeen beautiful support systems around them to cushion the landing , think pan-handling is just pan-handling, put out your hat or hand kind of polite, eyes glued down to the ground, maybe taking their and pretending to shake off their dust, kind of “sorry to bother you,” and pitch for spare change, and mainly keep moving along playing the percentages by covering a lot of ground fast, or just staying put, maybe on the ground looking like some third world fellaheen refugee, blanket underneath (smart move against cold night and winter troubles), with all your worldly possessions, rucksack, some desperate towel to occasionally wipe off sweat or drool, your pitiful donut shop coffee cup with “donations” spelled wrong on it, about you. Jesus. Forget all that. That approach was strictly for winos and losers. It might have worked in about 1926 or 27 when people walking by, mayfair swells or just ordinary joes, working stiffs, actually looked at a person, any person, when something was spoken to them, even by a ragamuffin stranger, or actually took the time and looked down at the ground and thought poor guy there but the grace of god go I, or some such thing. Today a guy needed an angle, a reason for a passer-by to stop. And that is where his old friend’s advice, his hobo road friend Black River Whitey, told around a jungle camp fire one night out in Indio, out in the California desert near the old Southern Pacific railroad tracks, about the tricks of the pan-handling trade came in handy.

Black River Whitey simply said this- shout at or do some fake (maybe not fake when you get into it) mental flip out when asking for dough. Nothing over the edge, way over the edge, nothing that they would yell copper over or take a swing at you for just to take a swing at you and impress their friends that they could beat up on a stewball bum ,but firm. See the idea Whitey said was that those couple of dollars (hey, not quarters or chump change like that, not when you are running this scam, this is strictly dollar minimum stuff not that quarter for coffee gag) they practically threw at you to get you out of their faces was far easier for them to do than to guess at what your next move will be, especially a guy with his girl and he thinking of later in the night thoughts and maybe scoring and not wanting to go mano y mano with some half-hobo and, and, losing. Or some lonely girl, thinking who knows what she would be thinking, nothing good for her for sure. Beautiful, Black River Whitey, beautiful. But he thought as he walked toward the Common and geared up to his night’s work past a couple of half-frozen stoop winos spread out down on the ground, cup in front, across from Park Street Station any fool could see where winos and other lamos best stick with that cup in front of them and be glad of the few quarters that trickle their way.
Of course, Whitey also mentioned around that old Indio camp fire, that if you had time and had some dough to get some half-decent clothes, clothes like he had on now (only half-decent you don’t want to pitch hard luck stuff in a Brooks Brothers suit, not on the mean city streets anyway, save that pitch for sunnier days), you could work “the down on your luck” angle, needing an angel angle that worked with private social welfare organizations and single women especially. He knew the score on that one because he had, just young enough, just gentile shabby enough, just“rehab-able ” enough, and just civilized enough to pull it off made many dollars in tough times the last time they came his way a few years back (and a couple of friendly one night stands with some lonely women too, and not bad looking either, as a bonus). But that was day time magic, lunch time, and took precious time and that night with frozen temperatures in the air and distracted fast-moving people going from place to place the shout-out was his strategy of choice by default.

And his night of work, after a few off-hand rusty stumbles and a bunch of brush-offs, worked, worked to the tune of thirty-two dollars, about six packs worth of cigarettes of all kinds (oh yah, Black River Whitey always said if they pleaded no dough ask for cigarettes, or something, but keep asking), a least six belts of high- shelf booze from no dough pleaders with a flask at their hip to keep the chill off, a couple of joints (to be saved for cooler, maybe a stray woman share , times) from lingering 1960s freak-types, and he thought, an offer to stay at some woman’s house for the night, although the booze might have been taking his head over by then. (Besides he was still half-pining for Susie, Susie who had up and left him with her wanting habits intact, her now little white picket fence, kids, and dog dreams, when he decided he would rather do a little of this and that than work the nine to five numbness.) Now if he could only keep that dough ready for the rent and not bet on some foolish new year’s college football game or something before then he might be able to work on that sure-fire betting system of his in the comfort of him room and then really be on easy street.

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