The characters and events described here are fictitious and any similarities to any other persons or events, real or fictitious, are sheer coincidence. Eventually these stories will be edited and prepared for publishing.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Streets of Eugene

DateHis sister offered him a ride, but the boy elected to hitch-hike to Eugene, the closest town. With his orange back-pack loaded, he walked to the highway and stuck out his thumb. It didn't take him long to catch a ride and before long he was in Eugene. He asked some people on the street if they knew where he might find a place to "crash." They told him they were going to the Christ Brotherhood's community outreach center for free lunch, and that sometimes people stayed there overnight. The boy was hungry, he decided he would go with them.

The Christ Brotherhood seemed to be an informal collection of religious hippy guys. You could pick out the "Brothers" usually because they had a tendency to wear all white and had long hair and beards. The boy suspected that this was some kind of status symbol among them, though he didn't know what a status symbol was. Unlike other branches of the Christ Brotherhood, these Brothers were known to wear leather on their feet; some of them might even eat a little meat, now and then. The Brothers operated a homeless shelter at their Community Outreach in Eugene. Although they were religious, they didn't seem to object to the smoking of a little weed, once in awhile. The boy asked if he could stay with them but one of the Brothers told him they could only take a certain number of people or the city would "come down" on them. 

The Brothers set a pretty good lunch table, but they didn't have enough room for the boy to stay. They told him about a "free-house" where he could probably stay, and how to get there. The boy was already exhausted but with no where else to go, walked the several miles to the free-house. When he got there, he spoke with a group of people who were hanging out on the porch. When he asked if he could crash there, they  told him to  go inside and talk with Momma Nancy or Uncle Ted. He walked through the open door and let his eyes adjust to the dimly lit room. It was an old house with a large living room and four bedrooms. The kitchen was located on the far side of the living room and it was there that he found Momma Nancy, following an invisible path through the bodies on the floor of the main room. There were certain privileged occupants who had their own rooms, but every square foot of common floor space was occupied by some unfortunate soul with no where else to go. This place wasn't like the Christ Brotherhood at all...here there were people spread out on the floor all over the place with blankets and sleeping bags. Many of them were sick or handicapped; all of them were dirty. Momma Nancy said "Sure you can stay if you can find a place to roll out your bag." The boy found a place. Uncle Ted was a Viet Nam veteran, biker dude. "Just don't mess with my old lady," was all had to say. The boy had no intention of messing around with Momma Nancy.

The boy got in touch with his mother, who was now traveling around South America. She sent him an emancipation letter so he could apply for food stamps. At night he would stay at the free-house with the freaks and derelicts; they would all pool the change the had left from buying stuff with their food stamps and buy some cheap wine - Mad Dog 20/20 was one favorite; another was Night-Train. They would ceremoniously pour a little wine on earth, say a prayer for the "Brothers and Sisters who have passed on" and pass the bottle around. Dinner consisted of whatever they could get from "dumpster-diving" and the occupants' meager, collective food contributions.  

In the daytime the boy looked for work. Eugene was extremely economically depressed at the time. There was little to no work for anybody, let alone a boy with no formal experience. He would pound the pavement everyday looking for work, but no one would hire him. He would have at least one modest but wholesome meal at the Christ Brotherhood, around noon everyday.It was there that he met Dusty, and the two immediately became fast friends.

Dusty was a few years older. He actually had his own bed at The Brotherhood. Thin and slight of frame, he wore a blonde beard and mustache. He carried a bag with a strap around his shoulder from which he would sometimes produce a pen and paper to jot down a thought he was having. The two friends would drop acid and spend hours roaming the city at night, laughing hysterically at the great cosmic joke on humanity. Sometimes they would climb the hill on the North end of the town and look out over the sea of city lights below and ponder the mysteries of life. The boy was incredibly saddened when he showed up at the Christ Brotherhood one morning and was told by one of the brothers that Dusty had gotten busted....apparently he had been AWOL from the Navy and they had finally tracked him down.  

The boy would live in Eugene like this for six months. Even though he tried everyday, he never found work. The last month he became very sick. His tonsils swelled up so bad he couldn't eat anything; even swallowing liquid was painful, and he had a bad fever. He passed in and out of delirium as he tried to make it to the emergency room. He hadn't eaten in three days and knew he would die unless he could get help. At the emergency room, they gave him a prescription but they wouldn't fill it for him. He had no money to buy the medicine at the hospital pharmacy, so he would have to take a bus across town to a place that issued vouchers for the indigent. Somehow he made it through the fog of delirium and got some penicillin. He took a capsule out of the bottle, forced it down between his swollen tonsils without water, and passed out at the bus stop. He woke up several hours later and finally made it back to the free-house. A kindly old homeless guy gave him a bottle of cranberry juice and the boy forced down another cap of antibiotic. It would be another three days before the boy would be on his feet again.

Reader Comments (1)

Thank you so much for visiting my site. The story of the boy in Eugene is evokative of your experience with homelessness. Atlanta's homeless population is huge, and here more than anywhere else I have ever lived, I have experienced it almost as a phenomenon woven throughout every major part of the city. My goal, the goal of Project Homeless, is to bring resources, aid, and to humanize the homeless as a way to start doing something. It's quite a mountain to move, but it matters to me to start banging away at it. I appreciate your insights and your experiences with homelessness. You have a unique understanding, and you expressed the reality of a life on the streets that I am just beginning to get a sense of through my interviews. I also really enjoy your writing style, so I'll be keeping an eye on your blog. Thanks again.
October 21, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPeachtree Street

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