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Chapter 20: Scene 73: Your ordinary street kid


ThinkLink: Where was the scariest place you ever had to sleep? What made it so scary?

       I stop in front of a department store to get my breath. I see myself in the big plate glass window. My hair's grown down over my ears and it's as greasy as Pat's. My clothes are as scruffy as his, too. I look harder. A streak of dirt smears across my cheek. That's me. Your ordinary street kid.

       Street kids make me think of the bridges. When you got no where else to go, Vonda'd said, there's always the bridges. I head for the river. With shadows from big buildings falling across the streets, I realize I'd better get a move on if I'm going to find a place to stay before it gets too dark to look. Walking through the park along the river, I can tell there's no staying here all night. Too open. At the end of the park I find a staircase leading to a bridge. Up on top I jog along a sidewalk until I get to the middle. Looking over I'm darned if I can see where to spend a night. It's all water underneath, one side to the other.

       At the other end of the bridge I come down into a warehouse district. I catch sight of a couple of men huddled up against pillars under a freeway . Cars shoot by overhead in a constant rumble that'll make them deaf overnight. Watch your back, Vonda'd said. Some dangerous dudes down there.

       Further on I find an alley behind a warehouse . Cars have left the lot for the night and I don't see signs of a night watchman. Not that he'd likely leave signs. It's almost dark when I hunker down in a doorway in the concrete wall next to a trash bin. I'm scrunched up there, half-asleep when I hear the click of dog paws on the pavement. I look up at a big German Shepherd, ears laid back, staring down on me, trying to decide to eat me for dinner or save me for later.

       On the other end of the rope around the dog's neck, is a guy even dirtier than me. I wait for him to yell at me for taking his spot, but he kind of smiles, showing missing teeth all across the front.

       "You got money, kid? Spare me a buck or two?"

       I eye the dog and then look him over. "You think I'd be here for the night if I had some money? Some place to go?"

       He grunts and goes about making a nest for himself. He pulls a cardboard box out of the trash, rips it open and spreads it out on the other side of the bin. He dumpster dives for newspapers and spreads them out. Finally, he and the dog curl up, warmer than me by quite a bit.

       "Where you headed?" he asks.

       "No where. I don't know."

       "Been there. Where's home?"

       "On a ranch ."

       "No shit. I been on a ranch once. Some kind of rodeo going on. You a bronc rider ?"

       "Not me. Not that kind of ranch ."

       "So why don't you go back? Better than here."

       "Can't. Why don't you go home?"

       He doesn't answer for awhile. "Thought about it some. Always meant to do it when I had a little money in my pocket. Some clothes. A bus ticket. Never all happened at the same time."

       "So what do you do now?"

       Another long pause. "Day work sometimes. Go over to the mission, trucks pick guys up there to work in the fields. Do clean-up work some."

       He rattles some paper and pulls a bottle out of his pack. I can hear him slurping it down. Might make him mean, I think, but then maybe it'll just put him to sleep. Some time later I hear him snore, so I guess that's what it does. I doze. Curled up on concrete's not the best way to get a good night's sleep. When I get cold I rummage around in the trash for newspapers and cardboard. The dog sits up and growls low. The guy stirs, but doesn't wake up.

       A car squeals its wheels turning into the parking lot and I wake up with a jerk. It's broad daylight and I know I got to get out of here. I look over, but the guy with the dog is gone. He must have an alarm clock in his head that tells him it's time. I run around the corner before the guy in the car can see me.

       Back on the street I look for a place where they'll let me use a toilet, but there's nothing but concrete-slab buildings for blocks. Finally, I take a leak back of one of them. From the smell, I'm not the first one.

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 Updated on 5/13/04

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