I’ve been worrying every morning that someone is going to see me and call security, or, even worse, the cops. So every morning as I’m crouching behind the bushes waiting and listening I see in my head how my sleeping bag and clothes are going to be gone when I return in the evening, how the hole in the bushes is going to be patched up, or how there is going to be a group of concerned citizens waiting for me with torches and tasers ready to fry the homeless kid.
This is the worst part of the day. The sun has just risen and the marina glows orange. The bushes are thick so that only a little light gets through and I’m crouching there in the dim shade, unable to see the promenade or if anyone is coming. All I can do is listen, listen and wait, hope for the coast to be clear. I hear two people coming up and I sit still, letting them pass. When I can no longer hear their squeaking shoes I make sure I hear nothing else — it’s just the rocking of the yachts. The branches swish and rustle as I crouch through the opening in the bushes and hop down from the wall; my sneakers make a smacking sound as they hit the promenade. Damnit! I’ve jumped out right in front of a woman walking her Scottish-terrier. Quickly I take out my cellphone and pretend to be busy, pretend there’s nothing wrong here; a nonchalant elbow resting on the wall. ‘Hey Mark, it’s Brian. Yeah. I checked the sprinklers, they all seem to be fine. Yup. The nozzles and pipes, got ’em. Check.’ The woman’s mouth fell open, red tongue white teeth, and she used her hand to close it, walking by with a quickened pace and never taking a second glance. She had jumped when I came out of the bushes and this rattled the big brown sunglasses on her over-tanned face. She left her glasses stay crooked on her face and she kept walking, too surprised to even look back. There’s no one else out yet and I get away without being seen twice. But I’m going to have to start waking up before the sun, I suppose.
I have a white plastic bag with me with peanut butter and bread in it. The St. Joseph Center, where I’d visited yesterday, opens at 8:30 and I planned to get there and see if they had showers. Their webpage said they did. I get down there around eight o’clock and I sit out on the front steps and make myself a couple peanut butter sandwiches, saying hello good-morning to the passers-by. Well-dressed employees are walking in and out and there is a couple homeless people gathered around, waiting for the center to open. One of the guys, he’s drinking a coffee and he’s one of those obviously insane homeless you see. He’s talking to someone who isn’t there, walking around doing stretches with his morning Starbucks in his hand while his other hand, the fingers gently dance and prod in the air as he talks and sings.
At eight-thirty I walked inside. ‘Hi, what can I do for you?’ asked the security guard at the desk. ‘Is this a homeless shelter?’ ‘We have services for the homeless.’ ‘Are there showers here?’ ‘No, but if you’re looking for showers, you can go here, to the St. Joseph on Lincoln.’ The guard slid a business card across the counter. ‘Where on Lincoln?’ ‘Just go out here to Rose, go all the way to Lincoln and make a right. It’s… two blocks down, on your left.’ ‘And they have showers there?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Awesome! Thanks a lot!’ I was looking filthy and I realized I need to clean up before trying to find a job.
The St. Joseph Center on Lincoln is a featureless, square building with the front windows and door barred shut. It’s on a corner and around the side, in the back, I can see a handful of dirty-clothed people mulling around smoking cigarettes. I walk to the back and find the door, go inside and get in line. I’m standing in a square room with folding chairs lined up, a few tables to the side, and a line of homeless people waiting to check in at the front desk. The front desk is a podium with a computer chained to it, a young man with glasses taking everyone’s information. The podium is in a doorway and behind him I can see more rooms, a counter with a sink, cabinets and a telephone. There’s a security guard in a t-shirt standing next to him. I sign in, tell him I need a shower and to do laundry, and he tells me the shower is full for the day but that if I’d like to wait I can shower if someone doesn’t show up. Also, the washing machine is broken. Ok, fine, I say. Would you like to sign up for a meal? No, that’s okay. The man gives me a funny sideways eye when I said no, as if he all of sudden didn’t think I was homeless.
There were a few people I recognized, whom I’d seen walking around or hanging out at the boardwalk. Most of the people here were older, mentally deficient drug-abusers but there were a few younger people my age. I thought about saying hello, introducing myself and perhaps befriending a few people, but I was in my head, introverted and not in the mood to open my mouth. I watched the people come in and out, lolling about in line, feet up in chairs sleeping with jackets over their heads. This was a colorfully despondent bunch. Bicycles laden with spare toaster parts, filthy clothes and grime-stained duffle bags, baggy, ripped clothing and the smell of weeks’ old body-odor like a crusted layer of stench that reaches the nostrils with a head-shaking backyard-rotten stench. When the bathroom door opened you could smell the stale piss, and also I saw there was a shower in there. I grabbed my plastic bag, which was filled with toiletries as well as my breakfast, and I went in, shut the door and hurriedly showered. I was only in for five minutes, but still there was a banging on the door. I showered quick and cold, got dressed and slipped out the back door. Outside there was a skinny black man sitting on the curb, smoking a cigarette and yelling to nobody about the dangers of public urination.