Homeless Means Nowhere to Hang My Smith Diploma
by Maryhope Tobin
Editor’s note: The following are edited excerpts from the blog Hexbreaker: Homeless Means Nowhere to Hang My Smith Diploma, by Maryhope Tobin. The full blog, including many more pictures and links to music videos, is at hexbreaker9.wordpress.com. References to Ron refer to Hope’s close friend, Ron Raymond Jr., the longtime host of “Stuck in the 80s,” heard Sunday nights, at 7 p.m., on community radio station WMPG (90.9 and 104.1 FM). Hope, a frequent co-host of that show, currently hosts “Powerhaus,” a program of music from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, heard immediately after “Stuck in the 80s,” at 9 p.m.
April 18, 2015
The Fleshtones are one of my favorite bands. I told you I hooked up with Pete Zaremba, right? It was thirty years ago. Thirty! My sister and I thought of this as a blog title within seconds of each other. I like this title because it says, Yeah, my life became a bucket of suck but I’m climbing out of it somehow. With a hex-breaker, perhaps. Or a leprechaun jumping out of my suitcase holding a bucket of cash (the big suitcase, of course — it’s a big bucket).
Just Eat It: Tap Water Pasta
The power was out for nearly two weeks. I was hungry and all I had was rice, but couldn’t use the rice cooker. I went to a food pantry, terrified. Not intimidated or nervous. Terrified. So scared of being judged: me, my outfit, my car.
No one judged me. No one looked at my car. A woman gave me a bag of food and I left. That was it.
There were meat products. I gave them away, I can’t remember to whom. I ate an entire jar of pasta sauce, cold. Generic coco puffs were lunch every day for a week. I saved the angel hair pasta for last. I don’t know why.
Fill a big bowl with hot tap water. Place the angel hair pasta in the water. When the water cools down, replace with more hot water. Repeat this process until the pasta is edible. Note: “edible” is not really the word you’ll use, but you can trick your body into thinking you just ate real food. For an hour or two, anyway. Hint: Don’t do this if angel hair is your favorite pasta. Because it won’t be.
I slept in my car last night for the first time. What surprises me is that I actually slept. I had to rearrange the backseat so I could push the driver’s seat all the way back and recline, but it was okay. It was in the 40s with heavy rain. I was wearing two jackets and I had a couple of blankets. Strangely cozy.
I woke up with a lightning flash in my closed eyes. Like a big red explosion. I sat there for a long time, listening to thunder and trying to figure out how to do what I needed to do. I peed late last night, in the space between my car and the one in front of it. Of course two cars drove by, but at least no one walked by on the sidewalk. I wasn’t about to do that in daylight.
I un-cozied myself and drove to a parking garage, backing into a spot over by the windows. I took everything out of the trunk to get at my big suitcase and a change of clothes. After I changed (in the driver’s seat), I rearranged the entire car. Clothes and food in the backseat, bedding in the front. Everything else goes in the trunk. It all fit, just barely. Chaos theory in action (or not). I went to Starbucks for coffee and to pee. It had been like 10 hours. That can’t be healthy. Then I walked up to the library and have been here for hours, writing, tweeting and looking normal. Except for the crying.
I need to get the car out of the garage and I have to eat. I have no idea where I’m sleeping tonight. At least I have plenty to eat, thanks to my friend Holly. It’s all organic! And all I can think about is candy. I was so looking forward to brushing my teeth — remembered the toothpaste and forgot the toothbrush. I think I’ll eat and then go into Maine Med for some personal hygiene. Or I will sit in my car and cry until I pass out. And then I’ll eat.
Grateful to friends and listeners who donated to the gofundme, I am in a motel, clean, moisturized and watching TV. Go, go, Golden Girls! … I’m writing, I’m tweeting, and I’m doing a fair amount of beauty maintenance. I feel like me.
I felt like shit — anxious, defeated, doubting everyone — up until I pulled into the motel parking lot yesterday. As I was getting out of the car, I said out loud, “Can’t knock me down.” Which surprised me. My mantra is, “I will never get out of this hole, so why not sink a little deeper?” But then I added, “Still standing, bitch.” (Not sure which bitch to which I was referring.) I don’t have a permanent place to stay or a job, but I know I will soon.
A fun weekend in a cheap motel will not solve most of my problems. Or any of them, really, except I did pumice my feet and charge up my electric toothbrush. Squeaky clean teeth really do make a difference, as opposed to going through my homeless day running my tongue over my teeth and thinking, Yeah, okay, I probably didn’t brush them this morning, but I must have brushed them yesterday — wait, I didn’t. Last week I started brushing my teeth with water in my car and just opening the door to spit. Not ideal. Kind of weird, I think. People walking past my car stared at the woman with the blotchy, tear-stained face brushing her teeth in a car. Please don’t let this ever be my normal.
And my feet. God help me, my feet! I don’t sweat much. The only part of me that really sweats is my feet. For the past two weeks I’ve been wearing trainers to sleep in the car — sometimes with socks, sometimes without. The smell in the front seat is unavoidable and nearly unbearable. The trainers are in a plastic bag in the trunk. (Unless they figured out the latch and have snuck into the front seat again. Sneaked. Heh.) Those are my regular NB trainers that in normal times I would have replaced by now because they’ve gone flat.
I was thrilled to get my black NB sneakers from storage: black suede, black satin laces. But they stink worse than the trainers. I tried covering my feet with body wash before sleep. Car smelled like body wash and feet. I tried — and I am not even kidding and can’t believe I’m sharing this — crushing up Trader Joe’s Gingermints and Peppermints and putting them in my black NB. Walked around all day with minty fresh gravel in my sneakers. Made no difference. But I was living in a fucking car. Could not go to the cabinet under the sink and get whatever to take care of the problem. Please don’t let this ever be my normal.
My weight is an issue again. Last fall I was down to my college weight. Then I was down to my high school weight and it was terrifying. I’m 50, 5’ 8” and had been perfectly happy at 160. I’m a size 8, sometimes a 6, and I dig that. Then I ran out of food stamps last year and I ran out of money, and I was going one, two, three days without eating. And then five. Five fucking days without food. Not even I have a joke for that. …
And now I’m hungry again, collarbones are visible, people are commenting and no food stamps for another five or six days. After this weekend, how do I get some calories in me? Scrounging. Walking around Maine Med and looking for meetings that serve refreshments. Caffeine headache by noon because I have no coffee. I’ve discovered that Excedrin will prevent that, just barely. But I have to take a lot of it. Please don’t let this ever be my normal. (Except it has been.)
So those are some of the immediate survival issues. And by “issues” I mean “crises.” One weekend in a motel makes me feel like me, and I haven’t felt like me in months. That’s excellent. There is no guarantee, however, that I will have a place to stay on Sunday night. Hellaciously smelly feet and brushing my teeth in the car — there is no guarantee those will not be my normal, but they won’t land me in the emergency room. Starving will. Someone breaking into my car in the middle of the night while I’m sleeping there will also land me in the emergency room. Inexplicably, avoiding the ER was not my motivation before today. It is now.
Ron should be here in a couple of hours and I’ll have someone to talk to. In the meantime I’m watching soccer: insanely fit young men running and running and sometimes fighting. Aw, yeah.
There is a tour bus company in Portland that uses buses built like trolley cars, open air. What the fuck are people looking at on Western Prom, except the yellow-brick mansion? And how long does that take? I call them short-bus tourists. They seem to think the posh West End is very exciting.
Cramped and atrophied from so much time in the car, I decided to do yoga this afternoon. The weather was beautiful. I put my mat down on the grass and it was not level, actually pretty bumpy. I was wearing a black tank top and those stupid leggings with the stars all over them. As soon as I started in downward dog, one guy in a van was recording me, and the guy in the U.S.P.S. truck was taking pictures. WTF? Should I be flattered? It’s not strip yoga. So I was aware of that and, whatever, I just went through my standing poses and it felt really, really good.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the trolley bus coming along Western Prom. I was in triangle/reverse triangle when I heard it slow down. And then I heard laughing and rude comments, and “Smile!” and “Hellooooo!” and bizarre cackling. DO THEY NOT HAVE YOGA IN YOUR TWO-HEADED HILLBILLY FREAKSHOW VILLAGE? I lifted my head and said softly, “What the fuck?” and that shut them right up. I guess mean comments are okay in their village, and profanity is the work of the liberal media.
Back on the mat, a couple of my poses were wobbly — going into lunge, for example — which is actually scary, because it’s very easy to hurt your knee if your mat slips. And mine was over tree roots and a gopher hole or something. I’ve been practicing yoga for 16 years and I looked like a rookie! So I did a couple of rounds of standing poses and then called it quits. Changed out of the stupid star leggings and back into the denim pencil skirt.
I ask again: What is the big fucking deal about the Western Prom? Yes, there is the largest healthcare facility in the state of Maine. Yes, there is the yellow-brick mansion that you can see from the highway. But that’s it! People walk dogs, hospital employees walk on their lunch breaks, I sit on benches and cry. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
P.S.: The yellow-brick mansion? Used to have a pet pig. And I mean a full-sized farm pig. This thing was immense. It just hung out on the front porch, and then it would go back into the house. “His name is Philip,” the lady said, slightly snobby. Huh, I thought. Philip. The next spring, Philip was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he is still in that lady’s tummy. Mmm, house pig.
Tired of Waiting
Florence House is the shelter where I slept last night. I think it added up to about three hours. I got to bed around 1 and someone’s alarm went off at 5, and I know I’d been awake for a while by then. … This place saved my life last night. Why am I afraid to reach out to shelters? Ostensibly because I have more resources and coping skills than most of the women here. And I use words like “ostensibly.” In reality I am terrified. Asking strangers to help is a huge NFW, an obstacle that I can clearly rationalize avoiding. Staying in a shelter is admitting I can’t take care of myself, that this is something I can’t get from friends or family. Staying in a shelter means a sharps disposal in every stall.
I’m waiting to do an intake. I got here late and third shift does not do intakes. This is not a place where they schedule things, I am realizing. I don’t want to do the intake. I usually ace intakes, charm and impress and remain present throughout. But I’m tired. And I feel that so much is at stake — exactly what, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure there is no one here who can put me in lockdown. Not in my current state. I’m exhausted, my stress level is ridiculous, I haven’t showered since Sunday and these jeans are filthy. But I’m not psychotic, a danger, yada yada yada… In our first session, Steve (the free therapist) told me what condition I would have to be in to warrant an involuntary. No, I am not that. However, a week ago I was gearing up to spend a weekend in a motel. A Super 8! … And goddamn I wish I were there right now.
So this is one of those days when I am very, very careful about disclosing. Yes, I have bipolar disorder. Yes, I am taking my meds. And yes, I am seeing a therapist (he’s free!). Questions: racing thoughts? suicidal thoughts? speaking too fast? speaking too slowly? euphoria? despair? suicidal thoughts? lack of appetite? eating too much? difficulty sleeping? sleeping too much? suicidal thoughts?
No. Yes. No. Can I go now? I want to take a nap in my car.
Police On My Back
I still feel icky about what happened with Portland PD this week. Really icky. Wednesday night a cop told me that sleeping in my car on Marginal Way was safer than sleeping in my car on Pine Street. Nice ass, Officer. Talk out of it much? He then told me to park either on Marginal Way or in a hotel parking lot. I wound up sleeping in the parking lot of the Super 8 in Westbrook and helped myself to their free junk-food breakfast. I have no idea what Officer’s name is. Every time I tried to look at his name tag, he moved back. All I can remember is that he had a face like a flat ugly cheese wheel.
Thursday night felt like it happened underwater. Getting escorted out of Portland, cop on my ass from Vaughan Street to the South Portland Police Department — the first South Portland location that popped into my head. I really have no idea what the fuck happened and it has left a big ick on my mind. I don’t want it there. …
I moved into my last apartment on July 1, 2000, with my ex-husband. Five rooms, hardwood floors, southern exposure, off-street parking: $600 plus utilities. When I moved out on December 8, 2014, my rent was $670. The day we looked at the place I asked Landlord if he needed us to fill out applications. Nope. I pulled out the checkbook and offered to write a check for the deposit. Nope. We spent half an hour talking with Landlord about Albany, New York. We moved to Maine from Albany and Landlord’s band had played in clubs we knew. And that was it.
On move-in day I brought our ’keets to the new place and waited for the movers. I sat in the sunny, quiet living room wishing it would stay that way, not wanting to bring in any noise or furniture. There was way too much furniture, way too much stuff for that place, for two people. The last 18 months of our marriage started that day, in that apartment, dark screaming hate with southern exposure. I survived a breakdown and he just kept getting meaner and meaner — at home, anyway. Everyone else in town thought he was awesome. His cheating was pretty obvious, but I chose not to see it.
When we moved to Portland in 1999, my ex-husband enrolled in the Maine College of Art. He wanted to be a metalsmith. He built a whole new life for himself as a 32-year-old college freshman, and while that new life included college girls, it didn’t include me. I was basically a mommy at that point: a fat, severely depressed mommy whose job was to pay the rent and buy the food. For a year he told me how much he couldn’t wait to leave me. “Okay, asshole,” I finally said. “Give me a date.”
When he finally officially told me he was leaving, he told me he was dropping out of MECA. “You’re holding me back as an artist,” he said, completely serious. No, sweetheart, I thought. Your lack of talent is holding you back as an artist. And then, on January 5, 2002, he was gone. I was 37 years old and living alone for the first time in my life. I was single for the first time in 16 years. I was terrified. I laid on the bed and pulled the blankets over my head and cried. Then I paused, sniffling and looking at my watch. Simpsons is on! And that was it — he got 20 minutes of my crying time and I was ready to start over.
It took a while, but I made that place my home. I got rid of more and more furniture and brought in more and more plants. I promised myself that if I could keep the dining room table clear, I could buy myself flowers. I did, and I did, every week at Trader Joe’s. Something for the table, something for the sideboard, and lots of fabric on both. I loved coming home and seeing flowers and colors waiting for me. Alstroemeria was my go-to — cheap, lots of colors and lasts forever. I’m not a huge fan of roses, unless sent by an admirer, but I became obsessed with orchids. Who knew they just want to be ignored?
I had herbs on a shelf in front of the living room window. I had jasmine, gardenia, tons of spideys and pothos. I killed every Christmas cactus I ever bought. I had pretty good luck with TJ’s $2.99 begonias. And my grape ivies! The mother plant was on my desk when I started working at the college and I eventually took it home. I cut dozens of babies from that plant and they grew like crazy — you have to watch grape ivy or it will get you in your sleep. I watched one climb up the window frame, up to the ceiling, and stay there for a couple of days before coming down. …
Every morning I wake up and say, This is it, I’m not sleeping in the car again. All day I tell myself, Yep, I’m gonna get a new place to stay tonight. Every evening I think, There’s still time. And every night at bedtime, I pretend that one more night sleeping in the car is no big deal. Then I tug on something in the back seat — usually a jacket — and it won’t budge, and I growl and then shriek with frustration, and I can’t find my sneakers, again, from the front seat, and I start to cry. And I keep reaching for my WMPG knit cap and keep grabbing the same box of crackers instead. I don’t do what I want to do: I don’t scream, I don’t lean on the horn, I don’t smash the cracked windshield.
Instead, I swallow it. Eat up all the frustration and sadness and guilt and hunger. … It’s not very filling, hunger. You’d think something that has so much control over my body and mind would be a little more substantial. And anger, frustration, fear and guilt? You’d think that swallowing them would mash them up and dissolve them all and I’d pee them out on the edge of the Clarion Hotel parking lot at 2 a.m.
This is not the case. … Let go of frustration completely, don’t take in any more, and maybe you’ve got a chance. But growling and shrieking and grinding your teeth and crying in a half-assed fashion will only encourage it to hang around and grow.
So I’m writing this from the comfy couch in front of the Apple Store at the Maine Mall. Awake at 5:20 this morning, at Back Cove with a latte at 5:40, bored by 7. The guy in the black truck a few spaces away had returned from his run and was stretching slowly, facing me. He was either looking at me to show me his fierce dedication to wellness, or he was scowling at the Portland skyline. Maybe he’ll be there tomorrow. I’ll scowl too. Perhaps I’ll shake my fist at the Portland skyline.
Still kind of hoping I’d catch Ron on Messenger before he left for work, I’d driven to Home Depot. Why? Free Wi-Fi that extends into the parking lot. And lots of men fiercely dedicated to building materials. … No luck with Ron, and as much as I love to watch men work, I got bored and headed to the mall. The stores of the largest mall in the state of Maine don’t open until 10, but of course the mall is open earlier to fiercely dedicated mall walkers. I spent a few minutes in the parking lot tidying up the car and listening to “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” by The Outlaws. I put together everything I needed to change and greet the day.
I changed and brushed my teeth in the big bathroom near Best Buy. I’d walked in wearing a black tank top, jeans, flip-flops and pigtails. I walked out in a black tank top, patterned leggings, flip-flops and with my hair loose. Wow! My hair is blond today! Don’t be an idiot. It’s just the lights. Your hair is white. Fuck you, thinking brain. Fuck you, mall bathroom lights. Fuck you, Portland skyline.
I sat down on this comfy gray couch and put moisturizer on my arms and cleavage. The Apple Store looks open, but it is not. The doors are open and there are friendly employees who stand in the door and greet passersby. … But it is definitely not open. There was one young male employee watching me apply lotion, though. Intently. Then I pulled a few dozen bangles out of my bag and arranged them on both wrists. Put in big silver hoop earrings. Took off my glasses and applied black eyeliner using my lipstick mirror. Finally, I applied red lipstick. The kid didn’t blink once. I looked over, he looked at his tablet. Heehe.
I like to look nice. According to nearly everyone I talk to, I don’t “look homeless.” … I have a big black J. Jill purse and my clothes are in a super-cute Papaya tote. I’m wearing bangles and lipstick. And while this is something that has always been fun and excellent, it’s become really important since I got laid off.
I was a librarian at a Catholic college for 12 years and could only afford one wardrobe. As a result, my wardrobe was really boring. When I lost my job, one of my rules was to always leave the house completely put together. And I realized I could make my wardrobe reflect the actual me mostly by wearing leggings, bangles and red lipstick. I would only leave the house in exercise gear if I were actually working out, and the only reason I’d leave the house in pj’s is if the fire department were evacuating the building. Which happened.
Now that I’m 50 and a writer who is looking for a place, fuck-it is my personal style. Apparently there are rules about what women shouldn’t wear after 40, 45, 50. How cute. But no, thank you. …
I love outfits. I love makeup and accessories and shoes. But — and I didn’t realize this until a few weeks ago — I really love indoor plumbing. Especially at 2 a.m., when I know I can’t hold it until daylight. And I love kitchens. I spend so much more money on food because I can’t refrigerate or cook. In fact, I bought a 32-ounce thing of yogurt yesterday and I’m not sure it was cold enough overnight. Meh. It’s yogurt. It’s already spoiled. D’oh! I wish I were spoiled.
The. J. Jill bag didn’t photograph well, but it’s from J. Jill Outlet. (I did not pay $150 for a purse! More like $30.)
The super-cute tote is from Papaya (papayaart.com). I ordered this under the influence of Ambien. I don’t take Ambien anymore.
The pen is a Noodler’s Ahab. Once I got used to having something that big in my hand, I couldn’t go back.
Bangles? eBay! Make sure you get your size right. I’m a 2.10, but it took a big order of 2.8 bangles for me to realize there really is a difference. (I eventually had to take the eBay app off my phone. And then I put it back.)
Shine a Little Love/Give Love
Have I mentioned that I can’t do this anymore? And yet I go to sleep in my car in a parking lot in Portland, Maine, day after fucking day. I am up by 4:45 every morning. Do you know what there is to do in Portland, Maine, at 4:45 a.m.? Fuck-all, that’s what. And the PPD are everywhere I want to be — literally. I am exhausted and my mind won’t shut off. Unfortunately, it’s all negative. Every frakkin’ thought. And one negative thought leads to the next and suddenly an hour has passed and all I’ve done is create scenarios where I am attacked in some fashion yet ultimately triumph, head held high. Day after fucking day. …
Love is my religion. Only love is real. Every negative scenario in my head is not real. Living in the Land of Bad Scenes does not move me forward. Living here and now and letting love in (and out) will move me everywhere I need to go. Perhaps even up where we belong. I keep thinking I need one positive thing and other positive things will happen.
And that has happened: I HAD A JOB INTERVIEW LAST NIGHT. Yeah, really. It was at LUSH at the mall. I was the oldest person there — I think I had 20 years on the next-oldest person, the manager. I was easily the only person taking it seriously, acting like a professional yet wearing a jean jacket. You’d never know I live in a car and haven’t taken a shower since Sunday (at least I sincerely hope you don’t know). It was a “hiring party” at my favorite store in the mall. I gazed longingly at Flying Fox, my (before-time) go-to body wash: $28.95 a bottle. Yeah, really. And they brought back Silky Underwear! Just the dusting powder, but still. I walked away with a sample of that and a sample of the shampoo for white hair. I felt overall that I had crushed it. We’ll see.
So that was wicked positive. But this morning it was hard to keep that vibe. I was cold and cramped and realized my nose was running, like, down my cheek. Bleah. I took a four-mile walk around Back Cove. Changed & bought breakfast at Hannaford. Felt better. Some love there. Need more. My goal for today is simple: keep bringing out the love. It’s all there in me, I have just chosen to cover it with extraneous bullshit. Is there any other kind?
True fact: car may run out of gas before I get gas money. Not an epic tragedy. Last time I ran out of gas I was between Exit 8 and Exit 9 on I-295! And Ron gave me his AAA card. Awesome him!
True fact: I am running out of places where I feel comfortable parking for any length of time. PPD and all that. But unless they are arresting me or chasing me or somehow charging me, I’m okay. Even if they engage me in conversation, I’m okay if it’s just talk. Kind of like “Attack of the 50 Foot Eyesores” (Treehouse of Horror VI) — just don’t look. “Dad, don’t make us gouge your eyes out!”
Police On My Back 2
In Hang On to Yourself, I mentioned a reasonably good-looking guy in a black truck parked a few spaces down from me at Back Cove. Thought maybe he was showing off his mad stretching skillz? Dude’s a cop.
One day shortly after that post, I was changing clothes in my car at Back Cove — very early in the morning, quickly and discreetly; also, it is not illegal for women to be topless in the city of Portland. Not that anyone — much less the guy in the black truck — could see anything. Dude stopped stretching. Went around to the other side of his truck and made a phone call. I am not even kidding — less than 60 seconds later a squad car pulls up. Dude & Officer exchange a few words and then Officer pulls up and doesn’t block me; he blocks the spot next to me. Which, like 95% of the parking lot, was empty.
Officer did not approach. Didn’t do anything that I could see, but the newer Interceptors seem to be designed so we can’t see the cops. Officer followed me out of the lot when I left — after bangles, makeup and hair. I did not rush my look.
I have seen Officer Black Tacoma several times since, and no matter what time of day or how crowded the parking lot, he is never more than four spaces away. Today, around noon, I was trying to hook up my phone to the radio, plus concentrate on Nick Hornby, plus braid my monstrous hair, and there’s Officer Black Tacoma two spaces away. How could I not know this guy is a cop?! Nice haircut, Officer. (Wait, that is not a nice haircut.) Also: a couple extra antennae on his truck.
What is the deal with Officer Black Tacoma? Why so close? Notice I didn’t say “following,” but it’s what we were all thinking. Except Ron. Ron tells me I am paranoid — well, duh — and that it’s all coincidence. … Maybe Ron is right. Maybe this guy in the black Tacoma isn’t even a cop. But out of the 250,000 people in the Greater Portland area, he and I keep winding up a few spaces apart at Back Cove? I don’t know. Just seems like an awful lot of coincidence, considering that the Portland PD have been everywhere I want to be for the past month.
Today I considered avoiding Back Cove altogether. Nope. I like watching the sunrise and it’s a good place to collect myself, drink coffee and think about stuff. Wait & see, I guess. I hope Ron’s right.
Run Like Hell
I don’t even know where to start. I’m serious. Because it all sounds SO FUCKING CRAZY. I took this photo a few hours ago on Middle Street. I was parked in front of the police station for the second time last night. … And suddenly the sky was beautiful and I got out of my head for 90 seconds. I’d basically spent the night running from the police. Or, more accurately, driving from the police. They got into my head, all right. And I’m only just now letting them out. Pushing & shoving them out, more like. Wow.
So many of my nightmares involve running. My “in the event of a nuclear war” nightmares of childhood and adolescence were usually about the bombs falling and then running and running to find my family and never finding them. High stress levels bring nightmares where I can’t get away from something unseen and monstrous that’s just behind me wherever and however fast I run.
Last night was like that. People say, “Oh, the traffic at Trader Joe’s! It was a nightmare!” No. The parking lot at Trader Joe’s is deeply unpleasant and annoying, but no. Last night, avoiding the Portland Police was my nightmare: running and running and running. Driving on a half tank of gas, and then just under a half tank — watching the gas gauge go down all night added to the anxiety.
I didn’t know where to go. I drove over the Casco Bay Bridge and, of course, I had an escort. I stopped at the Mobil Mart in Cape to message Ron and, sure enough, along comes Cape PD. I took my time getting back to Portland (Why do I keep going back to Portland? There is absolutely nothing keeping me there!) and I had an escort within a few minutes of crossing the bridge back into town. I drove up to Falmouth, parked at a Mobil Mart for a while, messaged Ron, and headed back to town. I really had to pee and I wanted to change into jeans and sneakers, so I went into the Circle K on Commercial. I was in there maybe three minutes. I came out and my escort was a few feet from my car, engine running, headlights on, waiting. … They were in squad cars, the 4x4s, unmarked cars and plain old passenger cars. Yes, I’m paranoid. And those fuckers were everywhere that I wanted to be.
My evening had started so ambitiously. I managed a decent look and did something I haven’t done in ages: drove up to L.L. Bean. They’re open 24/7, the staff are always fun to talk to, and there are usually one or two cool people shopping. But not last night! In fact, the only staff person I saw was in Camping Equipment. And then he didn’t leave me alone. Not like chatting or flirting or anything. Like, on me like a tick as I looked at knives. He wasn’t hiding it and I took my sweet time looking at Gerbers and similar. Sharp, shiny knives. I don’t use them. I just like looking at them. …
So much for my spectacular evening on the town (of Freeport). I zipped back to Portland and that’s when it all went to hell. … I went back to the parking lot of the Clarion, and it felt all wrong. Even more wrong than sleeping there in a car night after night. I realized one thing that was creating a weird vibe: people having sex in a tan Hyundai. Couldn’t ascertain gender, age, whatever, but it weirded me right out. And I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Change my clothes? Felt wrong. Get blankets out of the trunk? Felt wrong. Read Nick Hornby? Not enough light. After not very long I just got the hell out and noticed the first escort of the evening. They didn’t go into the Clarion parking lot; they just waited on outer Congress. I went to Circle K. Was stunned to realize that the car 20 feet away was just waiting for me to make a move. Then I started to get a little edgy.
Ron doesn’t believe me. He’s been patient, he’s listened (sort of) and he wants me to be safe, but he absolutely does not believe that southern Maine law enforcement are ganging up on me. The crisis line does not believe me. … Ingraham told me it’s my stress level causing me to be “hypersensitive” to everything around me. … The Ingraham volunteer suggested I get out of the car and ask the police what was going on. Yes. That’s a splendid idea. In fact, the nasty panic demon picked right up on that, shouting: DO IT! GET OUT OF THE CAR IN THE MIDDLE OF COMMERCIAL STREET! HOLD THE MAGLITE SO THEY THINK YOU HAVE A WEAPON!
What the fuck? That wasn’t the nasty panic demon. That was something infinitely worse and far more permanent. That’s the one road I don’t want to drive down, ever, and I wasn’t going to let some hillbilly law enforcement posse talk me into it.
But Ingraham? Really let me down, I think. I asked to come in and see someone. “Well, Maryhope, it takes an hour for counselors to get here. So, you know…” I don’t call Ingraham because I’m lonely. I call Ingraham because I’m in something that I can’t handle by myself. Something weird — and not good weird — was happening and I was freaking out and hoping someone would actually sit down and listen to me, as opposed to telling me over the phone that nothing weird was happening. Talking to someone does it for me. Calms me down. Helps me put things in perspective. And then I can walk away feeling safe. …
I was surprised how early the sky began to lighten. I slept in the Wal-Mart parking lot again, and by “slept” I mean I spent about three restless — or is it “restive”? — hours dozing. I woke up at 2:45 with the enormous bladder from hell. Then I realized, either to dismay or not, that it was actually 3:45. Okay, there’s no way I’m getting back to sleep. On the other hand, it’s getting light early and fast, which means I can park on a city street and, as long as I don’t actually sleep, I think I’m okay.
So the Wal-Mart parking lot is huge and unbelievably well lit. There are several campers and other cars that seem to have people sleeping in them. I looked around for maybe some shrubbery to pee behind, but no such luck. I noticed, way over on the dark side of the lot, a dark-colored car… I assumed that a dark vehicle mostly hidden from my view was law enforcement. Right. It didn’t seem to move as I pulled out of the lot. I figured once I had access to indoor plumbing I’d be thinking more clearly.
First sunrise: in the side-view while parked at Wal-Mart. The thinnest stripe of almost-pink gray, a little royal blue above, then the big indigo of pre-dawn.
I found my way to the big fancy Cumberland Farms I stumbled upon last week. The same utterly detached and pierced young blond person barely looked up as I hurried in, and I’m pretty sure did not look up at all as I left. I drove up Payne Road and noticed headlights behind me on the I-295 connector. And on the on-ramp. And on I-295, keeping a uniform distance — what is that, three car lengths? Guess it depends on the car. And behind me on the Exit 4 off-ramp. I stayed in the right lane; the other car stayed behind me. I turned left across two lanes and, as I took that hard right onto Danforth, my escort turned left.
Second sunrise: headed north on I-295, big stripes in the east, white, orange, pink and purple, with the big indigo lightening to steel blue.
I sensibly and lawfully drove the length of Vaughan and then the rest of the way until I was across the street from Florence House. In the time it took to boot up my MacBook, I’ve gotten so sleepy. Figures. It’s just 5 now. As I got closer to Florence House, my mind went quickly and easily to the negative, imaging PPD hassling a homeless person for parking in front of a homeless shelter. I prepared all sorts of arguments against the hassling of said homeless person. I really have hesitated to use the word “harassment.” Anyhow, I’ve been here for at least half an hour and no sign of 5-0. Heh: 5-0. So badass.
Third sunrise: from Valley Street, above the stone wall and the trees, a small bit of pretty sky, pale blue, streaks of white-silver clouds with pink undersides. The blue isn’t getting any darker, but the silver in the clouds is turning to gray, the pink to nothing.
Working Is No Problem
I got turned down for another job: LUSH, this time. I really thought I nailed it. Free Steve and Ron both hoped this job would be the one first thing that would help me start to turn it around. But no. I want to work. Dear god, how I want to work. That was my fourth mall turn-down. No, fifth. Nice.
I have been using LUSH since 1999, when we had to order online and wait two weeks for the awesomeness to arrive from Vancouver. But it was worth it. Like The Body Shop, but so much cooler, funkier, and far more expensive. LUSH catalogs had adorable anecdotes from staff and customers of their UK stores (pardon me, “shops”) and fascinating information about products. I wanted to order all of them. Back then I didn’t even think about it. Want, buy. Want, buy. What? I’m out of Silky Underwear dusting powder? I’ll order more. Plus bath bombs made of negative ions & fairy dust and deep conditioner made from kale & the tears of baby hedgehogs….
When I told Ron about not getting the job, he said something about never buying LUSH products again. Well. Hmm. Let’s not get nuts. I’m sure there’s a reasonable compromise. As in, I don’t work there and I continue to pay $28.95 for body wash. No, that’s not really a compromise. But Jesus-god, that body wash! Nose weeps at the memory of jasmine & honey! (Or nose is weeping due to pine pollen — difficult to tell.)
The other applicants were easily half my age. I was the tallest female and the only one wearing cowgirl boots. Possibly the only homeless person. Did any of those details factor in my not getting hired by LUSH? Difficult to tell. Once money is back in my life, I’ll be far more sensible in my skincare choices. No — I’ll just send Ron into LUSH to get my Flying Fox.
This may be the weirdest thing yet: a tiny woman at the shelter asked me for a psychic reading the other night. She saw my pentagram and asked someone if I was wiccan and if I would do a reading for her. So this someone asked on her behalf and I didn’t know what to say, so I said yes. I only mention this woman’s size because I kept looking to see if she had wings. She could have easily fit into a hollow tree with several other fairies. l have never, ever given a psychic reading to a stranger. I’ve gotten them, and sometimes I know what song is about to come on the radio. So clearly, I am qualified.
This fairy-woman is deaf, sort of reads lips, and I can barely finger-spell, so there was a lot of mime and note-writing. There is nowhere private at the shelter, but this didn’t seem to bother the fairy-woman. Seriously, she was like 4’10” and 85 pounds. Here’s what she told me: Fairy-Woman and her husband split up. He is currently in prison for beating up his girlfriend. Fairy-Woman still loves him and wants him back. She says he’s never hit her. She is going to visit him in prison to tell him this. He doesn’t know she’s coming. And she has a boyfriend. She asked me to tell her what her incarcerated husband is feeling.
I just kept it vague, and I told her there was no way I could read her husband since he was not in front of me. She showed me a picture. Yikes! I thought. Really? She told me how much he loves her and said you can see it in the picture. That’s really not what I saw, but I couldn’t tell her that. Then she showed me a picture of her boyfriend and asked me what he’s feeling. Told her I couldn’t read him either. She told me she’s in love with both of these men: the man who is in jail for beating his girlfriend, and the guy who told her he can only love her if she changes who she is. I actually gave her my opinion on that and she agreed: absolutely do not change yourself for someone who demands that you change yourself in exchange for his love.
“And your husband doesn’t know you’re coming?” She assured me he did not. She was going to surprise him. This word was accompanied by fireworks-type gestures and wide eyes by both of us. SURPRISE! Well. I told her what I would tell any stranger who asked me for relationship advice: keep your heart open, but protect yourself. Stay calm. Let the other person talk. And, of course, everyone’s favorite: Don’t forget to breathe. This was accompanied by big, deep, exaggerated breaths and hands on the diaphragm by both of us.
Twice she asked me if I would “do Reiki” on her. I don’t even know how to fake that. She was disappointed. But when we were done — it was dinner time — she seemed pleased and repeated back what I’d told her, both by speaking and writing notes. And then she offered me money! “No!” I said. “Absolutely do not! Just, well, good luck.”
The next day, I saw her in the dining room and she looked like a different person, as if the light of hope in her eyes had been extinguished by reality. She told me her husband “needs to think.” About what? I wonder. About the girlfriend he beat up or the wife who wants him back?
Tiny Fairy-Woman was around that night but left the next day. I could definitely read her: she has very dense, very bright light. Off-white, like between yellow and white somewhere. Seemingly heavy, for someone that size. She seems to need a man in her life. If that’s true, I hope she finds one who respects her and loves her just as she is. I didn’t tell her that. I hope someone does.
It stopped raining last night. Still, always get me down.
So this just happened: I’m at a library in a small(er) town outside of Portland, trying to get some work done and to feel closer to normal, and a woman asked if she could use the outlet I was using for my phone and my laptop. Oh, okay, sure. I unplugged both. She sat at a table right behind me and seemed very pleased with the way her day was going as she settled in to work. I was a little pissed off that she needed both outlets. I got up to stretch and — why? — I mentioned to her that there’s no Wi-Fi in the shelter where I’m staying and I have a lot to get done before I have to check in. Which is true. I added — and again, I don’t know why I said this — “I live in a shelter. And my car.”
She nodded and smirked and said, “Yes, I understand what that’s like.”
“You understand what it’s like to be homeless?”
“No, I understand what it’s like to have a lot of work to do.”
“But you don’t know what it’s like to be homeless.”
Another smirk, head toss. “I might know more than you might imagine.”
So, you’ve been homeless or you haven’t? You volunteered at a soup kitchen? You donated last year’s Ann Taylor to Goodwill? You’ve written a check at a benefit once? Please, by all means, keep it to yourself. It adds to your mystique.
Why would I be so hostile? I don’t know. Maybe the two hours of sleep in a Wal-Mart parking lot? Maybe the fact there are at least two other sets of outlets next to at least two other tables in this room? Maybe because I was here first? No, probably just the sleep deprivation thing.
Oh! Huzzah! She tells me there is another outlet by that table over there. She unplugs her devices. She moves her stuff. And now this woman — who told me she knows more than I can imagine — is slamming shit around. I’m not kidding. A small public library in a small (sort of) upscale town, Monday morning, and she’s slamming shit around in a small reading room. I used to be a librarian. If one of my patrons were slamming shit around like that, the patron would be encouraged to leave. Quickly and quietly. Students rarely challenged me on this, and no student ever challenged me more than once.
But now I’m just a patron and I seriously am trying to get a lot done before I have to check in at Florence House. From the sounds behind me — and I don’t dare turn around at this point — it seems like she has settled down and is eating cereal. I’m not even kidding: that spoon-on-porcelain sound. Maybe she’s eating soup, but I think I’d smell soup. At least I don’t smell like soup.
Here’s an aside: Trader Joe’s makes this “coffee extract,” I think it’s called. It’s like coffee concentrate and you’re supposed to mix it with milk or water. I can’t keep milk in the car, obviously, so I use almond milk or soy milk. It’s terrible. It’s really, really bad. The coffee stuff and the almond milk are also supposed to be refrigerated, but obviously they are not. My rule these days is, if something makes a big gasping noise when I open it, I throw it out. Usually. It’s easy to tell if something like hummus has gone bad: the lid puffs up and there’s a really big gasping noise when you open it and it smells like the tortured souls of a thousand fallen chick peas. So, since I’ve had very little (none) cash lately (ever), I’ve been buying this coffee thing and really, it’s terrible. But at least it’s got caffeine. I’ve been taking Excedrin when I can’t get coffee. Excedrin has 65 mg of caffeine per tablet, which is the equivalent of one cup of coffee that is made by someone who is not me. Not ideal.
Now back to the power-outlet throw-down. You know when something like this happens and, unlike road rage, you’re stuck with each other in a more-or-less confined space, and it stays in the air until someone leaves? Well, it ain’t me, babe.
Boys and Girls
“Did I lose my bed to a man again?”
“Oh, no, Hope, we don’t use that language here. If someone says they identify as female, then she gets treated like a woman.”
“I see. But that dude got a bed and I didn’t.”
“Hope, do you need to go outside and talk about this?”
I have no objections — no real feelings either way, really — to anyone wanting to transform or transition to anything. I love men. I do. I’m crazy about men. But in a women’s shelter I don’t want to sleep 18 inches away from a man I don’t know. A man no one knows. And in a women’s shelter — or anywhere — I shouldn’t have to justify my instincts or my feelings. They’re mine. No PC inclusive bullshit argument is going to change my gut reaction to that guy with the Mohawk. Explain “the language we use” all you want, that’s not a person transitioning. That’s a dude in makeup looking to get away from Oxford Street, looking for a nice (-ish) bed (cot), food and a shower. Oh, and sleeping in a big open space surrounded by women.
Women are at Florence House for a reason. I’m there for financial reasons. Some women are just passing through. But many women —ladies, girls, clients, residents — are domestic violence survivors, living with PTSD. Women who have been beaten, raped and left for dead by men they knew and men they didn’t know. … How exactly do staff know they’re not giving a bed to someone’s stalker? Do wife beaters phone ahead?
“Tell the bitch I’ll be there to tuck her in.”
“Well, we don’t give beds to non-female entities.”
“I’m just now experiencing a glorious transformation to the true womanhood of my self.”
“Super! Checkin’s at 5, dinner’s at 6.”
“Hey, do you screen for weapons?”
“Gosh, no! It’s not the Florence House way!”
I speak for myself. This isn’t any kind of journalism or political opinion, it’s just my blog. And I don’t know the history of this issue, or even how long it’s been an issue. Honestly? I don’t give a shit. Over the last few weeks I’ve not been the only one complaining about the dudes. As one of the girls said, “Wearing eye shadow don’t make you a tranny.” (Actually, she kind of growled it, from her camp chair. She growls most things. She is only mildly terrifying, one of the older gals. A partier. Much wiser than she lets on. I like her.)
There are two trans women at Florence House, very upfront about their changes, inwardly and outwardly. I wasn’t real close to either of them, but they were always friendly. The two of them showed a great deal of respect for the women around them. I’ve yet to see any respect for anyone from the random dudes. They leave the seat up. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much. But again, this is a women’s shelter. You can’t be bothered to put the fucking seat back down?
All it takes is one. One stalker, one ex-husband, one boyfriend to get past the staff. It’s entirely possible to check in and hide out in or around the building until curfew at 8. By then, most ladies have made their beds. Some are already asleep. Some are crocheting, reading, crying. (In my case, all three.) Some are watching the monstrous TV, which is turned off at 10 (there are five beds in the TV room — earbuds don’t come close to blocking that fucker out). People wander around, most lights are still on, but there are dark and hidden spaces. If a stalker passing as a tranny were targeting a client, s/he could easily track and observe.
Is it possible to move silently among the metal cots? Yes. Most ladies do. How hard would it be to stab, smother, strangle a woman who didn’t see the attacker coming? How long would it take? Women make a point of ignoring one another after lights out. You just can’t do it otherwise. If the stalker waits until third shift, nearly everyone in cots is asleep. Two emergency exits in the dining room/cots area. The doors are alarmed, but they don’t attract the kind of attention they should.
Okay, that is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever written. Certainly makes me reconsider ever going back to a shelter.
A few thoughts on not getting a bed…
Usually when I didn’t get a bed, it was disappointing. But I’d eat dinner and be off-property by 7. I’d park right across Valley Street. I don’t sleep really well in the car. In fact, the best I get these days, anywhere, is three or four hours. At 5 a.m., staff put coffee in the lobby, the primary common area. I go into Florence House at 5, have coffee, check my phone, chat with the other early birds, get shushed by staff and take a shower. Lights don’t come on until 7:30. Breakfast is at 8:30, because beds have to be put away, floor mopped and tables set up.
So that’s not so bad. It’s just nice to be inside. Laundry room opens at 7:30 — I can get a lot done before breakfast, actually. But recently, even without the dude infestation, sleeping on Valley Street is more and more tedious. Also dangerous. I always park under the street light, visible to staff at the front desk. And there are usually girls out in the driveway all night long, smoking, fighting, crying. That part of Valley Street is directly below Western Prom, all woods and creepy trails. (The mosquitoes are fearsome. I have welts the size of Texas on my ass — even with the windows up. Do they come in through the vents? Fuckers.)
One of the last times I slept on Valley Street, I woke up while it was still dark. Passing headlights illuminated my side window — and two face prints. I checked — the prints were on the outside. I tried to convince myself it was most likely those horrific GMO mosquitoes with human faces. Which was no less frightening than thinking it was two human men.
I don’t sleep on Valley Street anymore. I’m exhausted and I’m not moving forward. I cry a lot (I don’t recommend combining menopause with homeless). So the recent influx of dicks has made me resentful and pissed off. I don’t know how anyone can keep Florence House exclusively for women. I don’t know of any non-invasive screening process. But that’s not my job. Maybe less time and energy on language and more time and energy on keeping women safe.
And that woman I mentioned earlier, the growly one? Don’t mess with her. Really.
Marian the Librarian
So here’s something amazing: I slept in a house last night! I spent yesterday afternoon at the Scarborough Public Library, writing the previous piece, Boys and Girls. It took a lot out of me — I was exhausted and had eaten almost nothing. However, I managed to maintain my caffeine level. Once the piece was done I felt I should get moving, but I didn’t move. I imagined myself heading back to the Wal-Mart parking lot, but it was too early to go to sleep and I didn’t have anything else to do. Plus, there was a chance the cable guy from Nova Scotia would still be there.
Last Monday night, I was parked in my usual spot and rummaging through my big suitcase for something clean that I could sleep in. I finally grabbed the stupid star leggings and the Ramones t-shirt, feeling more and more anxious. I slammed the trunk shut and there he was — big bear of a guy in a white van, clearly loaded, clearly waiting for me to close the trunk.
He asked if I was okay. I assured him I was. He managed to communicate that he thought I had a flat and was looking for a tire iron, as I stood there holding leggings and a t-shirt. “No,” I laughed. “Just getting my jammies.”
He looked shocked, actually. “In the parking lot?”
I laughed again. “No! I’m changing in the restroom!”
He leaned out of the van. “You have pretty hair.”
BYE! I jumped into the car, locked the doors and took off. I noticed (probably) Nova Scotia plates and (possibly) the Time Warner Cable logo on the van.
Let’s review what I did to jeopardize my own safety:
- Kept my head down the entire time I was looking through my suitcase
- Felt anxious but ignored it
- There was nothing between me and the van except about 6′ of pavement
- The guy was huge and drunk
- Engaged instead of walking away or, better yet, getting into my car
- Told him I slept in my car
- Told him I changed my clothes in the Wal-Mart restroom
- Never actually looked at the logo on the van
- Never actually looked at the plates
I am terrified that I let my guard down that much. There were a lot of people around, yes. But who else was in the van? Was there someone behind me? Was the guy armed? I wasn’t.
I drove into town, cursing my stupidity. Where the fuck am I going to sleep now? I pulled into Hannaford and saw a familiar face: a woman from Florence House was sitting on a bench, reading under a streetlight. We chatted for quite a while. She encouraged me to write the Boys and Girls piece and tell everyone I could think of. I saw lightning behind her and asked if she had anywhere to go during the storm. She assured me she’d be fine. “Storms are fun!” she said. “Especially on a bench!” I paused. She would most likely be fine. Sure. A tiny 60-year-old woman alone on a bench at night during an electrical storm. I looked her in the eye, looked closely. She’d be fine, or at least she believed it so deeply that she convinced me.
I drove away thinking, Did I just leave Molly there alone just because I couldn’t be bothered to clear out the passenger’s seat? But then I thought, Would I have gotten into Molly’s car? Probably not. And I drove back to Wal-Mart.
I saw the Cable Guy’s van over by two huge RVs, where he was no doubt passed out and dreaming of me deep-conditioning my hair. I parked on the other side of the lot, by some little trees and hedges. Turns out I had a front-row seat to the thunderstorms that rolled through. Turns out I can’t sleep when I’m in the middle of a parking lot during an electrical storm. I’m pretty close to that light pole. Would that pickup take a hit or would I? Do light poles have lightning rods, or are they lightning rods? I’d doze off and see lightning behind my eyelids. Open my eyes and see more lightning. From the reclined front seat it was like some weird IMAX where everything on the screen turns real and chases people. I thought about it: I had nowhere to go. Ride it out.
So I was in rough shape yesterday. Pulled it together the best I could and wrote all morning at the mall. Started driving, sort of aimlessly, and abruptly, for no reason, cranked the wheel, headed down 114, and there was the library. I stayed much longer than I’d planned. After I was done with the day’s blogging, I wandered around looking for a water fountain. I chatted with the librarian and I had thought she looked familiar. I mentioned that I had worked as a cataloger at Saint Joseph’s College and she remembered me! (Catalogers in the MINERVA consortium attend several meetings a year. And talk about cataloging. Ask me if I miss that.) I was shocked to hear myself telling this former colleague that I was living in my car. And she insisted I stay at her house! OMFG!
So here I am at this cheery angel’s kitchen table. Got clothes in the dryer, clean hair, coffee and breakfast. Last night I watched Pee-wee’s Big Adventure on Netflix. I slept eight hours in a big comfy bed! If this woman doesn’t actually exist, I don’t want to know about it.
My plan is to be out of here by noon. I need to go to Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth. Not a lot of gas in the car, so I need to figure out where I’m going to be tonight. Fuck. Not back to Wal-Mart! Nobody panic. It’s still daytime….
Last Thursday I called AAA and told them I ran out of gas. Because AAA will send you a couple gallons of gas, along with a cute guy. (Those guys are usually half my age, so I wish AAA would just send me two.) Last Saturday I really did run out of gas.
I count miles when the Empty light comes on, because my car doesn’t tell me. I set the odo to zero and count. But city versus highway? Idling in traffic? Hills? Running the A/C? Things I never thought about until I ran out of money. My car gets 38 or 39 m.p.g. at 70 m.p.h. on the highway. What does that mean when I’m in town and driving out to the mall? Via Exit 3 or Exit 1? And so on. …
I was parked to spend the night at an undisclosed location on Saturday, but I couldn’t sleep. I was twitchy and nervous. So I decided to drive to the Irving/Circle K on Commercial Street and put gas in the car. It was about midnight — I like the night crew at the Circle K. Halfway up State Street, the car stopped and would not restart. Luckily, I was in the right lane.
I was on hold with AAA for eight minutes! During that wait I got tenser and tenser until I saw flashing blue lights in my rearview and my head exploded. While I was finally talking to AAA, I heard Officer 1 shouting. He was yelling at a hipster who ran a stop sign on his bike! “I didn’t see anyone,” the hipster whined. Officer 1 calmly but loudly informed the hipster that he needs to come to a complete stop just like any other vehicle. Wow! I mentioned this to Officer 1 later and he said, “Oh, that just makes me so mad!” He really said that.
AAA told me they’d put a priority on it: 45 minutes. Officer 1 was not impressed with this and neither was I. I called back and got all college librarian on their asses. Which resulted in an hour, instead of 45 minutes. I got out of the car and Officer 1 told me to get back in it. “BUT I’M HAVING A HOT FLASH,” I shouted. He held up his hands and took a step backward. “Okay!” He didn’t look up.
His partner finally arrived and they chatted for a bit. I was pacing at that point, thinking of all the things on my car they could notice and take exception to — extreme exception. Officer 1 did point out the registration. My mouth went dry and every calm and rational response I’d prepared disappeared and I just made sad kitten noises. He told me he wasn’t going to ticket me but I needed to take care of it. “Thank you!” I mewed.
Officer 2 approached as Officer 1 said to him, “Do you think she’ll recognize you?” WTF now? “Miss Tobin, where do you take your car to be worked on?” Officer 2 asked. I told him. “Well,” said Officer 2, “I worked there for five years. I remember you. Do you remember me?” Why the fuck does this matter? I thought. Is there some kind of law of secrecy about former mechanics in law enforcement? I looked at his “I don’t have male-pattern baldness!” shaved head and asked if he’d had hair then. “No.” He looked disappointed. “Oh,” I said, smiling, “Sure! Now I remember you.” I didn’t. (I took my cars to this place for 13 or 14 years. They all knew me, but I had such a raging crush on one of the guys that I never really noticed the others. Heh. I couldn’t even form sentences when he talked to me.)
Officers agreed the car could not stay on State Street. They decided to push it backwards onto Grant. “Miss Tobin, can you steer without power steering?” What fucking choice did I have? I nodded. Then Officer 2, my former mechanic, leaned into the front seat. “I got this.” He started cranking the wheel and for a moment all I saw was biceps. And then he put my hands on the wheel. “Now hold on!” (“That’s what she said,” is what I did not say.)
For the next minute or so the officers were just guys pushing a car. Their weapons are of no use against gravity. Officer 1 (the one with hair) was on the driver’s side. “Turn it towards me! Other way! Now the other way! Now turn toward me!” I nearly fainted from the excitement. Finally the car was parked — illegally. Heh. Officers sped away.
Half an hour later AAA showed up, only it wasn’t AAA. It was some guy in a wrecker. He made me uncomfortable as soon as he got out of the truck. He took his time putting gas in the car. Then he recommended I go to the little gas station around the corner, rather than Irving. Whatever.
He followed me to Big Apple, parking his wrecker in the tiny parking lot. I went in and paid, and he was there when I got out. He talked to me while I was pumping gas, and kept talking when I was done. I don’t know how he knew I was homeless, but he offered me his spare bedroom. He described his place and the other woman, also a virtual stranger, living in his other spare bedroom. He offered career advice. He would not shut up. He assumed I would follow him home. By now I had my keys arranged as jabbers in my right hand and my phone in my left, tapping it to keep it from locking.
Finally, he paused. “Well,” I told him. “Gotta go! Meeting some folks.” At 1 a.m. Can’t remember whether he offered me his number or asked for mine. Either way, I was in the car, doors locked, squinting under those orange-y lights. I returned to the undisclosed location, but drove around half of Portland to get there. As I was falling asleep I realized it was the first time in a month the Empty light was not on. I slept and dreamt of how much my life sucks. I woke up just before dawn needing to pee. Plus ça change.
Some Candy Talking
So I did go back to Florence House after the Boys and Girls piece. Twice. I was embarrassed, but also exhausted and grimy. Can’t eat principles, can’t sleep in indignation. I went in a few times at 5 a.m. for a shower and coffee, and once for laundry and breakfast. I felt like I was sneaking and stealing. I wasn’t. I mean, I’m still homeless and broke. I wasn’t ripping anyone off. But it still felt bad. And then a week ago I had to do it — I had to check in for a bed. I was beyond tired. So Saturday morning I snuck in — meaning I was there at 6 a.m. and took a shower. I stayed for breakfast, the marvelous array of donated, day-old baked goods — all your fat, sugar and carb needs in one convenient meal.
I needed to shower and wash my hair and shave my legs because I had a job interview at the Starbucks out on Maine Mall Road. Turns out it’s one of the busiest in Maine. What I got out of that interview was a large dark roast handed to me as if I were the Bride of Satan. I even said “venti” to indicate my seriousness. The interview was strained at best. Every time I answered a question — using my last job as an academic librarian as an example — the woman would point out with some exasperation that working in a library and working at Starbucks are like night and day. Must be why I kept saying, “I know it’s nothing like working at Starbucks.” All I could think about were my sad balloon feet crammed into Sam & Libby Mary Janes. They hurt and were doing the creepy-crawly thing. Distracting. The Starbucks woman ended the interview by telling me she’ll let me know when she gets back from vacation. Okay, I really wasn’t expecting to get hired at Starbucks, especially a super-busy one. That was a decent dark roast, though.
It came to be an hour before check-in at Florence House, around 4. I was hot, sweaty and hungry. I went into the building hoping to read in air-conditioned comfort until check-in. I nearly bumped into the first staff person I saw and greeted her by name. Nothing. I repeated myself. “Oh? Hmm,” was the response. Odd, I thought, and then it happened again. A third staffer greeted me by name. And that was it. I was ignored. I approached the desk and the conversation was replaced by whispering and looks in my direction. And so on. After 10 minutes of Let’s Play Middle School, I left. Just couldn’t do it. Had no fight left in me. I slept in my car.
Last week I started something called Partial Hospital at Maine Med’s McGeachey Hall Mental Health Center, on Vaughan Street. It’s a day program/psych program kind of thing: group therapy, skills workshops, and case managers who get shit done. My case manager called Florence House — I had no idea he was planning to do this — and spoke with the director. She assured him she’d spoken with staff, it was a misunderstanding, und so weiter. I was thrilled, as I was even grimier and more tired than I was on Saturday. My case manager told me I have just as much right to stay there as any other woman. I really didn’t care. I just wanted a shower and a bed.
Of which I got neither. Staff greeted me, if not warmly, at least pleasantly. I sat on the patio with a friend and caught up until it was time for bed assignments. The staffer barely looked me in the eye when she told me they didn’t have a bed for me. “Of course you don’t.” I stood up but did not turn the table over. “Of course you don’t,” I repeated.
I left, after a hug from my friend. My grim, stoic exit was interrupted outside by my other friend, who asked if she could co-host my radio show this week. We talked logistics and I recommenced my grim, stoic — okay, at that point, not all that stoic; I was crying. I drove away, stopped on Western Prom, and ate candy. I had been to the Dollar Tree and it was too hot to leave chocolate in the car. So I ate all the Milky Way Simply Caramel, which was part of my strategy. The strategy where I don’t get melted chocolate all over my car because it is a waste of chocolate. And it looks like poop.
Why would Florence House staff freeze me out? I have no idea. If they’ve read my blog, I haven’t heard about it. Maybe I imagined it. But then why would I be in my car eating candy? Oh. Right. I would be doing that anyway. Eat the chocolate first!