An old man with ratlike things crawling through his genitals moved to my Minneapolis apartment. He popped ’round a few days after my arrival and took up residence in the room beside mine. I knew he was coming as the girls below were told by him on signing day he’d plumb their toilets for free. They thought of him as odd. Living with a mysterious old man wasn’t what I envisioned when moving to a college neighborhood. I assumed he was wretched and might soon kick through my door for drug-fueled plunder.
In my sleep he’d come dressed as an upright rat with a chest of nipples glowing red. From a wet hole in his lower jaw he’d remove a gristle bone laced with fur. The chest’s luminescence would increase as he stuck snout to scalp and lashed his excitement with the bone. Each piece of his dirty old fur would slink my sleeping body as claws picked its clothes. From his excited rat genitals would drop a hybrid fetus sniffing for treasure. The big rat would lose hope after his son caught sight of my prize possessions: a five year old microwave and the ashes of my first dog who died from rat poison. Not wanting to have come for nothing he’d warm the dead pet with seasons and salt then grow sick from what killed it. With that he’d say fuck it and leave me be.
I bought three hundred miles of string and spoke via cup-phone to my parents. To them I related fears about this assuredly shady old rat I’d yet to meet. They warned me to keep my shit locked and apply doubt to all he said. We couldn’t figure why a sixtysomething would rent here. The household’s next of kin was pumped through a penis three decades after his cord was cut.
The first signs of old man Steve were his cowlike odor and bean can stacks placed on the communal counter. In the backyard he parked a green van which held his life’s accumulation. From there he climbed the broken wood stairs and came in near the kitchen where I washed dishes to relax.
The Old Man was tall, thin, and wore heavy glasses. His face grew grey stubble that matched his locks. He wrapped his towering frame in sweat-stained clothes. I thought of his appearance as a more warped incarnation of John Waters. In his lanky arms he carried boxes of records and ripped underwear.
Helping with the haul was his naked son hanging off a yellowed umbilical cord. This was Little Steve. The newly born child had a plump rat body with a human face and matching extremities. His skin was crusty and infected. The door frame of Big Steve’s room was emblazoned with the number two.
Little Steve set down a non-perishable on his father’s blue carpet. He crawled his host’s torso and perched on its shoulder. “It figures your room would be this one.”
“How’s that?” In speech Big Steve sucked back his lips to reveal gums and cig stained teeth.
“Two’s the number that’s been stalking me my entire life.” Little Steve picked at the fetid cord attaching him to his daddy’s crotch.
With this exchange I knew The Old Man’s presence was going to be more rewarding than I thought. I began wanting to know what circumstances and life choices brought him here. Somehow I could tell he was friendly and interesting, two things I failed to envision in prior thoughts.
Much like others in my house I came to know Steve through the common areas. I saw him in the kitchen as he cooked gross meats and packed lunch for his days. He was chatty and sucked me in for long conversations. He was divorced and alone but upbeat. He stayed that way even as he spoke of his work tiring him to nothing or using a food pantry. I recognized in him a lifetime of knowledge and good stories that told more than his current living situation.
At night he sat in his bedroom watching baseball and Law and Order. He listened to 70s rock and sipped big bottles of Keystone purchased twice a week. He was always careful to set the glass bottles in their proper recycling container. Steve was passionate about the environment. He once quoted to me a song about Mother Earth, not stopping until he’d half-sung nearly every lyric. He took care of our recycling and converted into pennies the cans that fed me energy. They were placed in garbage sacks and stomped like grapes. The state of Minnesota doesn’t have bottle deposits so his aluminum wine fetched forty cents a pound.
He labored for a landlord, collecting rent from crackheads and ripping carpet out of boiling attics. In winter he shoveled snow despite his old age. At night he’d complain of the long, hard days. Little Steve avoided this cold and so spent winter hibernating in the genital hole from which he grew. As he grew bigger he began enjoying more comfort than his father.
I saw the puss oozing umbilical leading from beneath #2’s door to a closed oven where the kid kept warm. On his own he soon figured how to wind down the stairs and even to the yard. In time his cord had enough length to venture far from the apartment. He used it to disappear. He kept himself attached but only visited every few weeks. He seemed larger each time he returned. The further he moved from his father’s life the healthier an appearance he acquired. I wondered if he felt his father’s stress and wanted to grow into a different life. I didn’t know how Big Steve could be so old and not have a drop of savings or ever enough money despite the hours he worked. At all times he was months behind on rent.
On Friday nights as I caught up on shows our Russian landlord came to bang Steve’s door. He’d bluntly relate that rent was due. Steve apologized while asking if they had to figure this out now. I stood at the connecting wall and listened to these sad conversations. One night I came home full of good feelings from dancing at of Montreal. That joy was confronted by The Old Man who asked if I had extra cans he could use to make rent. I slurped down enough energy drinks to turn my stomach raw. He still never managed to catch up.
Steve was mired in poverty as the meager finances of my life were the best they’d ever been. I hadn’t worked in four years and often slipped to bed as The Old Man woke to prep for work. I brushed my teeth after nights of doing nothing. I’d pass him in the hall as he headed to the bathroom in ragged undies. I joked to myself he was making installment payments on a new pair. He was working hard but my lazy bones were the ones bathed in comfort. I was making nice money by letting pharmaceutical companies inject their experiments into my soul.
I ingested spine fusing drugs in exchange for $4,000. A man in a lab coat explained how to properly eat applesauce laden with powdery drugs and ant legs. There was a place in downtown Minneapolis that conducted studies. It was within walking distance so I trekked the streets with bedding and a backpack in preparation of my stays. To pass time I imagined myself a hobo looking for warm spots to curl. I made six months rent in as many days. I was tied to a couch with IVs in my arm and a dying man at my side. Another time I shit in a bucket and had my bloody feces analyzed in exchange for good pay.
Over the years I cultivated a lifestyle for myself that required minimal human interaction. The studies were part of that and enabled it all. I didn’t make friends there but listened in on others. A woman who purchased Tyler Perry movies on VHS plotted to kidnap her daughter’s dog until the kid entered rehab. I kept myself busy with drama and books as the old man labored his old bones for far less. This lifestyle was so normalized for me I often failed to appreciate how good I had it. The ease of income neared me toward boredom so I tried finding activities in the city.
I live a micro budget life with few possessions so was able to save money and expend on experiences. One of my favorite things is live music so I started going to many shows. I tried keeping things on the cheap by walking to venues and sucking down Four Loko on the way. I pissed on bridges, danced myself sweaty, and crawled home in the cold. The times spent in music venues weighed toward being the best of my week. They threw at me a wave of joy that left me soaked ’til the encores finished and lights flipped on.
The triangular dance patterns I employed at shows transitioned to walking along the Mississippi at night. There I found abandoned hobo food on benches. As I pissed into the river I wondered if I might one day be in a desperate situation myself. I knew my life of little ambition could turn on me quick.
On the pedestrian bridge that led to my half of the river I often found myself in solitude. I stopped to gaze the powerful flow on one side of this arching stone walkway. The water rushed beneath me. It came out the other side now lit in a neon blue from some nearby bridge. I carried on. The entirety of a bright downtown was at my back as I walked to my dimmed down side of the river.
The sweat mustered at concerts grew cold and wet against me. I thought of how just minutes before I was packed in a room with so many experiencing joy. The transition was sharp and harsh. Before leaving shows I spent precious minutes soaking in the last of a crowd. I hoped to get enough from it to bring me home in happiness. Then I went over the bridge to my blacked out bedroom. I’d fade to sleep as Steve rose for another day.
In terms of visitors The Old Man only had the infected fetus swinging out his hole. It was nearly full grown now and didn’t seem to need him. This life of loneliness led to idiosyncrasies in personality. Steve spoke in bad breath tangents and cooked in his shredded undies. He left out toast for the tree rats on our porch. He spoke to them in kind tones as they tore through his cooking.
I cultivated my own inward quirks. I’m a so-so extrovert but only in my head. I’d imagine conversations then find myself talking and laughing with no one there. On walks I gave head nods and smiles to people who didn’t exist. I knew it to be weird but only found myself conscious of these actions after committing them. The only real conversations I had were ones that came to me, not ones I worked toward. On the whole I applied myself toward little that held importance beyond myself.
I was warned by those closest I could easily become The Old Man. They told me he was an example of someone who did whatever he wanted through life and this is where it led: poverty, incessant hard work, and few human connections. Even if in their accounting they failed to tally his goodness they were still right. Those good parts of him weren’t enough. He seemed to have spent large swaths of decades fucking off. Now he was trying to take care of himself and couldn’t. His whole life seemed draining. I never knew just why The Old Man was so poor.
He had all kinds of cool stories about hiking and travel but it seemed as if he’d put more effort into experience than connection. In that I wholly recognized myself. I fevered for the next bit of travel or fun while avoiding any sense of sustainability. I wasn’t saving money for a house or looking for a long term relationship. I was fucking off in the now and thought it to be great.
The Old Man sometimes got creepy and mentioned that one of our landlords was a looker. He said raw clams were said to make people amorous but he only required one aphrodisiac. He liked peeping college girls as he drove his van past the university. He said it got him going. In the ten months we lived side by side he never had a lady visitor.
I went through a period of sexual experiences I knew were leading nowhere. I fucked two girls with the same name in one night solely because I thought it’d make a good story. I got little in the moments they occurred. Instead I hoped they’d reveal their usefulness down the line. They weren’t so much empty as they were useless. I stopped caring about finding a real relationship. Instead I focused on the peaks engendered through ejaculation. It wasn’t a bad thing but intensified my sense of going nowhere. I joked to the girls who fucked me that The Old Man was listening in with his pants down and Little Steve’s cord noosing his neck.
I tried to have it all: stories and something real. I wanted friendship or a relationship with someone good. But I wasn’t putting in the work nor taking the risks to find it. There was a failed attempt at something substantial which involved long pubic hairs at a John Waters exhibit. It left me feeling bad and so I decided the effort wasn’t worth it. Soon I stopped with girls altogether.
Instead I focused on myself and accumulating different experiences much like The Old Man. I admired that part of him and tried ignoring the rest. I lived a copy of what his indulgent younger days might’ve entailed: cheap malt liquor and goofy adventures. I didn’t know where it was leading. I thought on the sex, concerts, and travel that consumed my Minneapolis life. I wondered to myself ‘Aren’t these the things that’re supposed to enrich me?’ It seemed as if they could only satisfy so much.
In spring I was reading The Rum Diary under a pink tree near the river. A baby stroller came into my downward view. Its pusher asked in a manly voice if he could sit with me. I answered yes as I glanced up to see a hobo. There was no baby in the stroller. Its undercarriage held a travel sized vodka and crumpled cans of malt liquor.
A scan of the hobo’s body revealed long hair tied in a scraggly pony. Clumps of dirt sat on the thinning lines of his scalp. Whites sores bubbled from his lips. He was balding, wore bad clothes, and the outline of a bra connected two small lumps on his chest
He introduced himself as Matthew. “I’m transgender and like to dress in lady clothes even though I’m mostly dude.” I liked him right off the bat. As we spoke he warned me to never wear makeup because I might like it too much. I told him there was no danger of that happening.
Our conversation centered almost entirely around him. If the attention turned to me he started rambling about himself. When I asked about his stroller he said it’d been repurposed for scrapping. From this metal collector he sipped his little vodka and let me know he was glad we were partying together. I took it he meant my book and conversation made me a participant in this daylight drunkenness.
Matthew said he liked to drink but that was it these days. “I’ve quit thirteen drugs but smoked a joint before driving in a crash derby.” He maneuvered his stroller as if it were impacting against metal. I told him of a book I read where combines and tractors were used for smash ’em ups.
Matthew had been homeless for six years and jobless before that. He said it all went to hell when George W came to power but detailed a party life that began decades back. He grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Park. He referred to it as Brooklyn Dark due to black folks moving in. I steered the conversation toward his youth. To get himself there he tipped the vodka over and over to his fucked lips.
In his teens he had a band that played Iron Maiden songs at keg parties. The gigs resulted in nonstop pussy and drug inhalation. I asked if he’d record his music but he said he wouldn’t do his stuff for free. It reminded me of a hobo I saw in Olympia who jammed on a keyboard set on a skateboard most nights.
Matthew was into heavy music. He emphasized the heaviness. He quizzed me on 70s and 80s rock bands by singing me songs for signs of recognition. When none came he seemed shocked. Awww man, ya don’t know Scorpion? I got the impression he figured we grew up in the same era despite our double decade age gap.
He wrote a song about a hooker and sang it to me as people passed our pink tree. His speech grew slurred as he returned his hand over and over to the stroller’s undercarriage. The lyrics were hard to nail down. He suggested we karaoke together because he always got the crowd rocking when he belted Metallica. He did crazy shit in his rock days but now was drunk and homeless. When cops stopped him they’d ask his favorite song and he’d sing “Breaking the Law.” They’d let him go on his way. His other human connections were more strained.
The woman who ran the place he slept at didn’t care for his music nor femininity. Matthew told me he’d rather be camping out than staying there where he had to abide by rules and restrictions. He didn’t mind the homeless life and it let him do his own thing. He made it on his own as best he could with the aid of rock and vodka. He seemed stuck in the past and spinning in the present. As the sun got low that day he thanked me for partying and soon departed.
When Matthew first came to me with his scrapping stroller I thought he was going to ask for money or a suck. It’s the kind of thoughts that occur before bothering to hear someone out. I’m glad we spoke for hours so I could apply better thinking to my next conversation with a stranger. The day after our chat I went to the pink tree with a handle of vodka I couldn’t finish. I hoped he’d stop by so I could gift it but he never showed. All I had of him were the two hours we spent in song and speech.
I like gathering the wild and humanizing stories of homeless folks who make themselves approachable. I know they’re all different but their lifestyle creates situations most don’t encounter. So I talk to them when the chance comes so I can hear a different take on life. I do it in part for fun. But I also gather their experiences because I wonder if my confused ambitions are leading me to a point of having no choice but to join their world. I don’t ever want to work as I’m lazy. This apathy sometimes finds itself in my attitudes toward a social life. I can’t bring myself to do so many of the things I need to. But I also don’t want to find myself drunk and pushing around a stroller full of booze with no one but strangers to talk to.
The Old Man was also a scrapper. He used his van to collect what he found. As he grew poorer he began driving the streets in search of old stoves and metal from which 500 pounds would yield $60. It seemed his life was only getting harder and our last conversation confirmed that he knew it.
I ran into him on the porch step as he smoked with one of the girls from downstairs. He told a story about snorting coke in the 70s. As he rode a motorcycle at 3AM he claimed a deer jumped across the road and clomped him on the head. He was so high he freaked. I didn’t know he’d done hard drugs. He said yeah it never leaves ya, that if he could afford the habit it’d be a hobby.
Cocaine seemed to be a keystone to his story. It’s a piece I never knew before. Maybe that’s why he was here. I was drug-free but could envision myself becoming The Old Man. I thought of the future solely in terms of music festivals, trips, and having just enough to get me by for now. Perhaps in time I’d sit around telling people half my age stories in attempts to impress them and seem valid in the now. I saw how experiences alone didn’t build to a fulfilling life.
He recognized this but it seemed if he could wind back the clock he’d still do things the same. He lamented the days where he could fuck off and feel like that would last forever. “Oh hell, Nolan. You’re still young. The most I can hope for is a day off and bit of meat to fry in the grease pan.” It seemed stories and intelligence couldn’t be employed as currency. Steve’s world of opportunities and adventure had closed. Now he’d finish out his days in hard labor and perpetual struggle.
It made me ruminate on my fading youth. Steve asked about the oil fields of North Dakota and possibly moving there. He said his son had grown independent and could fend for himself. I’d noticed Little Steve’s cord had stretched as far as it could. There was enough slack in it to let him skitter across state lines where he was learning to sell encyclopedias door to door. He looked so healthy and was now fully grown. His absence made me think I could sew myself to Big Steve’s womb. In that I’d plant both feet on the path toward becoming him.
I’d hack the cord close to the source. With my cut complete I’d toss Little Steve to the guttered roof where people set beer cans slurped in sadness. He’d most likely grow stronger than he’d ever been and continue developing on his own. I’d stitch myself quick to the decomposing lifeline snaking through The Old Man’s undies. Now Big Steve could push me in the scrapping stroller that negates new life and responsibilities beyond oneself. We’d be scurrying little bottom feeders together. I’d keep the cord short so as to never feel a need to disconnect.
With him taking care of me we’d stack our room with clam tins. Suck one down to take turns on twenty rubberized pounds of tits, pussy, and ass. We’d breathe our clam breath and shoot our clam cum. I have contingency plans with others that if we’re single and lonely in old age we’ll fuck and marry each other. By the time Steve passed these women might be ready to take care of me. We’d age together. If one died their meat would be sold to a dog food factory to support the survivor. It all seemed like a decent idea. But I didn’t want to fade into Steve’s old and lonely life just yet. I still had time to fix myself. Perhaps one day I’d find a balance in my need for solitude while still keeping others at my side.
I figured I was young enough and could work on the hard parts of my life another time. “Another time” was my perpetual motto. My financial security and fuck-it ethos helped me forget the fragmented remnants of a social life I was trying to piece together for the future. I decided to give up on Minneapolis for now and instead pour myself into a summer of travel. It’s something I could control and required no accompaniment. I could build on the story of me and hold hope. Hope to one day have friends and a girl for the story of us. That time seemed far away and taxing to work toward. I wasn’t yet ready to make it happen. I decided instead to invest in my decline.
I’d profit from avoidance and self absorption. Another summer of that couldn’t hurt too much. I’d work on it all soon enough. Just gotta get this travel in first. Perhaps in time I’d join Steve as someone whose struggle never ceased. I still hoped to avoid that even if it seemed unlikely given my choices. At least The Old Man made me conscious of how it’d turn out if I made no changes.
It occurred to me there’s a race of lonely old men who’ll swirl near the bottom for decades ’til death. They’re all different but a self-imposed solitude bubbles through each. They’re everywhere. I’d join them for now and hope to drop out later. It’d give a glimpse of the future hurtling toward me. Just one more lost in this world. So I left Minneapolis for a summer of sleeping in my car throughout the country. Fucking off just felt so fun.
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This is the second of a seven part series on loneliness, friendship, and selfish endeavors in my semi-recent life.
Part one can be found here:
Part three is coming soon. Eat your clams to bide the time.