I was drunk and dancing, fueled by bad whiskey both salty and strong. It was a few days after the New Year and I was off to my usual drunken start. I sweated through my only good shirt as I shuffled to funk music in a basement club with mirror-lined walls. It felt like 1970 something down there. At the end of the night I was falling over on the sidewalk and then into the street. My roomies were with and called a cab but I insisted on sleeping in my car. Before the night began I knew there was no chance I’d escape in a sober state so made up a trunk bed. I got in the backseat and tried buckling myself in as if I were to be driven. No sooner had I secured my safety than I yakked down my dress shirt. I faded in and out all while spewing whiskey bile and broccoli chunks. Eventually I was well enough to crawl to my trunk, drag some blankets across me, and slip into sleep. The next morning I saw the lines of vomit dried across my clothing. Damn, that was my only good shirt.
For the next week I found bits of barf in the interior of my car. Atop my trunk bed’s top blanket lay a graying pile that came out of me. Its consistency was akin to wet oats. I sprayed it over with 409 and Febreze, both to minimal effect. I chose to ignore the trunk for now and soon forgot all about it. I cleaned the backseat as best I could and called it good. A couple weeks later I was picking up a girl for a date-type situation. My car still stank of yak. I gave it a heavy dose of spray and let air in through the windows. The scent was masked but its undercurrent carried through. Once my date was scooped we spoke of the hobo lady who prowled as I waited. I teased that if this didn’t go well I could always try my charms on her. My date explained there was a shelter nearby though this lady didn’t seem to be staying there. A guy who did once asked my date to visit for their own date-type situation. She declined. I wasn’t sure if my puke crusted car was any more romantic.
As we drove a disembodied leg rolled out from beneath her seat. It’s a dollar store fake purchased at Halloween. It looks phony but depicts bone and blood. I forgot it was there and was made to explain how I keep goofy props on hand. They’re there so I have something to play with when I’m drunk or traveling from the trunk of my car. Other props include a deer skull, three sets of rubber teeth, and five fake rats. Scattered about are rubber bugs, most of which I’ve lost over the years. The girl wasn’t aware of my lifestyle so I gave an explanation. “Well, sometimes I get drugs tested on me in Texas and sleep in my car with this fake leg…” Despite all this we soon fucked in a room adorned with hobo signs, these cardboard stories ranging from adventure to abject misery.
After we finished she studied each one, laughing or asking for the story behind it. I gave her their histories and took more from my closet, showing off the new finds. She’d redressed in lingerie from the grocery store but I remained naked. I told her how I’ve been saving these signs for years. How once a week I spray the wall with Febreze. How sometimes the signs are caked in human feces when I find them on the street. At the end of the night I brought her home and she said she’d text me. We fucked once more then never spoke again.
The day after my night of dancing and whiskey puke I shook out the barf blanket. Gray chunks scattered off its quilted pattern. In the ensuing weeks the trunk turned smelly. At first I’d spray it with solvents but over time let it be. Now it was weeks after my date, a near month since puking, and I was prepping for another night of trunk sleep. I went to a comedy show and got drunk off swill. By the time the show was over I was back to sober but saw no point in risking it. I’d prepped for this so bedded down beside an industrial building. A few feet from my car a hobo slept beneath an upside down bicycle with a tarp draped across it. As I slammed the trunk lid atop me I heard the rustle of his tarp, the noise stirring him from slumber.
In my chamber I noticed a musty odor much like a flooded basement. The sleep was cold and come morning there was rain. The bike hobo was gone and soon I left too. We deserted the area and now no one would know that two people just spent the night there. After returning home I inspected the puke blanket and noticed a new formation: polka-dot patterns of black mold. All night I’d slept with this thing on my face, its cloth like wraps across a mummy. I tossed it to the trash and laid down another. The trunk bed was my second home and I needed to keep it cozy.
I finally vacuumed the last bits of barf and sprinkled bleach to fight the infection. There’d be more nights in here and moldy lungs wasn’t a descriptor I desired. The trunk aired out and was once again habitable. I read a book about train hopping with hoboes and it brought back my need to sleep in the trunk with intention. I was antsy to get back on the streets for a wander. I found a basement comedy show, sipped vodka outside the venue, then turned to the streets after the comics completed.
When I’m drunk I lose focus and mutter, becoming fixated on a phrase. Sometimes it’s for the fun of a tongue running through the wet interior of its home. On this night I found myself alone and so spoke in nonsense, licking myself with vigor. I crossed the Burnside Bridge over the wide Willamette River to downtown. Burnside is where bums sleep as at the end there’s a shelter. I passed a dozen bags set over cardboard mats, each acting as mattress to a human tucked away. I was ostensibly looking for discarded hobo signs to add to my collection but didn’t know if I’d find any. Unlike afternoons or a weekend night the streets were mostly absent of cars and people.
With little to do I searched for food. Set atop a trash can sat a box of half-eaten Chinese. I decided it’d be mine if I found nothing better. At the curb just feet away stood a man whispering to both himself and those on the crosswalk. I leaned against the trash with an ear his way but couldn’t make out the mutterings. I left the food for him and set out to see what else I could find.
On the berm outside Chipotle stood green bins. I looked to see if I was alone then flipped their tops. Each was filled with garbage bags of food both packed and pristine. I picked out chips, burritos, and a bag whose bottom sagged beneath fifteen pounds of rice and beans. There was more in here than I could ever carry. I gobbled a few handfuls from the swamp of beans. Not bad. After wiping my hands in the grass I gathered as many chips as I could along with the bag of loose food and carried them to safety. I squirreled it in a bush then walked eight or nine blocks to Jimmy John’s. There I pulled a bag of gloves and cups mixed with meats and breads. People from a bar streamed by but I kept my head in the trash and was really too drunk to care.
I hauled my bag of trash back to the bush where I stored my Chipotle horde. I did my best to combine the two then made way to the bridge to cross the water. I passed a homeless couple hunkered down in a doorway, both asleep for the night. I thought of laying out chips for them but didn’t. I got to a bridge though this was different than the one I came in on. The rice and beans tore through the bag and dripped on my pants. By the time I closed the thirty block gap between me and my car much of the food was gone. Back at my ride I parsed through the Jimmy John’s, pulling out food and setting it in the passenger seat. I put the rice and beans in my trunk but saw they were spilling everywhere. Some even wound up on the window. I decided to chuck them so in three trips hauled the trash to someone’s bin.
I ate a sandwich and chips then went to bed in the trunk, half listening to a podcast as I drifted away. I was dirty, cold, and drunk but it’d been a fun night. I slept ’til sunrise, waking often due to street noise or my sore knees needing adjustment. Come morning I brought my haul back home and ate from it for days, having to throw out plenty as it grew stale.
Once again my car was filthy, this time with rice, beans, and sandwich toppings. I bleached and cleaned once more. Then a month later I set out with purpose for another night of drunken garbage picking. As always I started off with a shitty comedy show then made way downtown. I drank warm Budweiser from a dirty can. I was on an off-street and came across girls smoking on the berm. Embers and streetlights were all that lit them. The one nearest said something though I had to take out my headphones and ask to hear again.
“Sleeping somewhere warm tonight?” she repeated.
“Nah, not tonight.” Her friend looked up and turned her head my way. There were a dozen ladies lined up out here, all late teens or early 20s. Perhaps this was a shelter or halfway home.
“You sure you’re not sleeping somewhere warm?”
“I’m sure.” I kept walking, wondering what her questions meant. Maybe she was trying to prostitute herself, maybe offering survival sex for somewhere to sleep. Maybe she just thought I was a bum drinking Bud. I couldn’t be sure.
I carried a canvas bag and set it in the bushes outside a convenience store as bums congregated in the parking lot. I pissed out back then hauled myself inside. There I bought a can of malt liquor with dollar bills. The clerk asked how my night was going. When I told him it was good he said it looked like it was about to get better. With a can in hand that gets you drunk for under two bucks I wasn’t sure if ‘better’ was the right word to use.
I crossed the Burnside Bridge, sucking Steel Reserve from a bum bag as quick as I could. The drink was cold and treated my throat well. I found a half drunk can of Hurricane and quickly downed it too, emptying the last couple ounces to the cement. I was drunk enough and didn’t need some bum’s backwash. Downtown was empty yet again so I went straight to Chipotle. This time I had my bag to carry the loot and so was better prepared to haul my eats.
I popped open the compost can, once more full of fine food. I didn’t bother fucking with the rice and beans, instead nabbing chips and unwrapped burritos. A teenager closing down the place came through the employee door with trash in hand. One look at me with my arms down the bin was enough to scare him back the way he came. “It’s okay, dude,” I muttered. I was drunk and had headphones so was wasn’t sure at what volume my voice registered. I’m sure that even if he heard my words they carried little comfort. I hustled to nab the last then took off before his return.
I went to Jimmy John’s and retrieved six loaves of fresh bread and two cups of toppings. I was quick and no one saw me. As I made way to the river I chewed my best loaf before telling an empty street that “I don’t need this fucking bread.” For reasons I still can’t decipher I threw it at a bush and spit my gummy dough to the sidewalk. Well that was pretty stupid. It’d tasted so good and done me no harm. I felt for my bag and drew comfort from the loaves that remained. In time I passed an old hobo twirling circles outside a convenience store. Once again I wanted to share the finds but with one look at him in ecstasy I decided fuck that.
I crossed the river and looked out at the water, finding peace in its murk as always. On the other side I walked along and noted all the bushes a person could sleep in. I went back up the street with the girls but they were gone. I changed in the car and climbed to the trunk. In there I ate a burrito and played with the fake leg. I took one of the rodents and made it fly atop the appendage like a captain commanding his craft. Before long I was sleepy and set aside the toys. I tucked myself in the sleeping bag, adjusting the pillow and blankets to best conform to my body. All was arranged so I couldn’t be seen, a black blanket covering legs that stuck out to the backseat. I thought of the smoker girls and others who’ve slept at my side. Girls were fine but for now I was alone. Just me and my food. The trash I’d eat for days. It was yet another night in the trunk.