I was drunk and dancing, fueled by cheap whiskey that tasted both salty and potent. 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 this night began I knew there was no chance I’d escape in a sober state and so made up a bed in the trunk. 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 started yakking 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 beauty 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’d come out of me. Its consistency was akin to wet oats. I sprayed it all 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 all a heavy dose of spray and let air in through the windows. The scent was masked but its undercurrent carried through. Once she was scooped we spoke of the hobo lady who’d been prowling as I waited. I teased that if this didn’t go well I could always try my charms on the hobo. My date explained how there was a shelter nearby though this lady didn’t seem to be staying there. A guy who sometimes did once asked my date to come visit him for their own date-type situation. She declined. I wasn’t sure if my puke car was much 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’d forgot it was there and was made to explain how I always keep goofy props on hand. They’re there so I have something to play with when I’m drunk or on the road and need to sleep in 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 very aware of my lifestyle and 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 collected cardboard stories ranging from adventure to abject misery.
After we were done she studied each one, laughing or asking for the story behind it. I gave her their histories and took more from my closet, showing her the new finds. She’d redressed in lingerie from the grocery store but I was still 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. I never heard from her again.
The day after my night of dancing and whiskey puke I shook out the barf blanket. Grey chunks scattered off its quilted pattern. In the ensuing weeks the trunk grew smelly. At first I’d spray it with solvents but over time just let it be. Now it was a few weeks after my date, a near month since puking, and I was prepping for another night of in-town trunk sleep. I went to a late night comedy show and got drunk off some leftover swill from my whiskey night. By the time the show was over I was back to sober but there was no point in risking it. I was prepped for this and so bedded down beside an industrial building. Just a few feet from my car a hobo was sleeping beneath a tent made from 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.
As I slept there was a persistent musty smell, much like that of a flooded basement. The sleep was cold but okay 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 ever 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 blackish mold. All night I’d slept with this thing over 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 mold. There’d be more nights in here and moldy lungs wasn’t a descriptor I desired. The trunk aired out and once again became habitable. I read a book about a man train hopping with hoboes and it brought back my dormant need to sleep in the trunk with intention. Ever since my balls filled with blood I’ve been planted in Portland, biding time ’til my testicles rot from this body or I get some insurance. I was antsy to get back on the streets for a wander. So I found a basement comedy show, sipped vodka in my car outside the venue, and went to the streets after the comics were done.
Sometimes when I’m drunk I lose focus and mutter to myself, becoming fixated on a phrase. Sometimes it’s the pleasure of my tongue running through the wet interior of its home. On this night I found myself alone and so spoke in nonsense and licked myself with vigor. I crossed the Burnside Bridge over the wide Willamette River into downtown. Burnside is where many bums sleep as at the end of the bridge there’s a shelter. I passed at least a dozen bags set over cardboard mats, each acting as mattress to a human tucked away. I was ostensibly out 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 both cars and people.
Set atop a trash can was a styrofoam box of half-eaten Chinese. I decided it’d be mine if I found nothing better. At the curb was a ragged young man whispering both to himself and those using the crosswalk. I leaned against the trash with an ear his way but couldn’t make out the mutterings. I left the food to him and set out to see what else I could find.
On the berm outside Chipotle were a few green bins. I looked to see if I was alone and 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 these bins 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 all in a bush and walked another 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 was keeping my Chipotle horde. I did my best to combine the two and make my way to the bridge. 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 I was messy and much of the unpackaged food was gone. Back at the car 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 noticed they were spilling everywhere. Some even wound up on the window. I decided to chuck them and so in three trips hauled that and the rest of the trash to someone’s bin set out for the garbage man.
I had 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 periodically 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 of the bread 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 about 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 and then made my way downtown. I drank warm Budweiser from a dirty can. I was on an off-street and soon came across a group of girls smoking on the berm. Their embers and the streetlights were all that lit them. The one nearest said something though I had to take out my headphones and ask to hear it again.
“Sleeping somewhere warm tonight?” she repeated.
“Nah, not tonight.” Her friend looked up and turned her head my way. There were at least a dozen ladies lined up out there, 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 set my canvas bag in the bushes outside a convenience store as some bums congregated in the parking lot. I pissed out back then hauled myself inside. There I bought a can of malt liquor with a couple 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 few ounces to the cement. I was drunk enough and didn’t need some bum’s backwash. Downtown was empty yet again and so I went straight for the Chipotle. This time I had my bag to carry the loot and so was better prepared to haul my eats.
I popped open the can and it was again overflowing with perfectly 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 pretty 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 get the last of what I wanted and took off just as he was coming out once more.
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 his 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 now 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 starship. Before long I was sleepy and set aside the toys. I tucked myself into 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 the 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 and quite happy to be so. It was just another night in the trunk.