The scent of hot urine hit me as I stepped the streets of downtown Austin. Night had come and birthed its creatures. Those that piss in darkness. Bums and drunks. It’s the same in all cities. Men unloading ammonia. These places a haven for piss freaks. One whiff to shoot their load of trouser chowder. I don’t enjoy the stink but take pleasure in grit. So I headed downtown to see what I’d see. Smell what I smelled. Another weekend in the city. College kids and office workers everywhere.
On weekends it’s fun to catch that city energy. Ride its buzz. The cacophony of music and cars and drunks all blurring together. I was doing the night sober though took a shot of vodka. It wasn’t much but warmed me. Pushed me 15% to the realm of Drunkland. A place the party people inhabit. They throw shots down their throat then stumble for hours. Step to alleys and piss on sticky dumpsters.
I came to the closed off streets where thousands roam. Each block is wall to wall bars or food for drunks. They call it Dirty Sixth. An apt title for a piss and puke lined street. Garbage everywhere. People stampeding. All fucked out of their mind. I wanted a sober observation of the absurdity this brings. So I popped out my headphones and aligned my senses. Headed to the heart of it all. Just as I arrived a man breezed past, talking to me but peering forward.
“Best coke in the city.”
I get this offer every time I’m down here. I shook my head no then carried on.
I made way through the thousand or so spilled to the street, all talking to friends or snaked in lines to enter a club. The noise intensified. Competing blasts emitted from bars. On the sidewalk small stands hawked pizza and pretzels. On an adjacent street food carts sold their wares. Cardboard boats of fried garbage. I counted on the patrons of these to forget their food so I’d be fed. But for now it was too early. People not drunk enough. So I kept slipping ’round in search of action.
I walked by a middle-aged homeless man on the edge of a sidewalk. He sat far down the main drag, away from most crowds. He asked for a dollar but I shook my head no. I’ve lived in cities long enough to keep walking as I do this. Say sorry and carry on. As I turned him down the hobo screamed “I PAY CHILD SUPPORT!”
I circled a bar that places women in the streetside window to dance. To lure in drunk dorks. Men blasted off their asses. Two women in bikinis stood in the window frame. EDM blasted behind them in a neon-lit room. On the sidewalk out front a homeless man in a purple shirt bent to a bag. As he did his pants dropped, stained undies showing.
The bum turned ’round and I caught sight of his face. It was lined with scabs. Nose and cheeks sprouting purple strips of skin. Scabs all rough and bumpy. It looked like he’d exfoliated with asphalt. Perhaps a fall or maybe a beating. Either way it was awful. Shit life turned shittier. He didn’t even notice the beautiful women behind him. Too busy arranging his bags. He wandered off, often stopping to pick up small objects.
There’s a dozen or so hard-up homeless on the party streets. Some scrawl signs in search of weed. Then there’s the worse off masses. Those slipping to the void to hide. They stare to the ground and speak with themselves. Most pass with little notice. No need to imbibe a dark reminder. The shit stuck to society’s shoe. But it’s not shit. It’s people here dying. Tumbled down a dark hole with no rope out. The sight so common they become another piece of that night’s ephemera. There and then forgotten.
Time shot deeper into night. Pre-game partying and bar booze aligned. The people grew loud and aimless. Stumbled and sang. Countless thousands on Dirty Sixth. I used to come here to get drunk and wander. Slip to the fog-brained world of vodka. Present on earth but absent from time. With little booze I made a better observer. As I jotted notes someone spun a triple salchow and fell into me. He stood up and said nothing. Too drunk to notice.
I needed to piss so walked to an alley. One littered with bums and drunks. It was only a block off the main drag. A whole other world back here. Less noise. Less light. All signs of the party muffled. I looked for a dumpster but found little privacy. Everything reeked of piss and puke and rotten garbage. I wasn’t the only who’d been here for this purpose. At least I saw no feces. A liquid splat left to fester. I continued on in search of a tucked off spot.
As I ambled alleys I came across a guy getting slapped by a bum. Open hand with a closed fist chaser. I stood thirty feet off. Hung back in case he came for me. A different bum draped in a blanket observed the violence. He seemed unphased to witness a beating. Soon the man stopped. I took in the one who’d been hit. He sat on cement, barefoot and covered in blood. It poured from face to body to ground. I got the impression that he too was homeless.
The aggressor returned to his friend. They stood against the back of a bar by its dumpster. They weren’t far off but seemed done with the man. I walked up as he stared at the ground. Dripped blood to it. I felt through pockets for tissue but had none. The bum who did the beating said the guy just jumped his friend. I had no idea if it was true but didn’t question his story.
The beaten man didn’t seem present. Fucked up on drugs or mentally ill. Maybe concussed. He made no noise. Face never changed. Blood-covered eyes in the void of another dimension. Around the corner were horse cops. I thought of ushering them but feared they’d bring trouble. This man was so gone that any encounter could end in arrest. Minutes passed and still he sat staring.
His wounds seemed superficial though produced much blood. Wet and red smears on scalp. On face. On hands. A pool on piss-soaked cement. As I decided what to do he stood up, still barefoot, still bleeding, and clambered down the alley. I followed and watched. He stepped to a street then took off in a run. Hurled his body to the void. Mind already there. Each now disappeared to darkness.