It was winter in Wisconsin and I woke cold in the trunk of my car. I slid deep in the sleeping bag, pulling it across me as best I could. The cocoon failed, its shell too short for a six foot body. Snow had yet to fall this winter but still I slept in sweaters and sweatpants. I popped in earplugs to drown the noise of commuters then drifted to half sleep. I woke again just minutes before my early alarm. I pulled the plugs to listen for quiet on the street. It’s always a gamble that I’ll be seen as I slide out my trunk to the unfolded backseat. Though pedestrians step softly I can detect the whir of passing cars. Sometimes I’m spotted but often not. This time there was no one.
I found a park bathroom to brush my teeth and scrub my crotch, then went to screen for a drug study. I was set to make a couple grand having untested meds fed to my veins via IV. During the screening I was warm. They took my blood, charted my heart, and sent me on my way with chips and juice. The study wouldn’t start for ten days so there was time to burn. I returned to the park for more sleep. I stopped in sunlight to let the earth heat my car then slipped to the trunk. In there it’s tight and dark, a little cave sealed free from the world. A few hours later I woke and watched a movie. It made me laugh. I stifled the noise as a giggling car can draw attention.
This town was a small city outside Milwaukee I’d visited for other drug studies. On the first stay someone spotted me crawling to my trunk and called the cops. Though they were interested in my lifestyle they still made me move along. They said they’d find something to charge me with if they had to. Despite that this was a nice Midwest town like the ones I was used to in North Dakota. It sat in contrast to others I’d seen on the drive there. I passed through a small town at 2am where a pickup flying the Confederate flag patrolled its streets. Another Wisconsin enclave possessed a car dealer that seemed to peddle in both trucks and guns. The town I was in didn’t register as notable compared to those. Internet research revealed that Christians here called for a book burning of novels depicting queer characters. Still, I’d spent enough time in the Midwest to know these places both buck and embrace their stereotypes. I live my road life as a shadow and so none of this bothered me. That day I kept a low profile, sliding in and out of my trunk in secret. I did my best to be a nobody rather than a someone living in the trunk of their car.
As night came to be I returned to the park to clean up and make coffee. Though I was to be living out of my car for a month I packed my maker. I chew raw grounds and swallow caffeine tabs to keep my life force up and intestines empty. Over the years it’s become habit to drink a pot or more a day. I prepped my maker and walked the park in search of outlets. A car of teenage boys parked near the bathroom, their speakers blaring rap music. My search for electricity led me past them to the shitter they sat outside of.
My coffee maker’s cord couldn’t reach the outlet so I tipped a trash can and set it on that. As coffee brewed I gave myself a sink shower. I was headed to Milwaukee for the first time and planned to hit up some comedy show in a bar basement. I wanted to pass as normal, not smelly and unkempt. I filled my hair with suds then used them as shaving cream to strip the strands of hair growing from chin and cheeks. All the while rap music blared. I hurried to avoid the boys stumbling upon my scene of coffee and a shirtless body all soapy. So much of bum life revolves around staying clean and remaining hidden. The rap boys never came and in time I was decent. I prepared a thermos of whiskey and coffee then stashed it in my trunk. With that I set off for Milwaukee.
I love discovering new cities, even those I’ve written off as shitholes. As I rolled on Milwaukee I took in potholes, boarded storefronts, and a lifetime of litter whirring down city streets. But there was also a beautiful downtown with towering brick and stone buildings, a contrast to the steel and glass of many in America. This place held a lived in feeling, a sense of history I don’t find in urban areas. The downtown sat adjacent to Lake Michigan. There I could park and walk its borders, peering across water that carried off to the horizon. An affinity for this city developed in an instant.
I went to the basement bar comedy show and loved it. On the walk there I swallowed from my boozy thermos then stuffed it in a bush. I went downstairs to find the mic already in operation. People splayed on couches or leaned on railings to watch the comics. They spoke in serious tones of doing gigs in places with names like Waukesha. Their accents were thick and it was perfectly Midwestern. It was cool to slip into this working city’s creative subset. People gathered in a basement bar to drink, laugh, and flex their creative muscles. I got hammered and hours later passed out in the trunk of my car. Though I only planned to be here a day I was enjoying the city too much so stayed a few extra. I spent my days in parks, my nights in bars inhaling comedy. It was good but after a few days it was time to go. I started my car then faded south to Chicago.
I was in the Windy City to watch some satellite comedians associated with Doug Stanhope. I knew each to be a bit of a trainwreck and looked forward to that in the show. I parked outside a city park then prepped my car for a return come bedtime. I stood at the trunk and guzzled wine hidden in the cuff of bleached out sweatpants. The other leg swung in the breeze as I choked down an entire bottle. I walked to the show and though it was near empty and the comics drunk it was fun. The headliner made jokes about trying to sell the tapes his molester made of him as a child and would that constitute kiddie porn. It was a sharp hit of the dark, creative comedy I love most.
After the show I found the streets to be full. It was a popular nightlife area and this was the weekend. In the distance I could make out the towering buildings of downtown, unable to estimate their distance. I returned to the car and poured another bottle through my system. It left me incoherent, my lips glued together. Then I hit the streets to absorb city energy. I spied in on drunks, bums, and the subset of folks with no public awareness. It was loud, crowded, and a good time.
I walked an alley and found pizza sitting atop a trash can. I’m no stranger to eating garbage so stuffed a slice in my mouth. As I bit down a fat rat flitted by. I took my pizza to the streets and stabilized against a brick wall. I swallowed each piece as I watched the night folks enjoying themselves with friends. I was alone but so mindless on booze I couldn’t possess the coherence to care. For years I’ve traveled on my own and in that time have come accustomed to the loner life. I filled my guts with reclaimed pizza then passed out once more.
The next morning I woke knowing it was time for this bender to find its end. Too many hazed out comedy shows. Too many thermoses of booze. Too many dawns waking to the call of diarrhea. I had a severe case of stomach cramps and an even worse case of denture breath. I pulled myself from the trunk to the sun pouring itself over Chicago. The wine remnants slushed through my gut each time I shifted. When I reached the driver’s seat I felt dizzy and distant from my body. All I wanted was water and a detox. I cleaned myself in the park then walked the neighborhood in daylight.
These same spaces from the night before now held a distinctly different character. People were out for work and leisure, not a stumble down, fuck it all party. There were beautiful brick buildings and a walkway shared with bicycles. People flitting in and out of shops. Children in parks and parents guiding them. I took this in then disappeared behind train tracks. I walked down a crumbling alley in search of somewhere to piss. There was a paint smeared porta-potty belonging to absent workers. Inside the toilet lay discarded needles, the ephemera of junkies shooting in a shit bucket. I pissed down the hole then set off for St. Louis.
I spent a few days in the STL area to visit my older sis and her family. Unlike when they were little the kids barely registered my presence. Middle school had come to be and with that an obsession with video games. They let me watch them build worlds and poop emojis from digital bricks. I cracked the usual corny jokes that now landed with half the punch as prior times. People change. Kids doubly so in quicker increments. The whirling storm of time carries on with or without you. Still, it was nice to be somewhere familiar, to have a warm bed, food, and shower. These taken-for-granted comforts make an immeasurable difference in one’s enjoyment of the day.
After a half week of walking St. Louis and seeing my family I headed north for my drug study in Wisconsin. I spent my days in a plastic chair with an IV pumping fluid through me. I shared a dorm with three guys, my bunkmate a farter from Chicago who threw his bloody gauze to the ground. I spent my downtime watching shows and reading books. After five days they released us for Christmas. I drove home to North Dakota to celebrate the holiday with family. I was only home for a couple days but in that span we watched movies, opened gifts, and sang the classic songs. Once again I wrapped myself in the warm and familiar as I sat around a tree with dozens of cousins.
I left Christmas morning to return to Wisconsin for the remainder of my study. Along the way I saw signs for a strip club catering to truckers and thought of the emotional void it must be come Christmas. A brick shithole filled with men looking for delight in women half their age and a quarter their size. I sometimes drift in my mind and think of truckers fellating themselves with roadkill. There’s always a need for touch. To feel as if you belong to someone or something. I wonder the ways in which they perceive this life, an ever shifting home, bedding down in the unfamiliar. I’ve felt their loneliness, know their lifestyle. I was disheartened to leave my family on Christmas but at least I had something to return to. I pocketed that thought, an idea set to be unearthed on some cold, solitary night.
After ten hours on the road I pulled into town after dark. I prepped for bed then slipped to my trunk. In the cramped and chilly enclosure I had time to think before slipping away to sleep. It was a cold Wisconsin night, five hundred miles from friends and family. I was swaddled tight with Wal-Mart blankets and the fur of Chinese rabbits. I lay there to engender warmth and comfort. But I was packed so tight it became uncomfortable. I was sweaty but outside my cocoon the trunk air was freezing. I opted to use my hand to unwrap a present in my pants. A dose of relief to induce sleep. But Santa wouldn’t let me pump comfort from two lumps of coal. Instead I pinched a nerve craning my neck at odd angles. God dammit anyway.
In time I got back to it. I lay silent in the void, masturbating in the trunk of a car on Christmas. My neck hurt so I kept it limp against a pillow. I just wanted comfort so I could finish out the day and get back to my study. If I could sleep away the cold hours I’d wake to a world of drugs pumping through me. Despite its outward appearance this was the life I wanted. I’d spent years on its construction. Still, I had to acknowledge that I was close to thirty with no partner, no home, and no one with me on Christmas. Plus my neck felt fucked. I laughed at the night’s misfortune then grabbed my carrot. After a few churns it made milk for the man in red. I hoped he’d accept my offering and gift me some sleep. He did.