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  • As it sometimes does, it began with a dream – the usual midnight mixture of foggy surreal erotica and coitus interruptus. The girl in the dream was the classic “one that got away,” or in my case, one of the many that got away and made me consider the option of getting a panel van, duct tape and tazer for some advantage in the dating game. The young lady in question came to mind probably because of a run-in with a local pan-handler at the corner store. We recognized each other in an instant, but when he asked me if I was Patrick from the Life Arts Building, I played dumb and said he had the wrong guy. I didn’t like this worthless, shit-head almost two decades ago when he was living with and leaching off of the girl from the dream, and nothing’s changed today. Maybe I should have given him a buck and asked him how things were going, even though I could tell it’s obviously gotten worse for him over the years. Good looks and youth fail and fall fast in the drug world, and you better have a backup plan. Apparently, having the aforementioned young lady’s romantic involvement (that’s a nice way of saying hot, young, hippie, stripper pussy) was less of a tonic for success than just wanting it, not getting it and using that anger to move ahead and keep going. I’m not exactly setting the world on fire, but he’s near my age and is just one of the many who wander the streets in the never-ending grail quest for free beer money.

    I made my way over to the local Alberto’s a couple dozen yards away, and ran into an old friend who serendipitously pointed out to me “There seems to be a lot more bums out there today and young kids to boot. They’re everywhere around town. You can’t go anywhere to avoid the fuckers!” We both had to run the “You got any spare change?” gauntlet outside the joint before and after getting our Sunday morning, egg, potato, chorizo and cheese, hang-over burritos. There were three bums in front of that fine establishment and three more out in front of the Seven-Eleven right next door. For the exception of shit-head, all of them were young and of various hobo cliques: punk/crusties, hippie-travelers, and the scarier borderline-gangster home-bums who are just a few lost quarters from begging to bashing in skulls for malt-liquor money. It seems my friend is correct in his hypothesis. As a fairly astute observer of the human condition, and somewhat of a local Rivercidian bum connoisseur and chronicler from past days, I’ve noticed an up-tick in the numbers of alms takers in recent years, especially the youthful types.

    In the past, youthfulness in a local street urchin was surely a sign of a deranged medical condition that could probably be handled with the right meds. For all of the millions of people needlessly trying to avoid “depression” by throwing some pills at it, there are actually a small percentage of folks with legitimate problems with the wiring in their head gear who really need serious chemical intervention by practiced professionals in the psychiatric professions, and of course they get shuffled to the side in lieu of some middle aged executive secretary or mid level manager who is just bummed out that life didn’t turn out quite like he or she hoped it would in high school, and the big pharma’ drug dealers are more than giddy to push some needless shit their way to the tune of billion dollar profit margins. Dreams die much softer on the Prozac train.

    Not to wax too nostalgic, but I’m going to anyways, back when I was much closer to the streets in the mid 1990s, there were so few actual full time homeless in the area that they actually had nicknames we more youthful “bums” of that day used to refer to them by in our conversations. There was Mr. Telephone Man, who would pick up the receiver of any pay phone he walked by, not put any money in and yell orders into it like “I WANT SEVERAL DOZEN OF THEM. MAKE THEM RED ROSES NOT WHITE ROSES DAMN IT!!!” There was Trigger Finger, a younger man who would pace the streets mumbling obscenities while his right hand made motions like he was holding a gun and pulling the trigger. The Blanket Lady was a large, elderly black woman wrapped in a dirty blanket that just walked all day in some kind of penance for past deeds; it was alleged she was actually sitting on a small fortune in the bank from years of stacked up SSI checks. And, there was also The Professor. He was actually a former professor of mathematics from UCR who wasn’t quite there when he taught and finally had just given up to walk the streets in the dirty remnants of his professional clothing muttering in his head what was probably an alphabet soup of equations that had helped to drive him bonkers. We had always postulated that he had figured out some key equation to existence, and that algorithm didn’t add up well for him and the rest of us.

    I and my friends at that time were borderline bums that were artists, musicians, writers and intellectuals that were either living in an art studio downtown or crammed three to six deep in small houses in the surrounding blocks. To the normal nine-to-fiver crowd, we were the bums of the day. The thing was we all had shitty jobs and addresses; we just looked the part. There also seemed to be a bohemian nobility to our bum status. The kids on the streets today are just fucking bums. Besides our myriad of semi-artistic talents, many of us had degrees and could have immediately joined the ranks of professionals, but dropping into a florescent lit cubical in our early to mid twenties seemed like a death of a thousand cuts. There was still time for making some art/music/pottery/poetry while smoking rag weed, drinking cheep beer/wine/whiskey and performing fifteen hour long, meth-fueled fuck sessions (for some of us) on the immediate horizon. Participating in that kind of lifestyle doesn’t sit too well with the other suits at No-Fun Inc, and if you got it in you, you better get it out while you’re young before you finally have to give it up and drop back into the norm, or whatever passes for normal these days.

    That was then; tonight, my thoughts go back to the girl in the dream and the bum at the front of the corner store. Like him, every time I see her – when she makes it through town – she doesn’t seem to be making much progress. She’s traveling at the very least, and being pretty gives her more brass pole options rather than putting out her hand for some random change thrown her way, but every time she passes through, her looks fade a bit more, and the naïve and unstudied ideas she carried when she was younger, and seemed cute back then, get stale and stagnant; that nearly vacant echo chamber of bad juju called her mind gets a bit more jumbled: a larger maze that the mice inside will finally give up going for the bit of cheese at the exit, happy just to lay down somewhere at a dark corner and dream of the past.
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