Tag Archives: Alternate Universe


     When I first walked into Judy’s, I didn’t know what to expect.  All I knew was that I’d heard that you could get a free coat there, and I was in need.  I’d been told it wasn’t a good idea to mess with her, and as I mentioned in an earlier post I found out why when I got there.  When I caught my first glimpse of “Andre” I understood why there was a word on the street.  Nobody would have sought trouble with him, and I certainly wasn’t going to to be the first. 

     The store was beyond crowded, filled to overflowing with clothing and knick-knacks.  The register was behind a counter next to the front door, and behind the register stood Judy.  A woman of medium height and weight with salt and pepper hair, and a face that had the detail of a road map.  One may have not known her story, but her face left no doubt as to the fact that she had one.  Affable and friendly, her face characteristically wore a smile. 

      When I came in, she greeted me, and I asked her about getting a coat.  She told me to follow her, and as I did, I noticed a boy following us.   A boy of about five or six with a cow-lick  in his bright red hair, with bright blue eyes in a face freckled and evidently intrigued by me.  When I looked down at him, he smiled up at me, a sunbeam of a smile.  One of those kind of smiles that are almost irrestible to respond to.  I turned back to Judy in response to something she said, and as she walked toward the back I continued to follow her.  It was then I felt a tug on the back of my shirt, and when I glanced down the hem of my shirt was in this boy’s hand, and once again he was looking up at me with that smile of his.

     How do I explain what seeing that kid’s hand on the hem of my shirt did to me?  How seeing him smiling up at me made me feel?  For so long, people around me had been putting their distance between themselves and me, and rightly so, and when they weren’t doing it I was.  Have you ever been to a point in your life where receiving a kind word or an affectionate touch hurt?  I know that it may not make sense, but kindness, affection, and love weren’t the kind of things I could easily afford, so I didn’t know what to think as I saw this boy looking up at me.  I stood there with this boy looking up at me with this unbelievable smile on his face, and my shirt in his hand, and I felt something stir within me.  I don’t know what it was about him, whether it was that smile, or the look in his blue eyes, but without even realizing it I reached down and tousled his hair.

     “That’s David, my boy,” Judy told me.  “Don’t mind him.”  She walked me back to the coats, David trailing behind me, and told me to select one.  After I did, she surprised me by having me pick out some new clothes.  When I told her I couldn’t afford them, she told me not to worry about it.  Then she told me if I wanted to I could earn them by helping her man unload a truck, so that’s what I did.

     The whole time Andre and I were unloading the truck, David was never more than a few feet away watching me, and after we were done, Judy invited me to stay for a meal.  At the table, David sat beside me.  A quiet boy who didn’t say a word, yet his bright blue eyes didn’t miss anything.  I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear him repeat our conversation word for word.

     After the meal, Judy and David walked me to the door, and there I got two surprises.  The first was Judy offered me a part time job, and the second was David laid his head against my leg in a sort of semi-hug.    The first put me back on the road toward having some dignity, and the second put me on the road to having something even more important, but it took awhile for me to accept it.


Moving Around in the Alternate Universe

     It’s a fact in life that if you move around you’re going to bump into things, bump into people, stumble upon things you might never encounter otherwise, and it’s no less so in the alternate universe.  The biggest struggle in the alternate universe is the one to survive, and anything or anyone you find to help you do that is what you look for, so there’s very few things out-of-bounds.  Stealing certainly wasn’t, but stealing isn’t as easy as you’d think when you live in the alternate universe, and you look like you’ve just stepped out of a dumpster.  Trying to move around without drawing suspicion was like trying to walk on water.  It couldn’t be done.  Ever wonder why the worst of things happen at night?  Simply because the odds of success go up under cover of darkness. 

     There were other ways to survive and less risky.  Most times, if you hit the dumpster behind any McDonald’s or any restaurant you could find something.  Shelters more often than not offered something, and sometimes churches had outreach programs for the homeless.  Life is anything but easy on the streets, and moment by moment is what it is.  Still, as in anyplace, live there long enough and you get to know your surroundings, and the people who live there.  There’s a certain communication that exists between the animal and human kingdoms no matter what level it’s members may be on, and its no different among societies lowest members.  Word gets around, and people of like circumstance tend to congregate, and even on the streets there’s a hierarchy among it’s members .  As I said word gets around when anything that can be of benefit is found, and that’s how I found out about a place run by a kind-hearted woman who distributed coats to the homeless for free.

     It’s not often you hear about people that are almost universally loved among any group of people but Judy was.  She lived in a dilapidated 2 story house that had seen it’s beginning at the turn of the century, and had since lost much of its’ old world charm and elegance, but was still impressive in it’s own way.    Judy had turned the first floor into a thrift store, and she and her son, David, lived above.  It was well known that Judy had a heart for the less fortunate, and would help anyone who asked for it, but it was also known and understood that anyone who messed with her wouldn’t do so again.  

     I found out why when I entered her place for the first time.  If there was more than an inch of unoccupied space in the store I don’t know where it was, but a big chunk of it was taken up by about as big a man as I’ve ever seen.  Maybe Andre the Giant’s twin brother, if he were colored.  He sat on the stairs near the top with a full view of all that went on below, and he had a way of looking at you that made your innards curl.  It was then I understood why nobody messed with this woman, but it turned out that he was only a part of it.

     When I entered that store for the first time, I didn’t know it, but I was about to find the key to getting out of the alternate universe, and it came in the form of an eight year old boy named David.

Stuck in an alternate Universe

     I left off with being stuck in an alternate universe in my last post, and that’s exactly how it was.  Stuck.  There I was looking in the windows of storefront panes, dirty, scraggly, a caricature of someone vaguely familiar.  Sleeping wherever I could find a place I wouldn’t be hasseled by the cops when it was warm enough to sleep out, and fighting for space in a shelter that contained double bunks for maybe a couple hundred men when it wasn’t.  When you’re standing in the midst of a sea of men the odds of catching a bunk aren’t very good, and when you’re unlucky, which I was; you don’t catch many.  On the rare occasions when I actually got one, it was better than being outside, but not by much.  I may have gotten a bunk on occasion, but I was never lucky enough to get the top bunk.  Try sleeping underneath someone who weighs a hundred pounds more than the bunk’s capacity, snores with the reverberation of thunder clapping, and tries to use your head as a footstool.  It’s like’s trying to sleep underneath an elephant.  You wouldn’t think I’d have run into that very much, but you’d be surprised.  I told you I was unlucky.:)

     If I didn’t get that, I got the guy sleeping across from me that looked like Charles Manson; who’d look at me with insentient eyes, and make chirping noises at me all night.  More than once I caught people rifling through the little bit of stuff I may have managed to scrape together, and if you made a problem out of it the shelter would promptly kick you out, and it didn’t matter who started it.  I spent the majority of nights outside, and the cold ones were spent cowering anyplace I could find that would break the wind shivering uncontrollably.  There’s no such place as comfortable or safe in the alternate universe.

     Have you ever been hurt so bad that you couldn’t lay still.  I was like that.  I couldn’t change the reality I lived in, but I moved around a lot.   I didn’t know it at the time but it was moving around in the alternate universe that opened a door within it.

From There to Here. . . .

     I left off with my best description of what it feels like to live without hope.  I stated that I feel like it’s worse than death, and to me it was.  What do you do when you have no hope.  The short answer is anything and everything you want. When you have nothing to look forward to, care about nothing and no one, and live in a constant state of anger, the door is pretty much wide open for anything.  All the restraints were pretty much off, and though that may sound appealing to some who would even say “where’s the party?”  I promise you it wasn’t.  Not unless, putting your life in a bottle, losing everything in your life, and sleeping in places that even cockroaches wouldn’t go is your sort of thing. 

     People who’ve been there, hopefully not you, know you get into a cycle.  You drink because you’re depressed, and you’re depressed because your life sucks, and because your life sucks you’re angry, and because you’re angry at yourself, and everyone else, you drive off anyone who could be helpful, and because you can’t get any help and can’t help yourself and on it goes. . . .  I felt like a lab rat looking through the glass window of it’s cage.  I could see people who had their lives together, or at least appeared to; who were certainly in a better position than I was, who looked as if they ate regularly, and who wore clothing that didn’t scrape along their skin because it was cardboard stiff with dirt, and there I was in an alternate universe looking in.

     You don’t believe in alternate universes?  You don’t believe they exist, you say.  Then you’ve never been one of the thousands of homeless people who are absolutely and completely invisible in this country.  I saw the other side.  I saw the look of horrified drivers as they looked straight ahead pretending not to see you in your dirty coat with your greasy hair.  The people who hurriedly walked by you scared to death you might ask them for money, and who would shield their children from you thinking you would attack them at any second.  Who in total fear would throw money at you from three feet away just so you’d go away before they had to take a closer look at you.  Believe me when I tell you it doesn’t take long to find out just how cruel, insensitive, and apathetic people can be.

     Feel a digression coming on?  Feel free to skip the next paragraph. 🙂  Each of those invisible people I walked the streets with has a story.  Each of them started out as an innocent child and at some point, because of circumstance or bad decision making, lost their way.  Many of them are tortured souls, lost somewhere in the dark recesses of their minds.  Then there are those who through drugs or alcohol simply came to a stop sign and couldn’t stop.  Now there are people who are entering that alternate universe, and didn’t do anything other than lose their job.  There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing whole families living in a homeless shelter.  Want to know what’s wrong with our country go visit people in a homeless shelter, or those people making trips to the food bank every week.

     There I was living in an alternate universe, and stuck.  If you want to know how I got out you’ll have to come back and see my next blog. 🙂