written by: Joseph Amendolare
My body generates warmth; perhaps this was learned long ago, in infantry school; in the field, you scraped out a shallow crescent of earth, lined it with straw; over this went a canvas tarp; you placed your thin bedroll over it and slept with a fatigue jacket for a blanket.
This was fine in early Spring or Fall; in the terrible months beginning with November, frost crept in and you were cold; under my fatigue jacket went a liner; but I discovered that my body had a way of generating warmth: as long as there was no wind, I was fine.
These skills come back to me now; on the deserted subways late at night, on a ferry crossing New York harbor, lying on a bench near Whitehall St.
You don’t really know where to go; you roam, seeking a safe place, away from danger; to a lonely, secluded place; I’ve not tried to climb into crevices under highways nor the massive towers of bridges; I avoid tunnels; certainly homeless shelters are out (the homeless themselves can be dangerous); in the day, brief respite can be found in a church or a library; in the Summer months, a park.
Train stations, especially the larger ones, are patrolled and uneasy places.
The structure and routine of your day vanishes; the days only go forward, hour by hour; you can regret, you can grieve; but time only goes forward; there is no reverse.
My fleece jacket, a recent military invention donated me by the Salvation Army, garners the warmth of my body late at night; I don’t wear it, rather use it as a blanket; the sleeves draped out like a crucifix, the rest covering my waist and artificial hip.
I sleep on my good side.
Waking is hard; even sleep is hard; it comes for an hour and then you wake up; on your own or someone kicks you awake. To the subtle hum of harsh fluorescent lights.
Yet reality contains the warmth of my body, like that of cavity oscillators I learned in a long-forgotten physics class. The bench absorbs it, remains warm to the touch. Others try to sleep near me, for warmth, and comfort.
We sleep as dogs do, huddled together.
I allow this, sometimes.
There are levels to this hell; long-forgotten rooms underground off the subway tunnels, doors which haven’t opened properly in years, decades, possibly half a century, where rust and fungi grow and water drips, rats scurry here and there. The tunnel itself is dark and forlorn and there this buried cavern lurks, housing whom time knows not.
Panhandling is not my thing; I have an income, meager as it is; I have a debit card.
Subsisting on coffee and cigarettes, the odd hotdog or knish.
Central Park offers places to hide and blend in. It’s just dangerous late at night. So you don’t move about, you stay quiet, you lay low. Sleep comes and goes. You wake up to the sound of voices. You lay there. Listening.
People pass thru. Could be other homeless, could be a gang, could be something.
You don’t want to know what.
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