Tuesday, May 23, 2006

My Memories of Being Homeless – Of Life

Another good place to sleep was in storm drain pipes because most of the time it was actually pretty dry. In the winter it protected one from the wind while in the summer it was cool. You could also hear anything that was coming. Sleeping was okay except for the rats which you could always hear scratching somewhere deeper down the way. And rats are strange too. In a house they scramble away in fear, but in the pipes, if you slept too heavily, they would come to investigate. You would awake to find some poking at your hands and ankles and they would be aggressive about it. In the pipes, they were not afraid. After I learned about these different predators, I would wake intermittently and toss a rock into the darkness to keep them away.

Sleeping during the summer was the most miserable because the mosquitoes are never ending. They somehow always find ways through the clothing and newspaper to get at your skin. Sometimes it was so bad I would go find a church or school parking lot and sleep in a bus.

Besides food, my most important daily mission was bathing. Inventing ways of keeping clean was honestly quite amusing. Sometimes, at about 3 in the morning, you could find a motel or apartment pool, dive right in, and be gone before anyone noticed. The chlorine cleaned me up really well which also meant that I could hang out in the public library the next day without attracting too much attention. One time, during the winter, I got lucky and found a leaking, hot water pipe behind some factory. For a week I had my own hot spring – that was sweet.

But there were beautiful moments too. During one summer night I was wandering through some woods. I slid down into a small rocky, river bed and then, quite suddenly, there were fireflies everywhere I looked. Not a few, not dozens, but hundreds of them. It was simply stunning.

Another time, I stood out on an open Texas plain while a thunderstorm rolled in. It was a very powerful storm with lighting bolts constantly on the horizon. I was the only thing standing out there for a couple of miles except this one huge, old oak tree. I could hear loud creaking and popping sounds as the wind pushed its branches around. I stood out in the storm, adrenaline flowing, yelling at the top of my lungs as it came closer. It was terrifying and exhilarating. The wind and thunder were so loud I could barely hear myself. I stood there yelling up at the clouds until the rain came pouring down on my face. It felt great.

Sure it was dangerous, but I was homeless and young and destitute - what did I have to lose?

-Just a peasant
Photo from the gallery of Piers Allison