Craig Bender was an obnoxiously loud low profile stockbroker a mere six months ago. You know the type. Those who know very little about the world but they appear to know why a stock has mysteriously fallen in price. Many would describe them as psychopathic of sorts. For a few years, he made an income that certainly put him close to being a member of the elusive one percent. This story actually takes place before that tinderbox of a phrase became common vernacular. Six months later Craig sat underneath an overpass by the Hollywood Bowl. Today the bitterness of his recent fall and the biting cold of November evening chilled him right to the center of his bones. It was an unshakable cold. He had to fight the elements with a sleeping bag and a fire he managed to barely light just an hour ago. He was burning two by fours stolen from a house that that was under construction at the intersection of Tillamook and 43rd. He went by this house almost daily as if was a symbol of the hope lost. The hope he had frittered away. He was not exactly bitter about his circumstances. More to the point, he was angry with himself. He reasoned, probably rightly so, that the wood stolen from the house was headed to the scrap pile anyways.
He woke up at what he felt like an hour after he had fallen fast asleep. The darkness and the cold hit him hard. His face plastered into a murky cold puddle and his teeth hurt him straight up into his cheekbones. His sole purpose for today, like most every day, had been finding food. He had to his name 29 quarters, 22 dimes and enough pennies so he knew his social standing in life. It was not even a good social standing in the homeless community. He had an entire $11.11 to his name and he did not relish having to stand, sleep or beg by the busy intersection of 39th and Sandy. He had staked out, for himself, a productive spot. He knew that if he did not get out there and panhandle that somebody was not going to do it for him. He worked hard for control of the spot. He knew that he could lose control by simply taking a day off. However today he was angry at the world and he did not want to work this hard at not working. Well he never really worked before as he told people he was a stockbroker however, he made his living as a day trader, well not exactly a day trader rather a professional scammer. He had all types of stories he told people. This country had sent him off to the war in Iraq and he had served his country well. It was simply that his country had not served him well. He came back from the war bitter and a broken man. He was bitterly opposed to violence and still they let him fight in this ill-conceived war. His country was desperate for the down trodden to serve the military moneymaking machine and at that point in his life he was desperate for stability and discipline.
The system was broken and so was he. Today was not much different from his stint in Iraq. It was all about getting to the next day; simply surviving. The fire underneath the bridge came to life when he threw on a few small two by fours. Despite the mud, he wiped out of his hair, right cheek and forehead the fire was hearty and warm. He was semi at peace with himself as he watched the snow in the streetlights above the Banfield. He knew that he had firewood for days, he had enough to drink for weeks and simply relished when it snowed. When the weather was nasty, people seemed friendlier and more giving. Moments like this left him tranquil and secure. These moments were fleeting so he tried to stay with them for as long as he could. He sat by the fire for about twenty minutes quietly and serene, his anger melted like a snowflake on a warm street cover. Life is simply quirky that way.
He meditated there for what seemed liked hours. With his contentment, came unrest. He loved the roar of the fire and he felt like he was celebrating tonight. Even though he did want to lose his bearings, he was as content as he had been for weeks. He walked down the dusty trail leading down to the railroad tracks. The footing was not as bad as the trail was still under the 39th street over pass therefore it rarely got wet. Craig gingerly made his way down to the rail road tracks and when he reached them he immediately made a left and instinctively made his way back another trail that ended by the pillars under the Banfield overpass only about 20 yards from his encampment. He looked briefly, as he always knew where he kept his secret stash. He reached down suddenly and panicked for a brief second, as the cheap rum hidden in the bushes simply was not where he had put it last night. He knew that he was messed up however, he had taken a second to jot down where he had put it as he knew his memory didn’t always work the day after. He also knew that he did not want tomorrow to be the day after. He wanted a drink tonight because he was happy.
He had that rare brief second in his life despite all odds. It was that brief second when a moment marks itself in you somewhere and you relish it, only to keep it for another day. It was nice to be resplendent even if he had never heard the word before. He stumbled up another side trail and it occurred to him he probably did the exact same thing last night. This given the mess he was this morning. It occurred to him, suddenly, that his last hidden bottle was under a bunch of dying clematis. He expected to find it it buried in the snow. Living under an overpass can be overly underwhelming. He sat there quietly listening to the roar of the overpass. The roar of the overpass had become his silence and it was a rare occasion when he took the time to listen to it.
He struggled to the top of the muddy bank slipping only once. He also knew that slipping once could make the difference between a comfortable night and a demonic night out in the elements. He did not worry about it much tonight because he had an ample supply of firewood and he felt in high spirits. He reached the top of the muddy bank with a lot more effort than expected. It was frustrating to him how mundane tasks, which were once quite simple, had become increasingly difficult. In the back of his mind, he knew that what he ate these days had little to no nutritional value. One day he was happy to have a day old donated sushi. The next day he was happy to have gathered more than three dollars so that he would have enough to buy three tall cans of Genesee cream Ale. He was not about to touch the $20000 dollars he had thought he stowed away. He was the only one who knew its location. With an IRA, the tax people would know of its existence. He had tax problems of his own and that was a story for another day. He just had to remember the location of his lifetime savings. The money was not his lifetime savings rather a lucky investment doubled by a lucky bet and once again doubled by some hush money he never really deserved. He had forgotten money. He was not quite sure where it was. He had left that information with his aunt as far as remembered. If only she would get her act together to talk to him. If only he could get his act together to talk to her. Maybe it was twenty thousand dollars. The details were foggy.
When he reached the top of the bank his lungs felt like they had had been slathered in red-hot chili sauce. The pain started under his ribs and radiated to right below his armpits. He had no idea how he could hurt in this particular spot. He briefly reflected back to when he actually went to a chiropractor. He found this doctor through a friend. It was a woman chiropractor whom he found quite attractive. Her office was a mere five blocks away from where he was now. It seemed so far away. He once had a life of excess, now all he wanted to be was pain free. This on some days seemed like everything.