You can always tell the newbies, ya know? They’re always tellin’ you they’re cold. Sure, they’re cold all right, cuz they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.
There’s an art to it, ya know? Well, maybe not an art, just sort of a life technique, if ya know what I’m sayin’. If you’re goin’ to stay outside, don’ wanna deal with that shit in the shelter, where ya can’t get a nip against the chill and some asshole he’s gonna hassle you in the john or mess with your good boots, then you’re gonna need some protection or you’ll sure as hell gonna freeze yer kiester off if ya don’t do it right.
So during the day it’s fine, yer in the shelter early or late, yer eatin’, yer in the subway ridin’, yer in a Dunkin’ spending an hour or two over yer coffee cup, or at least yer movin’ all the time which is pretty important. But night, that’s a different thing because if’n ya ain’t clued in, ya can wake up next mornin’ dead.
Reminds me of an old poem about some guy what froze himself and they threw him in a furnace cuz the ground was too cold to bury the sonofabitch and when they come to clean out the bones there he’s sittin’ in the middle of the fire, big shit-eatin’ grin on his mug, and he’s yellin’ “close the fuckin’door cuz yer lettin’ in the cold.”
So anyway this kid, maybe he’s twenty, smells sour and his shoes got flaps flappin’ when he walks which is super stupid, ya gotta watch yer feet ya know, an’ he’s got one of them chin whisker things goin’ but stubble all over anyway, thinks he’s God’s gift ta the world ya know, big dumb white fucker he is, it’s mornin’ an’ we’re on line an’ he’s coughin’ and not lookin’ too good, half red flushed and half white as the snow on the ground, an’ he is still shiverin and complainin’ and to shut him up I sez, I sez “Kid, whatever the hell ya name is, shut it, if ya can’t live on the street then go home to ya mama’s tits” an’ he’s all over me with “well if you’re so smart” and I’m tellin’ him at least I’m not shiverin’ and plannin’ on pneumonia like some people.
But he’s so pathetic I ask’t ‘im where ya sleepin’ anyway and he sez someone showed him a grate behind the West Street Superette, which I happen to know is a pretty good spot cuz the furnace vents there from the building and ya get not a steady blast but enough heat durin’ yer normal night so’s ya warm enough not to, ya know, fuckin’ freeze ya balls off.
“So if ya found a sweet spot like that, how come ya so cold, ya got a blanket dontcha, cuz if not ya can go over after breakfast to the office and getcha one for nuthin.'”
So he’s got his blanket, got it stashed in a cubby over at the Catholic church which is smart, but he says he still froze his petuties off and I sez, that don’t make no sense an’ he says, now all sorta apologetic and like, maybe you got a way to show me. And he looks sincere, ya know, an’ I sez well I can come by and tuck ya in tonight real sarcastic like, and then right away I thinks to myself well he’s goin’ think I’m comin’ on to him which is not how I am but how the hell does he know that, but he’s real serious and says, yeah, can ya, and me shithead I am, I hear my voice tellin’ him I’ll be down there maybe tonight which is really stupid because why do I give a shit, so I dust him off an’ grab my plate and take the last empty seat at Tortilla Tony’s table and the kid, he’s disappeared which was my plan anyway.
That night, gotta tell ya, it was so friggin’ cold, stone cold, wind cold, wet windy cold, I myself damned near gave up myself and went over to Saint Anthony’s, but Louie the drug guy, the one he always insists ya call him “Louis,” he may be there, knowin’ him, and
him and me we don’t get along no more by reason of that unfinished thing from the Fall which I don’t wanna talk about. So I’m goin’ to behind my hotel where the kitchen gives us some extra stuff sometimes and if the wind is blowing hard even lets us into the loading dock, and I’m goin right by the spic Superette and I remember this kid and what the hell, I hook me down the alley and sure enough there he is on that big grate and it’s blowin’ hot and he should be all fine and I’m about to walk away when I take a closer look at the dumb fat sonofabitch and wouldn’t ya know it, he’s got his gray woolen stiff blanket wrapped all around him, he’s fuckin’ sleepin’ on top of it and got the ends wrapped all around himself.
Well, no wonder he’s frozen in the mornin’ cuz he’s got no heat trapped in there for when the boiler shuts down and stops spittin’ heat out.
So I kick him, but gentle see, just sorta nudge his ass with my boot and all of a sudden he’s sittin’ up and about to stand up and his fists is clenched and I see what’s comin’ so I step back a few and yell “Hey, hey you, hey you from breakfast at St. Anthony’s, remember me I told ya I’d be ya mama and tuck ya in?” And he blinks twice and says “hey yeah whattaya want” and I sez “I’m gonna do you a favor if you get up.” An’ he looks at me and says something like it’s cold out there and I sez somethin’ like “no! did’ja figga that out all by yerself or did someone give ya some help” and he gets up slow, big sonofabitch if maybe I didn’t mention that ta ya earlier, and I show him how to drop the ends of the blanket down the grate and make like a tent fer yearself, and put yer jacket rolled up under yer head, and let the heat sorta build up inside yer cocoon like thing and that’s how you stay real warm and don’t wake up like you been blast-frozen in some meat locker.
And he sorta looks around and smiles and says thank you, real nice, cuz he’s real appreciative. And he says, ya know man I had ya all wrong, so come over here ‘cuz I got a bottle and let’s have a swig to seal the deal, and I’m about to say “man it’s dumb when it’s this cold” but what the hell, and he brings out a bottle from his back pack and takes a drink and passes me the bottle and I salute him with like a bottoms-up gesture kind of thing, and as I’m leanin’ back a little to let the booze get down my gullet I feel the thing and it’s the last thing I feel until right now, talkin’ to ya.
And so to answer yer question, no I don’t know his street moniker but I can ID him sure enough, just let me see the mug shots.
And the cop he gets up and he sez, easy there old-timer, we’ll do it in a few days when that knife wound heals up a little.
At least the hospital ward is warm, I think it’s still cold as shit outside.
But the food sucks. Man, even the stuff at the shelter is better.