It’s about four in the afternoon and I’m standing out in the cold by the liquor store on the corner across the alley from my apartment building talking with Delirious Dan, a prominent member of the local wino community. We’d been discussing the appalling decision of certain distilleries to sell their wares in plastic bottles instead of the traditional glass ones and Dan had stated matter-of-factly that he could taste the difference no matter what anyone else said. And somehow the conversation had veered off to Dan telling me about when he first started to drink as a teenager. Laying down one of those “how I became what I am today” kind a background tales from the past, and as usual I was pretty interested because as fucked up as Dan is he still makes some amazing observations and when slightly coherent he can be funny as hell.
“We’d go up in ta da hills and buy us a gal’in-a-dago-red from this ol’ ‘talian lady and we’d chug it and git ‘r-selves awl stinky – like stink’in drunk stinky, an then I’d a catch me a couple a moles!”
“Moles?” I ask.
“Yeah, those lil’ fur creatures that burrow unner the groun and I’d put ‘em in ma pockets and then af’ern I’d a pass out at ‘ome I’d hear my muther a scream’in for me to cum git ‘ese god dern moles out-o ‘er house. Heh, heh, heh…”
Ah! Obviously another fond pre burned-out brain cell memory from yesteryear because despite the ever present mischievous childlike grin that’s seemingly a permanent fixture on his face, Dan’s a pretty warped individual and been drinking alcohol in one form or another for a very long time. By his own admission, he’s about seventy years old, the last twenty of which have been spent living on the streets and drinking vodka out of bottles hidden away in brown paper bags. And I can attest to some of this, having seen him here on Third Street for the previous two years either out in front of the liquor store or passed out under the freeway.
“Ya know? Wish’in life was still that simple and din’t git so de’press. Sum days I wake up and it all I can do ta make it down ‘er an git me a bottle.”
For some reason that last statement takes me by surprise because I’d never really connected Dan, or any of the people I see out here on the street as suffering from depression like I do. Why that is I don’t know as it is probably a very normal symptom of living on the streets. But for some reason or another I just thought, well, to tell you the truth I never really thought about it at all until now and being someone that has suffered from depression for most of my life I don’t know why it would surprise me in the first place.
For years my depression immobilized me almost into inertia and if I hadn’t found the escape that heroin afforded me then I’d probably of committed suicide a long time ago. Unfortunately the nature of the beast of addiction is that most substances that help at first tend to finally hinder when one’s muse turns to obsession and all the other concerns about health and well being are neglected. And of course that’s what happened to me, so the past decade has been nothing but a battle to try and work out some sort of life without narcotics and to somehow maintain a healthy outlook on life, and somewhere in all that I began relying on medications to keep me undepressed and somewhat happy.
“Ther‘re days when it awl look so fuck’in bad an even shit face drunk I’m a cry’in ma god damn eyes out.” And I guess that having finally said this out loud to someone else it seems to overwhelm Dan and he looks away down the street and I can see his already watery eyes brim over as he wipes them with the back of his dirt encrusted hand.
Right now nothing in my life could be as depressing for me as living as Dan does or any of the other people whose tragic existences I happen to be witness to on an everyday basis. Like that elderly man that I can see from my apartment’s window who dresses in a corset and stockings while wearing a tattered old blond wig on his head and every sunny afternoon he sits alone on his balcony and drinks whiskey from a glass. Or that couple that’s got a spot cordoned off with their shopping carts in between the auto repair shops on Bryant Street; where at night you can hear them giggling as they watch their TV set that they’ve pirated the electricity for from off of the street lights. Or any of the other individuals that I only know by sight that endlessly roam the back alleys all night and day in search of something, anything that will take them away from here.
Unfortunately anti-depressants don’t mix well with the various substances that addicts tend to consume. Or more to the point can even hinder the chemical process that ingesting them usually provides. So in reality even a massive marketing campaign to get these neighbors of mine on medication wouldn’t really be prudent in the long run—unless they were willing to stop doing whatever it is that they are doing and obviously the inability to do so is the reason that they’re out here. I only have to look at Dan to know what it is that he is going through and I empathize with his plight, but in the end it is his decision, just as it was mine awhile back and not everybody is going be able to come inside after living outside in the cold for so long.
Yet ironically right behind Dan—shoved haphazardly against a telephone pole, is a newspaper rack with today’s paper sporting a large color front page photo of the president dancing away at his 40 million dollar Inaugural Ball and that obscene waste of money is just incomprehensible to me while I’m standing here on this dirty street corner talking to a man who hasn’t slept inside of a building for twenty years. And if that isn’t enough to depress someone, then I don’t know what is.
However its getting late and colder and I can see a patrol car slowly cruising the block toward us and so can Dan. So it’s farewells until another time and as we depart Dan shouts over his shoulder “Yeah, ya shoulda bin th’re! Back when I was a learn’in to git stinky. Them’s we’er sum good times!”